Here are my top tips for minimising stress, mess and mayhem when baking with smalls.
1. Pre-weigh for the Win!
Pre-weighing ingredients into easy to tip or pour containers massively reduces time and mess when it comes to baking with smalls. 'Tip that cupful into the mixing bowl' is a much simpler instruction and requires much less spooning than measuring out flour from bag, to scales, to bowl.
2. Recipe Reduction
As well as reducing the number of transfers from bowl to bowl, pre-weighing also means that recipes can be simplified into fewer overall steps. For example, if a recipe calls for you to cream together butter & sugar, pre-weigh these together into one bowl for tipping or scooping into the mixer by your little one. Most of the recipes I use can be reduced to 3 steps with this method. This also means less washing up!
3. Pick 'n Mix Scoops
If you have a toddler that loves to scoop and pour, chances are they are not going to let you get away with just tipping whole bowls of stuff into the mixer. They want to scoop and pour and use an implement to satisfy their fetish. If you give them a high sided scoop (like the ones you get at the pick n' mix counter) chances are that more mixture will end up in the bowl and less on the floor. I find it handy to have a set of different sizes and like a set with different colours, but this is not strictly necessary and the link on the right is a reasonably priced set. They're pretty multi purpose too - great for Tuff Tray activities or water play, so a good investment.
4. Measuring Cups
For older children or for children (like mine) who really want to do the measuring part of baking, then using recipes measured in American cups are another way to reduce the mess. I tend to pre measure the ingredients into separate large bowls and then we count out the number of cups into the mixer. Much easier and less messy than trying to measure directly out of bags of flour etc.
5. Bottles and beakers.
For liquid ingredients (often the most fascinating for the smalls, surely because of their devastating mess potential) use baby bottles or chunky plastic beakers for the pre-weigh. They're easier to grasp and the likelihood of the whole egg, milk combo getting straight into the bowl and missing your Lino is far greater. However, if you have a little one that loves to crack eggs and you're going to let that happen, make sure you don't let them do it straight in the mixer just in case you end up with lots of shell!
6. Change it up...or down!
Baking at a level that is physically comfortable with your little one will make a huge difference to the control they have over each step of the bake and naturally reduces the mess they make. At the moment my little girl loves to sit on the work top and we get her as close to the mixer as is physically possible to reduce spillage. That said, if we're in the mood for a full on bake where we measure everything out together, mix it with our hands and get full-on sensory about it, I have been known to do the whole thing in our Tuff Tray on a splat mat on the floor. The Kitchen Aid is brought down on the floor too and we use an extension cable to plug it in! It sounds like a faff, but for the 5 minutes it takes to get the Tuff Tray in the kitchen and the extension lead plugged in I'd say it saves 30 minutes of post bake clean up!
7. Play a tactical waiting game.
The biggest issue with baby baking is the waiting. Nothing is instant. So if you're waiting for something to bake before they can decorate it then try and plan the time. I often put things in the oven just before lunch so they can be decorated after food and naps. You can even put them in at bedtime and then they can do the fancy bit tomorrow. This is particularly good if you have a play date the next day as then your small is helping to prepare something fun for their friends. If you do want to tackle it all in one, why not let them design their cake or cookie on paper whilst it's cooking? I often draw around the cookie cutter we've used and let her go mad with the felt tips - which I pre select to match whatever colour of icing I have, so we don't end up with unrealistic expectations!
8. Glorious greaseproof.
Greaseproof paper is magnificent stuff, not only because it doubles up as tracing paper allowing me to make my own colouring in sheets, but also because it will prevent mess. If mine are sitting on the worktop to bake then I tend to spread a length of greaseproof paper underneath them, the bowls of ingredients and the mixer - that way any mess can just be scrunched up and chucked in the bin. No wiping down!
Another great use of the glorious greaseproof is when rolling out biscuit dough. Put the dough on-top of a sheet of greaseproof and another piece on top then roll. This gives you a smoother
dough, prevents breaking and leaves your rolling pin clean as a whistle.
Less washing up is always a winner.
9. Max out the bake.
It's fair to say that however much you simplify a bake, it's still a higher maintenance activity that colouring, stickers or a jigsaw, so when you do it, make it count and bank ahead for another day. No toddler needs to decorate and eat 12 cupcakes or 24 biscuits in one sitting. In my experience they lose interest after two or three. Why not freeze half of the cupcakes or make double quantities of biscuit dough and freeze half for another day. Cupcakes are good in the freezer for 4-6 months and cookie dough for about 3, so there's no hurry to use them either. This way, next time you want a baking activity, you can do something much more quickly by defrosting the pre made cakes and only doing the decorating part or having biscuit dough all ready to roll and cut.
10. Custom bake.
You don't have to make a picture perfect bake from start to finish. Don't put pressure on yourself. My toddler isn't that fussed about decorating cakes for example. She likes the mess of making them and the pleasure of eating them. Sensible kid. Often we'll make a cake and she'll want me to decorate it once she's gone to bed so it's a surprise in the morning. I love this about her. My point is that you can adapt a baking activity to suit you and your children. Bake the cupcakes in advance (buy them even) and just enjoy chucking sprinkles at them together. Make the cakes and don't bother decorating them at all - no one NEEDS frosting. There's something really satisfying about a perfectly domed, naked little cup cake or a plain golden biscuit. Scrumptious. Split the activity over a couple of sessions as detailed above. Pre-make the biscuit dough (it will keep wrapped in the fridge for about 3 days, so you can make it in a quiet moment) and start the activity at the cutting out stage. Baking doesn't have to be a whole morning of mess. You can control how long, messy and involved it all is. One of the reasons I love it so much is precisely because it can be customised so easily.
These ten top tips should help ease the stress and hopefully set you on the path of enjoyable baking with little ones. Please do comment or contact me if I can give you any specific help with baking questions or projects.