Baking with June

13 May 2021

For Christmas, June received the America’s Test Kitchen Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs from one set of grandparents. Inspired by the gift, she and I decided to bake something each week in the new year. For her, I hoped it would be a fun way to spend time together – and maybe gain some skills in the kitchen :) For me, I hoped it would be a way to set joy before us (per my 2021 goal) by slowing down; intentionally spending time in a hands-on, delightful way; and just enjoying each other. While we haven’t quite hit every week, we have hit most, and the practice has certainly brought joy to our family’s life.

To start, let me say that this cookbook is an ABSOLUTE SLAM DUNK. 95% of what we’ve made so far has not only been delicious, but literally the best version of whatever it is we made. (As in, the recipe for Chocolate Crinkle Cookies turned out the best chocolate crinkle cookies I’ve ever tasted!) I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise, since America’s Test Kitchen has built a brand on perfecting recipes, but it’s still delightful to know that a kids’ baking book can be fun and engaging without scrimping on quality!

June is 5 and just starting to read, so baking from this book is very much a joint activity right now. Even still, I try to step back as much as possible in every way I can and let her lead. Things she has learned to do: identify measuring cups and spoons, scoop and level dry ingredients, pour and measure liquid ingredients, crack eggs, set the oven to the correct temperature, open the oven door and slide in baking trays, stir ingredients by hand, work the stand mixer, scoop muffins and drop cookies, knead dough, and shape pretzels, among other things.

Of course, she does all of these things imperfectly (except measure baking soda – she’s quite an expert at that!). Everything takes longer. EVERYTHING is messy. Egg shells get in the batter. Flour gets on the counter and on the floor. Ingredients get spilled and wasted. Friends, the physical mess is HARD for me. Like, exposing-my-weaknesses-as-a-parent-ouch hard. In that way, it’s been a humbling but worthwhile exercise in growing in patience – because she is watching to see how I react when she spills something. Do I show frustration? Do I speak sharply?

Depending on my mood and how the day is going, those often feel like my natural reactions. But I try VERY hard (and usually succeed!) to instead say, “That’s okay! Let’s try again” or “That’s okay! Let’s clean it up together.” This does not necessarily come naturally to me, but it is absolutely worth the effort. (Cheesy but true: the times she’s looked up from stirring to say, “I love baking with you, Mama” make any wiped-up spill worth it.)

I’m also not the only one gaining skills. June sees I trust her and believe in her (even with something as simple as measuring an ingredient!) and that I view her as a capable partner, and that has built her confidence inside the kitchen and out.

All in all, baking has been such a joy for us this year! My mama heart hopes our time together is making memories that she’ll remember with happiness, and that we’ll add to for years to come.

To finish, a few of the favorite recipes we’ve made from the cookbook:
— Simple Cream Scones (the very first recipe we made – SO good!)
— Cinnamon Rolls (I normally don’t love a decadent cinnamon roll, but these were yummy!)
— Soft Pretzels (very fun to shape and they turned out delicious!)
— Chocolate Crinkle Cookies (SO GOOD – John’s favorite thing we’ve made this year!)
— Chewy Brownies (I’d never made brownies from scratch – delicious! Though honestly, Betty Crocker’s are delicious, too :))
— Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting (gah SO GOOD)
— Cake Pops (one of June’s favorite projects!)

We’ve also made Half-Baked Harvest’s Chocolate Banana Bread several times, and have plans to make Elisabeth & Butter’s Strawberry Cake this weekend with our most recent haul of berries!

Friends, I’d love to hear: if you have children, what’s an activity you love to do together? Or, what’s an activity you remember doing with your mom or dad growing up? If you have any questions about baking with a five-year-old, I’ll answer those, too :)

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May 13, 2021 10:09 am

My two year old son is OBSESSED with being in the kitchen with my husband or me, so you can imagine the mess at this age. :) I appreciated your honesty about how that’s a challenge for you. It’s a struggle for me, too! That said, we have a blast and it’s been a great way to grow independence/confidence, even at this age. I few fun hacks for anyone looking to do this with an even younger kiddo: we bought a montessori knife so he can safely chop next to me. It’s a HUGE hit. I also always keep hard boiled eggs in the fridge so when I am cracking eggs for baking, he cracks his boiled eggs and then enjoys peeling them (…and eating them :). It’s allowed me to keep him involved without actually cracking raw eggs, which I imagine for a toddler would mean the entire shell would end up in our cupcakes. I can’t wait to bake/cook more with him when he’s older and your post has provided the inspiration to keep us going! Thanks, as always!

May 13, 2021 5:27 pm
Reply to  Maria

Maria – I love your hard boiled egg hack! A tip I just learned recently is that you can use a big egg shell piece like a scoop/spoon to remove tiny egg shell bits if any get in! I’m not sure why it works, but it does! Also, we always crack eggs into a separate container (often a measuring cup we just used) before dumping into the batter. I am not familiar with a Montessori knife, but we use a crinkle cut chopper for chopping veggies and that works well (and makes a fun shape!) Best wishes to your and your junior chef!

May 13, 2021 10:50 am

I love this! I don’t have children yet, but as a baking enthusiast, I can’t wait until I can teach my kids how to bake someday. :)

May 13, 2021 11:17 am

I think I need that cookbook for me :-) Also, I see your sisters in that first picture of June – so cute!

