Over the course of the next few pre-holiday weeks, I will detail ways I get my kids involved in cooking, from helping with grocery lists to gathering up garden produce, mixing up batter to cleaning up spills. We'll go over kid-centered expectations while in the kitchen and explore creative "jobs" you can assign in your own kitchen. I promise you will A) not want to run out of your house screaming and B) with enough patience and practice those little hands will actually help you get food on the table *gasp* faster!
So let's start with my new favorite fall recipe....this is the Jen Version of Ree's Cinnamon Rolls.
Now let's just get real here, the first time I made them I didn't let the kids help at all. I always do a trial-run of any new recipe alone first. You know what? That is our first Cooking with Kids tip.
CwK Tip #1: Always try a new recipe alone.
I've gotta have a chance to gauge how tricky the steps are for safety purposes, you know? It has nothing to do with the fact that when I try new things I tend to panic and overanalyze just a lil' bit and need to concentrate and kids = no concentration and no concentration = burned, salty, wasted attempts at creating something edible combined with a delicious side of Jen tears.
So yes. Be safe. Try it alone first.
Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
Ingredients for Dough
4 cups whole milk
1 cup olive oil
1 cup sugar
4 and 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (or 2 packets)
9 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour, plus some for the counter
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Ingredients for Filling
1/4 cup melted butter mixed with 1/4 cup melted coconut oil (or just 1/2 cup melted butter)
Sugar (impossible to quantify)
Cinnamon (also impossible to quantify)
Ingredients for Icing
1lb bag of powdered sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
Kitchen Tools Needed:
Plastic knife of some kind
Big ol' mixing bowl
Liquid measuring cup
Dry measuring cups
Pans with butter all over the inside of 'em (let the kids coat them with butter!)
CwK Tip #2: Let your kids get the things you need.
Kids love feeling helpful. I let my youngest get the kitchen tools because most of them are within her reach. My oldest knows where all the baking ingredients are because I am constantly asking her to grab ingredients and organize them (in order, if I really want to give her a challenge) on the counter. This step works in two ways - it allows you to bypass gathering everything and focus on the recipe you're about to follow and helps the kids familiarize themselves with the kitchen.
Ok so you've got all your ingredients ready to roll? Let's do a quick safety briefing before we get started. I don't go nuts here. In Europe kids cut with knives and stuff. Children tend to be more cautious and quick to learn than we sometimes give them credit for. I focus on the major areas of concern - burns, cuts, and contamination.
CwK Tip #3: Clean and clearly define danger zones
Before we even get started I'll be sure the girls wash hands and wipe down our countertops. You will not believe how quickly pet hair jumps onto my counters, I swear. We always do a quick wipe-down before we begin. Then I point to my gas-powered stovetop and say, "Don't touch this, this will hurt you, this will melt your skin off, this will light your hair and clothes on fire, this is dangerous and can hurt you very badly because it makes fire," to my youngest. She is four and needs to be reminded. My oldest, who is ten, gets it. She makes wide-eyed expressions next to me for dramatic emphasis. Then I pick up any knives I'll be using and again tell my youngest, "Don't touch this, this will hurt you, this will cut your finger off and it will hurt very very badly." Again, my oldest makes the "it's true" face. Lastly, if we are cooking with any raw meat, I will pick it up and hold it in my hands and say, "If you touch this you need to wash your hands. This is not cooked and all the blood on it could make you sick. If you touch this you need to wash your hands so you don't get sick and poop a lot." Both my kids need this reminder so I add the wide-eyed look myself.
And that's it, those are the only "safety" concerns I address. Then we're ready for cookin.
1. Heat milk, olive oil, and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside, off the burners, to cool - it should be cool enough to touch. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let it sit there (no stirring yet!) for a couple minutes.
*CwK Moment* Kids can add ingredients to the saucepan and sprinkle on the yeast. Kids can also keep time by either counting or watching a timer.
2. Add 8 cups of flour (only 8 - we're saving one cup for a few steps down) and stir until combined. Try not to overmix it too much or terrible, terrible things will happen to your soul.
*CwK Moment* Let the kids add the flour and stir. Be prepared to take over as the dough starts to form.
3. Cover the pan o' dough with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for an hour.
*CwK Moment* Put a kid in charge of the timer. They will absolutely go bonkers when it goes off and come running at you with the passion of a thousand samurais.
4. Remove the kitchen towel and stir in your baking powder, baking soda, salt, and the remaining 1 cup of flour. Mix it good, but not like a crazy person. You want to combine well. That is it.
*CwK Moment* Kids love to stir so I say, let them.
5. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
*CwK Moment* This is a great time to teach kids who can reach the controls how to use the oven controls. I am not talking about the burner dials, my dear readers, because I don't promote burning your house down, nope. I am talking about the oven controls - how to preheat, what the buttons means, how to turn the oven off, those types of things.
