Growing up, summer Sunday mornings meant my Grandpa was making dozens of pancakes from Bisquick and old milk for his grandchildren. He’d take special requests for blueberry pancakes, or for pancakes shaped like letters, or for simply more – there are pancake eating records next to various water sport records in the family record book. But as much as we love Bisquick, sometimes we crave something marginally healthier or that we can eat with friends who have dietary restrictions. And thus, sometimes we make banana-oat pancakes.Continue reading “Banana-Oat Pancakes (Gluten-free, Dairy-free)”
Belle received a children’s cookbook of global cuisine a while back, and has been obsessed with the idea of making “sprinkle balls” aka brigadeiros ever since. For whatever reason, this week was the week we finally made them. Let me tell you, this is the easiest recipe ever to use up all the remaining jars of sprinkles in your pantry. And/plus/also, it’s super tasty.Continue reading “Brigadeiros”
Summer cottage woes: when we call Grammie and ask if there’s baking powder, no one thinks to check the best-by date. The can is probably five years old, since it was best by four years ago, and definitely has a very weak fizz when plopped into a cup of hot water. So our muffins didn’t really rise, but they taste fabulous – and it’s all about the process.
Baking powder is now on the shopping list, though, because I want today’s cookies to rise.
Belle and I spent most of this recipe debating whether anything with lemon was too sour – even if it was well mixed with sugar. She was willing to taste-test until the lemon juice got added to the batter; thereafter there was no convincing her that it wasn’t too sour to eat. (Buddy, on the other hand, happily licked any spoon sent his way.) I’ll admit it is frustrating to have a daughter who couldn’t care less about one of my favorite flavors. However, this debate did lead to a great discussion of what flavors we can taste on our tongues: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami/savory. We didn’t do any real experimenting with the flavors, but the following ingredients could explain them: sugar, lemon juice, salt, and baking soda – no umami-rich ingredients, alas.
Fine motor skills and patience were our other big targets. Grating lemon zest is a long process for little hands, but we practiced some sequencing and if-then-else statements: grate, check for yellow or white, if yellow, keep grating, if white or unclear, turn the lemon and start again.
Belle quickly got tired of the task, so I finished it for her. It still takes a while, so we kept her occupied separating out 24 cupcake liners and practicing counting, starting over every time we skipped 6. It requires using pincer grasp, though with a rubbing motion instead of a release.
After all the mixing and scooping, Belle spotted some sprinkles. We don’t hold on formality over here, so half our muffins got rainbow sprinkles!
Skills worked on:
- Balancing sweet and sour
- Balancing textures (dry vs moist)
- Flavor vocabulary
- Hand strength
- Fine motor (mixing, scooping)
- Food prep!
- 1 large mixing bowl (dry ingredients)
- 1 small mixing bowl (wet ingredients, then crumble)
- 2-3 small bowls (cracking eggs, collecting zest, reserving lemon juice)
- Whisk or fork
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Two spoons/scoop and spatula (dropping batter into muffin tins)
- Muffin cup liners (or blueberries will stick to pan)
- 2 regular muffin pans
This recipe comes from Saving Room for Dessert and didn’t require much adaption, though we skipped the glaze because it is sweet enough and takes long enough without. Because, as always, baking with toddlers takes three times as long.
The batter is very thick to help suspend the blueberries while baking – err on the side of slightly more liquid and slightly less dry ingredients when your toddler measures imperfectly.
If you use frozen blueberries, we recommend thawing, draining, salad spinning, and/or patting dry – the extra moisture will make the muffin fall apart around the fruit.
While the original recipe called for 18 muffins, we stretched it to 24 muffins. They are a little shorter than the original, which makes for better toddler serving sizes, but the muffin batter and topping divides without issue.
Recipe (60 min prep, 18 min bake, yield: 18-24 muffins):
- 2 lemons, zested and juiced (1 tbsp zest and 1/4 c juice for muffin; remainder reserved)
- 1 stick (1/2 c) butter, melted and cooled
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 c sour cream
- 2 1/2 c flour
- 3/4 c sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 c blueberries (fresh)
- Reserved lemon: 1 tbsp zest (or more), 1 tbsp juice (not more)
- 1/2 stick (4 tbsp or 1/4 c) butter, melted
- 3/4 c flour
- 1/3 c sugar
- Zest 2 lemons and squeeze for juicing (aim for a little over 1/4 c). Set aside 1 tbsp juice for crumble topping.
- Melt 1/2 c (1 stick) butter in a small mixing bowl; let cool.
- Add to melted butter: 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tbsp zest, 1/4 c lemon juice, 2 eggs. Whisk.
- Fold in 1 c sour cream. Set aside.