Zoe T
May 13, 2021 12:06 pm

Benjamin and I love cooking together. It has always been our ‘thing’ as we bought a learning tower when he turned 18 monhts. We don’t just bake (although that’s where it started). We cook everything! He can peel potatoes and carrots, work the mixer, knows all the ingredients to make pesto and can make a mean crumble topping by himself. It’s wonderful watching those skills develop and trusting him to do things that inside I feel are dangerous or messy. I love it as its a real shared passion and he’s also taking part in a key part of our family lives – our meals together. Am really looking forward to when Zetta (currently just turned 1) can join in too.

May 13, 2021 5:20 pm

I have a 4 and 7 year old and we LOVE to bake together! I sometimes try to have them help me cook as well, but dinner prep is usually a rush and its a lot harder to be involved (knives, heat, raw meat etc). But this is a good reminder to both allow my kids more ownership over the task (especially since my 7 year old could probably read simple recipes now) and get involved in more than just baking. My father-in-law loves pie and so for his birthday in December, we made him a “pie of the month” club and have been fun making those together (usually one for him and one for us!) I’m not much of an unstructured play type of parent (though I did SO much make-believe as a child) but I remind myself that time in the kitchen is still great quality time as a parent. Like you, I hope my kids grow up with fond memories and traditions with our family! And that both boys will be awesome bakers in their grown-up lives :)
Growing up, my Dad and I loved working on “projects” together. Whether it was a school project, a kit or a design element for my bedroom, we loved building and figuring things out. Even on his most recent visit, we built shelves for my sewing room together! My Mom is a little less clear. She was/is very present in my life, but it was mostly doing the day-to-day household activities together. Running errands, cooking meals, reading thru the Sunday paper. The thing both my parents and siblings all enjoy together is traveling and visiting both old and new places. We don’t spend much time sitting around at home when we are together!

May 13, 2021 6:19 pm

Highly recommend the regular ATK kids cookbook. The peanut noodles! The pumpkin cake! Lots of recipes from different cultures/traditions too. I’ll let my 5-yo pick and practice reading too- very similar things happening in my house! And the mess! I hear ya. But he says it tastes better when he helps…. so it’s hard to be upset.

May 13, 2021 8:05 pm

This cookbook sounds like a gem! Making note for a gift for my daughter’s 4th birthday. We bake together a few times a month – mostly muffins. I agree it is sooooo hard to give them the reins and let messes happen!! I’m a type 1 so anyone not doing things “right” is going to test my patience. I know I should give her more ownership…she’s dying to crack eggs so maybe we’ll try that soon. I do sneak off to bake by myself sometimes since I love it so much and sometimes I just need an easier baking experience! Part of my self care ;)

Abigail Gray
May 13, 2021 8:14 pm

I love this post so much! My mom has had a subscription to America’s Test Kitchen online library of recipes for many, many years and we now share the login to trade recipes while living far apart. I love hearing that that particular cookbook has brought so many precious memories for you and June. I am hoping it will bring the same for me and a future little one someday, just as it has for me and my mom.

May 14, 2021 8:45 am

Your story about her saying “I love baking with you, Mama,” is everything I hope for in my relationship (baking and otherwise!) with my future kids. Precious gal!

May 14, 2021 9:37 am

Baking with my kids is one of my favorite things! And also super refining. The mess!! I also use it as a chance to share what we make with neighbors or friends, because Lord knows we do NOT need 24 cookies in our house.
Thanks for the rec on the cookbook… I may be adding that to my cart for a fun summer challenge. :)

May 14, 2021 9:48 am

I love this! We have the same cookbook and am working on doing some of the recipes with my 2-year-old. We’ve only done a couple of them so far, but will definitely put the chocolate crinkle cookies on our list to do soon! He also loves watching the Cookie Monster Food Truck videos on Youtube, so we’ve also gathered recipe inspiration from that. Cranberry muffins are a favorite! It’s been a great way to spend time together and is so fun to watch his skills grow. Obviously we’re still at a point of me doing most everything, but I can see him learning and he’s been slowly taking on more and more. And I feel you on the mess! It’s a challenge here too, but a great learning and growing experience for me!
Another activity that we are loving to do together are puzzles! I have been amazed at my son’s patience and ability to work on small puzzles. I love doing puzzles on my own as well, so I love watching him develop a love for it too.

May 14, 2021 10:48 am

Oh, I love this!! My kids LOVE baking with me! And I hope they always will! Eventually with less of a mess, ha! For me too, the messes can be hard. But my daughter oftentimes quotes me and says: „Remember when you said: It’s not really baking if there isn’t a mess. That’s just part of it? So we‘re doing it right, Mama.“ (I don’t remember when I said this, but it must have been in a very relaxed state of mind, haha).
I‘ll have to look into the cookbook you mentioned! We have a few favorite recipes from Elisabeth and Butter and Halfbaked Harvest. But one especially for kids might be fun, too!

May 14, 2021 2:38 pm

LOVE this, thank you for the recommendation! I normally do not cook from cookbooks and have never owned one, but this post is leading me to my first purchase! My son loves to cook and help in the kitchen, so I really like this idea. Thanks for the encouragement to get our hands and kitchen dirty!

Kelly Strawberry
May 15, 2021 8:51 am

I can’t get over how precious June is. What a sweet activity to share! Reminded me how fun it is when Cam helps me in the kitchen, which we need to do more often. I will be getting this cookbook for sure!

May 15, 2021 10:43 pm

I LOVE this!! I remember pretending to have a cooking show when I was younger and used to measure everything out in little dishes ha ha ha. Best time ever! But honestly, my mum used to bake a lot with me when I was little and I still treasure her handwritten recipe book. I really want to try this with my step son (he’s 11) and try to nurture a love of cooking as so far he only bakes ha ha ha.