Introducing Kids to Baking

Here's why it's important for children to learn this skill – plus ideas for baking activities for kids.

It’s not too hot in the kitchen for kids – especially when what’s baking in the oven is sweet.

Concocting desserts with your kids is an opportunity to encourage learning a new skill that is sure to serve them well in the future. There are some simple baking ideas for kids to help them get started. A local culinary specialist weighs in.

Mary Spencer, culinary instructor at Taste: A Cook’s Place in The Village Workshop in Northville, is a self-taught cook who has been offering lessons for the past 12 years.

“I love to bake,” she says. “It’s fun to see all of these ingredients like flour, sugar and butter come together into something amazing. So for me, that’s fun. I like to cook savory too, and that’s what I do most of, but baking to me is an art.”

Although Spencer’s kids are now grown, one’s 21 and the other is 30, she recalls getting them started in the kitchen as soon as they expressed interest.

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“I don’t think there’s ever too young, It’s as soon as they find an interest. My youngest daughter was only about 2 or 3 and she was always under my elbows trying to get her hands dirty too,” she says. “I let her do littler things and had a stool for her to stand on. I think it’s fun for them to have this interest. Everybody has to eat, and you might as well learn how to cook well in order to eat well.”

Simple baking ideas for kids

Once interests are peaked, Spencer says it’s always good to engage kids in any way possible – even if they’re really little.

“Even if you’re just having them sit there banging on the pots and pans, it’s good because they’re in the kitchen and they can start knowing what everything is for,” she says. “My kids were really little when we gave them cookie cutters to help out.”

For tykes who are especially enthusiastic about baking hands-on as soon as they can, Spencer recommends starting off simple in the kitchen and encouraging children from there.

“I would let them measure flour, I would let them cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl,” she says. “Those are the things they can learn how to do on their own and it’s not dangerous.”

Making sure kids are learning along the way is also super integral, Spencer says. It is beneficial to explain how things are done, why certain reactions occur, and develop their technique for the future.

“Knowing how to use a cup measure for liquids and a cup measure for solids, that’s a big difference when you’re baking,” she says. “Those are the little things that I made sure I instilled with them.”

A staunch advocate for baking from scratch whenever from possible, Spencer says this approach not only gives kids more of an opportunity to understand how fresh ingredient interact, but it helps them learn the pros of natural components over processed and packaged baked goods.

“Anybody can throw things together. I don’t advocate using boxed ingredients,” she says. “It’s better because then they [kids] know what the flour’s for, what the liquid’s for and what makes the flour and the dough come together.”

Spencer says any simple recipe will work for kids just getting started, from a chocolate chip cookie to a pound cake – each treat can be a fun lesson.

“If you show them how to cream butter and sugar together in the mixer, they can put it in the mixing bowl and they can turn the mixer on and watch it,” she says. “Show them the proper texture or the proper results so that they know. Measuring flour, that’s always fun because they get it all over themselves.”

Kitchen safety

While getting flour everywhere isn’t too big of a deal, Spencer says setting boundaries and teaching kids how to make sure they’re safe in the kitchen and clean up after themselves are also things to be mindful of.

“If [parents] say not to go near the stove, don’t go near the stove. It’s hot and they learn that quick as far as that’s concerned, but I guess it’s just listening and being aware of what is dangerous and what is not,” she says.

Spencer says baking is safer than cooking, because there’s less opportunity to use knives and parents can always make sure they’re the ones putting mixtures into the oven.

You can show them how to sweep it so they get a level measure, things like that are not dangerous. They’re easy to do and every little step like that teaches them.”

Going forward, Spencer says it’s good to note what your child is capable of in the kitchen, where their dexterity is at and how their baking instincts are progressing as they move on to more advanced recipes.

“The older they get, the more responsibilities you can give them,” she says. “So whatever age your child is read to take on those responsibilities, that works.”

Mary’s simple starter recipes

Sour Cream Pound Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp. real vanilla
  • 8 oz. butter, room temperature (2 sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Butter and flour a Bundt pan. Combine the flour and baking soda and set aside.
  3. Combine the milk, sour cream and vanilla – and set aside.
  4. On medium speed, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs gradually, until well combined. Add the milk mixture until well incorporated. Then add the flour and mix just until the flour is blended in.
  5. Spread evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 75 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool until the pan is cool to the touch and the cake is still warm. Flip the cake onto a serving platter.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze

Makes 44 cookies

Ingredients for cookies:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 (15 oz.) container whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 3 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, zested

Ingredients for glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, zested

Directions

For the cookies

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice and lemon zest. Beat to combine. Stir in the dry ingredients.
  4. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon the dough (about 2 tablespoons for each cookie) onto the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.

For the glaze

Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about 1/2 tsp. onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours. Pack the cookies into a container to store.

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