- In large mixing bowl, combine: 2 1/2 c flour, 3/4 c sugar, 2 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt. Form a well and scrape in the lemon/sour cream mixture.
- Mix batter gently until ingredients are moistened.
- Fold in 1 1/2 c blueberries.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Line 18-24 muffin cups. Use two spoons or an ice cream scoop to fill the cups. Let sit 15 min to settle into the cups – the thick batter needs to spread.
- Make the crumble topping: melt 1/4 c butter in a small bowl. Add 3/4 c flour, 1/3 c sugar, remaining zest, and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Mix thoroughly into unevenly sized crumbs.
- Use forks or fingers to spread crumbs over top of all the muffins.
- Bake 18 min in 400°F oven or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean or crumbly. Remove pans from oven and let cool for 5 min in pan then on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container at room temp for up to 3 days, or refrigerate for a week.
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It’s fall and we happen to be near one of the world’s best steam-powered cider mills (so says Alton Brown), so we get a lot of cider slushies and a lot of cider doughnuts. At some point I start to think we should just make our own.
Belle is a fan of these doughnuts and a fan of cider and a fan of baking, and I went into this recipe without much of a plan, except to allow her to work more on her pouring skills. Pouring combines gross motor strength, especially with a gallon of cider, with fine motor precision – both in targeting a tiny teaspoon and in slowing down to avoid spilling over. A funnel can be useful when trying to hit narrow targets, though it doesn’t help much with small amounts since there’s some lag time before you get the visual feedback.
Just as an FYI, the recipe still works with approximately four times as much vanilla. We might start pouring vanilla over a smaller bowl so we can recover the excess, though.
Belle also has gained a lot of independence controlling the mixer – she has developed an eye and ear for when the stand mixer is too fast or slow and when it is done. She catches herself and places her hands on the safe spot unprompted, though we haven’t talked about the safe spot in months, so I don’t watch her as carefully when she reaches around the mixer to hand me other ingredients.
Skills worked on:
- food prep!
- mixer and mixing bowl
- measuring cups and spoons
- extra bowls (cracking eggs, pouring vanilla)
- doughnut pan – this is ours, but you can use a standard muffin pan if you don’t have one
- two spoons for spooning batter into pan
This recipe is adapted from Yankee Magazine. We don’t love the topping and like a deeper flavor, so we subbed in brown sugar. Add 1-3 min to the bake time if opting for standard-sized muffins.
Recipe (45 min prep, 15 min bake per pan, yield: about 21 2.5″ donuts):
- 2 c apple cider, reduced to 1 c
- 1/2 c (1 stick) butter, plus 1/4 c for topping
- 3/4 c brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 2 1/4 c flour
- 1 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- Boil 2 c apple cider in a saucepan until it is reduced to 1 c, about 30 min. If you happen to have extra cider, 3 c will reduce to 1 cup with another 15 min and add extra flavor, but it’s not necessary. Let cool a bit once reduced – warm but not boiling is fine. No need to be too precise about the reduction as long as you end up with 1 c liquid added to the mixing bowl.
- Grease a doughnut pan for baking and preheat oven to 375°F.
- Cream together 1/2 c butter and 3/4 c brown sugar until fluffy.
- Add 2 eggs and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla and mix in.
- Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl (or a cup measure): 2 1/4 c flour, 1 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1 tsp salt.
- Mixing well after each, add 1/3 of flour mixture, then 1/2 of cider, 1/3 of flour mixture, 1/2 of cider, and final 1/3 of flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.
- Spoon batter into the doughnut cavities, filling about 3/4 full. Bake 14-15 min, then let cool on a wire rack.
- Optionally, melt 1/4 c butter in a bowl and dip cooled doughnuts in it.
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Summer’s bounty comes in the form of many, many, MANY zucchini. In our friend’s garden. Miss T is an outstanding gardener, with a degree in plants, drip irrigation systems, and an intuitive sense of color and scale that we can appreciate but not duplicate. Fortunately for us, she gives away vegetables when they become too much.
Belle and I are working on showing appreciation through actions, so we grabbed our recipe book and started thinking of ways to give back to Miss T. Alas, her family has a combination of allergies and sensitivities (dairy, gluten, egg, and peanut) that makes vegan recipes safest. So, Belle and I discussed why we had to use special flour for Miss T’s zucchini muffins:
“That flour makes Miss T sick, but this special flour doesn’t!”
“Why does it make her sick?”
“Because there’s something in it that her body doesn’t like. It’s okay, as long as we are very careful not to give her our flour, but instead use Miss T’s special flour! Should we mix in our normal flour?”
“No! Because Miss T might get sick!”
Cool, she gets it. In our house, we just frame allergies as something that we accommodate because it’s nice to share and it’s nice to keep people healthy when we do. Good friends help friends stay healthy. (Note that we also use this logic for pandemic masks!)
