When our little chef "pretend cooks" he usually uses real ingredients like spices, flour, salt, etc. If you catch a pretend cooking session early you can sometimes steer it to a real result, which makes for a different kind of fun.
Twice now, we’ve turned Trent’s “cheese soufflé” (usually he starts with flour and some secret ingredients) into an impromptu cake by adding milk, baking powder and an egg. We then poured it into a 4” extra deep springform pan and baked it – but any springform pan will do. (The mini ones usually come in a set of 4 – here’s a link.) It turned out into a dense tea cake. Edible and even tasty – he was so proud. Trent doesn’t like to follow recipes right but he will follow basic directions. He (usually) doesn’t want help actually measuring anything – that’s okay.
The basic plan is to “help” your little chef by making up the recipe differences, such as if the cups are not full or by adding more flour, etc., to offset too much sugar, etc. Just make a suggestion to add a bit more of something if it’s lacking. If there is any discussion about adjusting it, just go ahead and bake it anyways and ice over the mistakes.
Don't fret if your child doesn't eat his creations: Trent is not really interested in eating his creations but he loves to make them and decorate them. He especially likes to give the final result as a gift. (And it's not like any child needs to eat more cake. - Jack)
We've a real disaster recently with too much baking soda/powder making the cake truly inedible. While it distressed me - it didn't really matter that much to Trent - he just liked the idea of baking it and having it look like a cake. When he enquired as to how it tasted I explained the problem and we agreed we'd make another one soon and be more careful in our measuring next time. Granted it's better if the cake turns out somewhat edible.
In the end it doesn’t matter even if it comes out lopsided or burnt or whatever. If it’s dry you can slice it in half and fill with a favorite jam (like the cake we made above – which was very dry and thin, so we filled it) or make icing to cover it. Too Thin? Make a "halfmoon" cake and cut it in half fill it and ice it.
... and Milkshakes
Milkshakes and smoothies are a favorite of Trent's – it really doesn't seem to matter that much what's in them as long as a blender is in use. Our little chef loves to pour things into the blender and punch the buttons.
Of course, real blenders need a parent's assistance and the milkshake can turn into more of a smoothie if you wish. Milk, yogurt, fruit (bananas are a favorite), and any number of secret ingredients like fruit juices, a scoop of ice cream, sorbet or gelato, frozen fruit, fruit syrup, jam, cinnamon, cocoa powder can mix up the results.
Trent has some new "toy" kitchen additions which have been a big hit:
Berchet Moulinex Blender – This battery operated blender manages any sort of liquid and will handle yogurt fairly well. It will not “chop” fruit or ice. Milkshakes, all liquid smoothies and and whipped juices are now frequent, almost independent, cooking projects. Even leaving the top off seems to work - you can watch the whirlpool effect but the liquid doesn't spray from the container. The blender seems very safe for the 3+ age group it has a plastic coated "blade" which stirs the ingredients. The unit is one piece so it is not dishwasher safe.
Berchet Moulinex Mixer – Tthis mixer will manage eggs or plain liquids, and it does a great job of blending dry ingredients. It will not cream butter and sugar.
The only drawback is that you have to push on the powerbutton lever to make it go which is tiring. It is not dishwasher safe (the beaters are not removable).
Real Pretend Cakes "Recipe"
Preheat oven 350°F
Using scoop measures - Let the child measure
2 x 1/2c of flour – approx 1c
2 x 1/2c of sugar – approx 3/4c
3 tbsp of butter (1/3 of a stick)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1x 1/2c milk (++ add more milk to make the batter work with whatever was put into it)
Optional Additions aka “Extra Ingredients”: Chocolate cake add 2-3 tbsp of hot chocolate or cocoa powder Mexican Hot Chocolate cake: Cinnamon or cake spice and chocolate powder Vanilla Cake add real vanilla extract Lemon Cake use lemon zest Orange Cake use orange zest Banana Cake - Add a banana mashed up
If your child is resisting adding more milk try something more exotic like yogurt, crème fraiche or sour cream, which he can dollop in. We call them "secret ingredients." If you need to add more flour - add some whole wheat, cake flour, pastry flour, rice flour - whatever your little chef will go for.
If you don’t have a small springform pan then turn the mix into cupcakes using a muffin tin or a mini muffin tin. Two big springform pans resulted in a cake that bakes really quickly but is drier and very thin - we fixed this by filling it with Raspberry Jam and pouring icing on top (the purple cake shown above) but 2 large springform pans are not recommended.
Icing sugar/Confectioner’s Sugar
Butter – softened
And a little milk
Flavoring if desired (vanilla, etc.)
Natural Food Coloring/Cocoa Powder optional.
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The Learning Tower ranks as our best purchase ever, for our child. Used almost every day for more than 4 years, it's simply great for allowing your little chef to cook or play cook in your kitchen. More here.