Annabel Lang­bein says kids are never too young to start bak­ing

Little Treasures - - CONTENTS -

I love the ex­pres­sion, “keep­ing the tins full,” which I think goes back to the war era. I have two young kids and I aim to fill up the freezer with baked treats for lunch­boxes (when I’m not too busy). Did you grow up with those sorts of ideas and tra­di­tions?

Yes, to­tally. My mother was a home sci­ence grad­u­ate so she was amaz­ingly well-or­gan­ised in terms of ev­ery­thing we ate. We had a pantry with about six dif­fer­ent bis­cuit con­tain­ers and two or three cake and slice tins which were al­ways full. My friends al­ways wanted to swap lunches and come over for af­ter­noon tea. She also did lots of pre­serv­ing in the sum­mer, bot­tling jars of fruit for our breakfasts.

What freezes well?

So many more things than you can imag­ine – but the trick is not to let the freezer be­come a cemetery for dead food and lit­tle bits of left­overs. I tend to freeze dips and spreads, doughs and pas­tries, cooked meals like stews and oven-bakes, rata­touille, lasagne, soups. La­bel and date ev­ery­thing and plan to use it within three months. Things that don’t freeze well are white sauce and egg yolks (although the whites freeze well).

Is home bak­ing bet­ter for us than store bought? Can par­ents cut out some of the sugar when bak­ing for tod­dlers?

With home bak­ing you know ex­actly what is go­ing into it. Be­cause it’s made fresh there are no preser­va­tives or colourants or flavour en­hancers, so the end re­sult is a lot less processed. In my new cook­book ES­SEN­TIAL Vol­ume Two: Sweet Treats for Every Oc­ca­sion, I have worked through all the recipes and cut down the sugar where I can. Be­cause bak­ing is all about chemistry you can’t elim­i­nate the sugar en­tirely – it’s key to the tex­ture of baked goods, as well as the flavour. But I’ll of­ten use dates or honey in­stead of re­fined sugar, and I’ve in­cluded a spe­cial in­dex for those recipes in the back of the book, along with gluten-free, dairy-free and ve­gan in­dexes.

You’ve said you found your con­fi­dence and your pas­sion in the kitchen as a young­ster – how won­der­ful!

My mother loved to cook and when­ever she was bak­ing I would hang around, like most kids, wait­ing to lick the beater. Be­fore I knew it I was mix­ing and rolling and bring­ing trays of beau­ti­ful bis­cuits out of the oven. It was so sat­is­fy­ing to feel a sense of suc­cess and use­ful­ness. I learned very quickly that through cook­ing I could feel con­fi­dent and not only make my­self happy but give a lot of hap­pi­ness to other peo­ple as well.

Very small chil­dren love bak­ing – from about 18 months they can stand on a chair at the kitchen bench – but ini­tially it re­quires a lot of pa­tience on the part of the head cook. Did you get your own kids in­volved in bak­ing early on? What tips do you have?

I was in­cred­i­bly busy when my kids were lit­tle and I of­ten missed out on things like bath­time or the kindy drop-off or pick-up. But I al­ways made time to hang out in the kitchen with them. They both loved to bake and, like me, they de­rived so much plea­sure from cre­at­ing sweet treats. I have a mem­ory of Sean aged about two on the floor early one Sun­day morn­ing mix­ing flour and eggs and milk to make pan­cakes – there was flour ev­ery­where, but he was so happy. I think not wor­ry­ing about the mess is my big­gest tip – it’s just mess and can be cleaned up. Start with sim­ple recipes that don’t have too many steps and make things they like. Lit­tle kids can lose in­ter­est quickly so they need fast re­sults. And don’t use ex­pen­sive in­gre­di­ents or you will start to get anx­ious if things get wasted.

What are the best recipes to start kids on?

My ul­ti­mate choco­late cake has proved a huge hit with hun­dreds of very small chil­dren – ev­ery­thing just goes into the mixer and you mix it up and it comes out in a big per­fect cake, or a bunch of cup­cakes. My sticky buns are an­other win­ner – kids love work­ing with the dough and it doesn’t mind be­ing mixed to death. And a sim­ple bis­cuit recipe like my ba­sic but­ter bis­cuits is an­other good starter – the kids can mix the dough, roll it out and dec­o­rate the bis­cuits with hun­dreds and thou­sands or choco­late or nuts – they love that. And pan­cakes and pikelets – kids love mak­ing them in fun shapes. All those recipes are in my new book.

What are the best treats in the book that can be held by chubby lit­tle fists?

I’m think­ing dough­nuts, shrews­burys, pikelets… All soft and doughy treats. Yum! I have never known a child who can’t get their chubby lit­tle fists around any­thing that is sweet, but if you’re keen to avoid mess then bite-sized morsels are best. Bis­cuits and slices are so easy to make and per­fect for lunch­boxes and snacks on the run.

When it comes to meal­times, kids are drawn to plain dishes with lots of but­ter and cheese and carbs, such as mac­a­roni cheese. What were your fam­ily sta­ples when your kids were grow­ing up?

My kids had the plainest ap­petites ever. Rose would only eat plain boiled pasta with olive oil and parme­san and Sean liked mashed pota­toes and chops or sausages. But rest as­sured they do grow out of it, and now they eat ev­ery­thing.

Any tips for get­ting tod­dlers to eat veg­eta­bles?

When she was about four years old, Rose re­fused to eat any­thing green and would climb un­der the ta­ble and cry un­til the of­fend­ing item was re­moved from her plate! It was dur­ing this pe­riod that I de­vel­oped my Fridge Fix­ings con­cept. I would make big batches of sauces and spice mixes and dress­ings and keep them in the fridge so Ted and I could add them to meals and eat some­thing more in­ter­est­ing with­out hav­ing to cook a whole other meal. I found the best way to get veg­gies into food was in dis­guise. I would puree veg­eta­bles like car­rots, onion and pump­kin and add them to bolog­naise sauce, lasagne and meat­balls, and even into bak­ing – beet­root, car­rots, pump­kin and zuc­chini are fab­u­lous in cakes and loaves.

Gourmet food de­liv­ery ser­vices are all the rage. Have we for­got­ten about the old favourites we grew up on such as boiled egg and sol­diers?

Yes and I find this quite fas­ci­nat­ing as you lose that idea of fam­ily favourites and fam­ily tra­di­tions as every day there is some­thing new. Per­son­ally, I like hav­ing some fa­mil­iar food in my reper­toire. I pre­fer to run a menu of recipes for each sea­son so we make the most of what’s fresh and lo­cal and eat more in tune with the weather and sea­sons.

Never-fail Pikelets

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