A beginner's guide to baking with smalls.
I started baking with Biggest Small when she was about ten months old, but once your baby can happily sit up and has reasonable hand eye coordination you can give simple baking a try.
This doesn't mean that you can't introduce baby to baking before this. My smalls were in slings whilst I was baking petty much from the word 'go' and when baking with the biggest in the earlier days of smallest I would always give him a little tray of baking themed toys to play with, or some ingredients to explore or some dough to poke. That said, most babies won't be able to resist mouthing anything you give them, so you must judge what is safe for your baby and when.
Remember, baking with babies up to about 18 months is all about process not product. You're not realistically expecting them to purposefully create the perfect bake. You just want them involved - stirring, feeling, spreading, tasting and smearing. It's all great fun for them and if you're anything like me you will enjoy the fact that you are doing something purposeful with your little one rather than sitting cross legged on a community centre hall floor singing 'Dingle Dangle Scarecrow' one more time to your baby that just wants to escape your clutches and lick the germ ridden toy in the clutches of the small person next to them.
1. The beginning is a very bad place to start.
Babies have even shorter attention spans than toddlers. Don't expect to do every stage of a bake with them. Choose part of the process that suits what they enjoy in their usual play.
If your baby loves messy play, experiencing new textures, playing with food get them involved in mixing a simple batter or dough. Then let them watch you spoon it into cases or wait until they nap / are occupied to bung whatever it is in the oven.
If you have a curious baby that is more into exploring cause and effect, they might prefer to start with a biscuit recipe. Shortbread is good. Make the dough in advance and just invite baby to squish the dough and press down cutters. Give the baby half the dough and keep half for yourself. They way you won't get frustrated if the baby biscuits don't make it to the oven.
Pick recipes that don't rely on decoration. Chances are after setting up and cleaning up, neither of you is going to want to start again. Choose muffins over cupcakes, or make smaller vanilla fairy buns that are great without icing, with a cup of tea. Shortbread biscuits that need no fancy faffing to make them delicious.
Less is more. There's plenty of time to hone those piping skills once they've mastered the rest of the basics like walking and talking. That said, there are one or two things that will make your baking with baby time less messy and stressy.
Get yourself a washing up bowl with nice high sides. Lots of cake and biscuit recipes can be made by all in one method, even if not specified in the instructions. My speedy cupcakes for example. It doesn't make for the most attractive baking process, but starting with all the ingredients in a washing up bowl and letting baby mix by hand is definitely the most efficient method I've found of containing mess whilst satisfying their need to explore. The only thing you might need to do first is cream together the butter and sugar. Use Stork of course to make this super easy.
An appropriately sized wooden spoon. You need something that is comfortable for baby to hold. Not so long that they can't stir with it and not so small that it's a toy rather than a useful piece of kit. Babies can get the hang of stirring quite early on, so it's a worthwhile investment. It also makes it easier for them to shovel mixture in during and after the baking - surely the best bit?
A tuff tray is an all round good investment and is great for baking. They're so easy to clean and the higher sides provide good protection against a floor covered in flour. Put a splat mat underneath and you've got double layer protection!
3. Where to bake
They key thing is probably to get baby as close to the bowl / washing up bowl as possible and get yourself close enough to baby that they still have autonomy, but you can still prevent catastrophe. If they can easily reach and see into a bowl from the height of their highchair, then standing behind them is often a good position.
If your baby can sit comfortably and / or you have an older child who is joining in too then getting down to floor level works really well. I will often weigh a mixture out in two halves, leaving one half in a washing up bowl for an all in once baby mix and the other as reweighed ingredients in different easy to pour pots for the toddler. I put all this in the tuff tray, which means that I can sit behind the baby to help prevent chaos whilst also eyeballing the older one and helloing with instructions. When this works it is one of the only times I genuinely feel like I'm giving everyone the equal attention they deserve. If you don't have a tuff tray just put a big wipeable mat or washable tablecloth down.
Clip-on high chairs like the Phil and Ted's 'Lobster' are great for baking. We bought ours years ago when moving house from a second hand site. These allow babies to get much more level with the work surface and ours clips well to the actual worktop, meaning that I can get the baby working next to me at the electric mixer. I also find he's happy to sit and watch me doing tings in this chair, because he can see my hands and what's going on. In his normal high chair he wouldn't last 30 seconds if not being directly engaged!
4. The clean up
If you have prepared your work space then it honestly shouldn't be too bad. The major dilemma is what to do with the smallest one whilst you give things a quick wipe or sweep. I like to fill the sink just before the end of the baking activity so I can simply plonk him in when we're done. He loves water, so will happily splash around for five minutes whilst I sort things out. Obviously, please don't leave your babies unattended in sinks, but you catch my drift. Under close supervision and if it's near enough to where you are working it can just contain them long enough to get things looking orderly again.
Pop baby in a bib with sleeves when baking to protect their clothes. You'll never manage a totally splatter free bake, but having something you can wipe the worst off before throwing it in the ever-expanding washing pile is a pretty good idea.
5. Stay calm
Whether you do five minutes or fifty, try not to worry too much about things not going the way you planned. Very few bakes can be ruined if ingredients go in the bowl in a different order. You're not on bake off. Try to breathe. Relax into it. Enjoy the delight on babies face when they lick the bowl for the first time! It's the love that goes into baking that makes it special and what it looks like couldn't matter less.
Happy baking. x
Links to particularly good recipes for smalls.
Gingerbread men - make dough in advance and get little one to cut them out. Don't both to decorate.
Washing up bowl muffins - don't ice them. They're yummy.
Speedy cupcakes - can be made all in one and don't necessarily need to be iced.