Assembling the Rolls Instructions:
6. Take half the dough out of the saucepan. I use this super-accurate method of grabbing the whole ball of dough and ripping it in half, holding one half in each hand and tipping them back and forth like a scale. It stays classy and upscale in my kitchen, people.
7. Plop your dough-halve (half-dough? halve-of-dough? dough-half?) on a floured surface. I use my bare counter, but a table works well, too. You need room, so I do not suggest using a cutting board unless you have one that's like 3 feet long.
*CwK Moment* Give your kids free reign to flour the surface for you. I promise it's worth it.
8. Make your dough blob rectangular-like. Then roll it out - you want it to be a larger rectangle. Ree suggests 30x10 inches but I don't know what that means so I just made it a nice, long rectangle. My dough always comes out to about an inch thick....but it's not perfect and the edges are thicker and I promise it all comes out ok. Just make sure that surface is well-floured or your dough won't roll nicely.
*CwK Moment* Let them roll!! Show them how to pat the dough down, show them how much pressure to use, show them how to add flour so the dough doesn't stick.
9. Pour your melted butter and coconut oil on the dough. Spread it around so it covers the dough - you don't want tons of huge puddles but you can be generous. I aim to cover from edge to edge with a nice, decent, relatively-even layer.
*CwK Moment* Show the kiddos how to use their fingers to spread the butter and oil around. Draw pictures and letters and then smooth it out.
10. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon. I let the kids do this all by themselves. I put a pile of sugar in their little palms and then tell them sprinkle it all around. Same with the cinnamon. The key is using your kids' palms - they're small enough to limit the sugar and cinnamon so it doesn't become overwhelming.
11. Time to roll. Let the kids watch - this is definitely an adult step as it's a bit tricky. You want to roll the longest edge toward you tightly. Use two hands and reach over there and go slow and roll as evenly and tightly as you can toward you. Stuff will spill out the edges and that's ok, just keep rolling as tightly as you can. You're supposed to pinch the seam when you get to the end but I tried that and it did absolutely nothing so give it a whirl if you feel like it, or not.
12. Now it's time to cut the rolls. I use a plastic knife that doubles as a spatula because I don't want to slice into my counters. There is really no clean way to do this part, from my experience. The filling will get all over and again, it's ok. Cut 1/2 inch pieces off your roll. I cut down directly and swiftly and then pull the roll off and kinda straighten it out with my fingers before placing it in my buttered pans. Keep doing this until your rolls are all cut and placed in their pans. I used one pie pan and one 9x13 pan.
*CwK Moment* Put one kid in charge of roll spacing. This is a very important job! These rolls will expand in size and putting them too close together can be disastrous and extend your baking time significantly! You want them spaced apart so they have room to grow, grow, grow!
13. Place a kitchen towel over your rolls and let them rise for about 20 minutes. Then pop them in the oven and bake for 17-20 minutes, checking for brownness. You want them nice and golden.
14. Whisk the powdered sugar, milk, melted butter, syrup, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. I mean really whisk it so it's so, so smooth. You can also use a stand mixer, the kids get a kick out of turning on the high-tech appliances.
*CwK Moment* You measure, the kids whisk and/or turn on the mixer. Since you want this real smooth, the more whisking, the better. No worries about overmixing here!
15. Taste the icing and add more syrup if you wanna.
Ding! Rolls are Done Instructions:
16. Pull the rolls out of the oven and pour that sweet, sweet icing all over them.
*CwK Moment* Kiddos will just eat the icing if given the chance. I give them each a spoon and tell them once the rolls are covered, they can lick their spoons. Rationing and helping hands......works every time.
17. Now you can repeat steps 6-13 with the other half of the dough, or you can do what I did and put the other half of the dough and half the icing in separate freezer baggies and freeze. When you're ready to bake again, pull the dough and icing out and let them thaw in the fridge, then move to the counter and let warm up slowly. The dough and icing hold up great after freezing.
More ways kids can help?
Watch the rolls rise! Tell mommy when they get too brown.
Keep the cat off the counter!
Time to clean up! Put things in the sink, wipe down the counters, clean off the floor, wash hands, wash dishes....kids can clean just as well as grown ups, it just takes a little longer. Give them a chance!
This is a great recipe to try with your little ones because the sweet ingredients will hold their interest and the only truly technical part of the recipe takes no time at all. The end results are fantastic and delicious and special, just like your babies.
Cooking with kids doesn't need to be a hassle. It will be messy and it will go slow at first, but the more you cook with them, the better they get. Give it a try! And be sure to tune in next week for another delicious, kid-friendly recipe.
Do you bake with your kids? What are your challenges and triumphs? I'd love to hear about them in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)