This recipe has a lot of places where we repeat the same size measuring cup/spoon four times, which I took as an opportunity to do a little early math. If we need 4 teaspoons of ground flax, then let’s count how many scoops we’ve done, and how many are left.
“We haven’t done any teaspoons, and we have four to go, for four teaspoons.”
“We have done one teaspoon, and we have three to go, for four teaspoons.”
“We have done two teaspoons, and we have two to go, for four teaspoons,” etc.
I broke the 2 cups of flour up into half-cup measures so we could do the same process to reinforce the concept. It’s basic math facts (1+3=4, 2+2=4, 3+1=4, 4+0=4) but also the transitive property (if 1+3=4 and 2+2=4, then 1+3=2+2) and just a general reinforcement of number sense. Where I might use math manipulates on a table to show the relationship, here I’m asking Belle to hold these concepts in her head and reference my fingers as we count.
Belle lost interest shortly after, so she went off to draw something while I wrapped up the recipe. Timing is an estimate based on how long it would take with start-to-finish participation.
Skills worked on:
- Early math: number sense, transitive property, math facts
- Character formation: appreciation, consideration
- Allergy awareness
- Fine motor: pouring
- Food prep
- two small bowls (coconut oil, flax eggs)
- two large mixing bowls (wet, dry)
- measuring spoons and cups
- spatula and spoon
- muffin tin
Recipe (35 min prep, 25 min bake, yield: 12 standard muffins)
This recipe is adapted from Beaming Baker, and is egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free, gluten-free, and vegan. We used Namaste gluten-free flour, but it should work with any flour marked gluten-free, including oat flour as in the original recipe. This recipe is written to minimize dishwashing, so it may feel out of order to experienced bakers. Overmixing is very easy if you do as I usually do (which is ignore recommendations to combine dry ingredients early) and will result in a flat and underbaked muffin.
- 4 1/2 tsp ground flaxseed
- 1/4 c plus 1 1/2 tsp warm water
- 1/4 c plus 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
- 1/4 c maple syrup
- 1/4 c brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 c gluten-free flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 c grated zucchini (a zucchini around 8″ long should be enough)
- 3/4 c chocolate chunks, optional
- Preheat oven to 350F and grease or line a 12 cup muffin pan.
- In a small bowl, whisk together 4 1/2 tsp ground flaxseed with 1/4 c plus 1 1/2 tsp water to create 1 1/2 flax eggs. Set aside.
- Grate zucchini using a box grater or a small food processor. A quarter cup more or less of grated zucchini will not break the recipe.
- Add 1/4 c brown sugar to a mixing bowl (the stand mixer if you use one).
- Add 1/4 c plus 2 tbsp coconut oil to a small bowl and microwave until clear (about 45-60 seconds). Set aside.
- In a large bowl (separate from the mixer), combine 2 c gluten-free flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp salt. Set aside.
- Add coconut oil to the sugar bowl, then add 1/4 c maple syrup, 1 tsp vanilla, and the flax eggs. Mix on medium using standard beaters until well combined.
- Add dry ingredients, mixing until mostly moistened, then add 1 1/4 c grated zucchini and optional 3/4 c chocolate chunks til fully moistened (no more than 20 seconds). Scrape down bowl and work any remaining dry ingredients into the mixture using a spatula.
- Spoon into muffin tins – the batter should be thick and the spoon can be used to help fill the cup to the edges.
- Bake for 25-30 min, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack in the pan about 20 min, then remove muffins from pan to continue to cool, about half an hour.
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You know when gingerbread houses are fun to build? Any month that doesn’t end in -cember. December has this next-level pressure to create perfect memories on a strict timeline between parties and demonstrate pin-worthy piping skills and hahaha that just isn’t going to happen with a toddler. BUT, making a spring gingerbread house allows for coconut grass, pink icing, epic collapses, cries of “get me a flying buttress!” and a thrilled toddler who doesn’t know that people usually only do this in winter.
We built this over the course of several days, which allowed us to target different things at different times. We highly recommend that approach, because it’s hard to keep a gingerbread house stable and a kid focused on a target at the same time.
- the usual gross motor and speech targets (see Shortbread)
- Early math: visualizing three-dimensional objects and how to construct them, measuring, estimates, patterns
We’ve been watching more UmiZoomi, and the character Geo builds things out of shapes. Before we built the house, we laid some groundwork by drawing houses together – a triangle on top of a square is a house! (Or sometimes a trapezoid on top of a rectangle, if you’re looking at the roof instead of the gable.)
We grabbed a marker and drew it again on the parchment before cutting the dough. If Belle were a year or two older, I would definitely have her draw out a pattern and/or measure the square walls to make sure they fit; as it was, I eyeballed it and asked Belle if they were about the same.
I cut out two doughs – gingerbread and shortbread – to allow Belle to sort by color and create tile patterns. She wanted to eat them and make patterns with bead-like candies instead. Okay. The shortbread was still handy for windows and doors, which weren’t going to happen by piping.
Coconut grass skills:
- Fine motor: squishing
Buddy did most of the squishing necessary to get a few drops of food coloring spread over some coconut in a ziplock bag.
- Imaginative/social storytelling: what do the people in the house need? What are they doing?
- Fine motor: tweezers, strength, gentle but firm pressure
- Cognition: planning, restraint
We set Belle up with a variety of textures and colors and cookie tiles to decorate with, plus tweezers. The tweezers help practice fine motor control and develop hand strength, and were new to her. I demonstrated how I could pick up a red hot out of a 4 oz jam jar using the tweezers, and she demonstrated how she could pick it up using her fingers, then hold it in place with the tweezers, then take it out and eat it. Not quite what I had in mind, but we’re building a new skill, and with practice, she’ll start testing what else she can pick up with the tweezers.
Belle had a firm idea that the decorations needed to sit in the icing, an idea born from her Christmas gingerbread house kit. This knocked down the house a few times – thanks, Papa, for the rebuilding efforts – but actually provided some great proprioceptive feedback on how hard was too hard.
We spent a lot of time asking Belle “what else should we build for the people?” We ended up with two garden beds (like the ones in our backyard) and a sandbox for the kids, with silver sprinkles to represent the sand toys. Plus paths, lots of paths. Paths of dried strawberry, paths of cookies, paths of icing…because the people needed to walk to their gardens and around the yard.
The day after construction, we started again with more storytelling, and a prompt of “Good morning, gingerbread house people! Did you have any dreams? What are you doing today?” (They’re going to a party at Grandma’s house.)
Then we kept eating their house. Ruthless giants, we are.
- Mixing bowl
- Mixer (with beater and whisk attachments)
- Plastic wrap
- Rolling pin
- 2-3 cookie sheets per batch of dough
- Piping bags or ziplock bags
- Large piece of cardboard (we used a diaper box) and foil to cover it
- Small jars or ramekins to contain decorations
Shortbread recipe here: Shortbread
Coconut grass directions:
- Put desired amount of coconut in a ziplock bag.
- Add food coloring (green, with a little yellow to lighten it up). A few drops should suffice, but add more if not coating the coconut.
- Close bag and squish til coated.
Royal icing recipe of your choice – we used less than 2 cups worth and colored it with food coloring.
Gingerbread Recipe (25 min prep, 2 hr-3 day chill, 45 min cut, 15-18 min bake, 45 min cool; yield: about 3 square feet of 1/4″ thick dough):
This recipe comes from Sally’s Baking Addiction. It’s delicious and sturdy, with minimal rise and spread. Butter holds its shape better than margarine; I would not substitute. It will cream much better at room temperature but if it’s the first ingredient you take out and you take your time getting everything else out, it’s not going to break the recipe. 1/4 tsp each of nutmeg and cloves can substitute for the 1/2 tsp allspice.
- 6 tbsp (3/4 stick) butter, room temperature
- 3/4 c brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 c molasses
- 2 tbsp water
- 3 c flour
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp ginger
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Cream 6 tbsp butter and 3/4 c brown sugar in a large mixing bowl.
- Add 1 egg, 1/2 c molasses, and 2 tbsp water to the bowl and beat until combined.
- Add dry ingredients and mix: 3 c flour, 1/4 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp ginger, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp salt. Dough will be thick and heavy.
- Divide into two discs, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least two hours (up to 3 days).
- Remove discs from refrigerator at least 10 minutes before rolling out and preheat oven to 350°F. Unwrap and place between two sheets of parchment to roll out to about 1/4″ thick – the dough is very tacky and will stick to the rolling pin.
- Cut pieces according to template (not included) or own design and place on cookie sheets lined with parchment. Reroll scraps. Make sure small pieces are on a separate sheet from large pieces, as they will bake faster.
- Bake smaller pieces for 12-13 min and larger pieces for 18-20 min. Let cool completely on the sheets, about 45 min.
- Prepare to assemble!
Assembly (up to 2 hours):
- Base to build on – we used cardboard and foil
- Gingerbread, cooled
- Shortbread, cooled (if used)
- Royal icing, aka the glue
- Assorted objects to help stand things up while icing sets
- Assorted candies/sprinkles/decorations
- Dried fruit/coconut/crushed graham cracker – get a variety of colors and textures
- Assemble the house and try not to move it or touch it.
- Follow your child’s lead on decorating the house and the yard.
- Stop when they lose interest and start again the next day if you care to.