Archive for the ‘Gadgets’ category

why kids should play with raw eggs

July 19th, 2010

playing with raw eggsSprinkles’ vanilla cupcake mix calls for two egg whites—although the package says you need three eggs (?)—offering the perfect opportunity for Carter to advance from cracking eggs to separating eggs. Of course, gadget-lover that I am, I use an egg-separator, which looks something like the plastic kid-friendly Egg Yolky egg separator without the face and feet.

Instead of just tossing the yolks, I let Carter poke at them. I know. I know. Yes, there’s a risk of getting  a risk of getting  salmonella from raw eggs.* But I’d rather teach Carter to keep his hands away from his face when handling raw eggs and to wash his hands after than to have him afraid of touching an egg white or yolk.

Safety of the specific food aside, grownups sometimes forget how much fun—or yucky but still interesting—touching food can be. In terms of child development (one of the Baking with Carter blog themes), sensory and tactile experiences are essential—and baking is an easy way to provide them them, no expensive toys required. I still remember Carter saying in amazement, “It’s so soft!” the first time he touched all-purpose flour. So go ahead and let your kids touch softened butter, squish brown sugar in their hands, and , if you’re ok with it, poke an egg yolk.

Poking egg yolks can also be looked as as a science experiment. Carter tested how much pressure it took to break the yolks and then smeared them around in the bowl to study their viscosity. He asked: What would happen if he poured in water? Well, I said, hot-enough water could start to cook them. Otherwise? Not much. He dumped in a cup of water, which was room temperature, to see for himself. The water floated to the top; the heavier eggs sank.

Then I had him wash his hands with soap and water twice.

By the time the cupcakes came out of the oven, it was too late to eat them. In the morning, my aspiring baker brought me breakfast in bed: a cupcake, with lots and lots of red sprinkles, of course.

*Caution: Always wash hands with soap and water thoroughly after handling raw eggs. Do this activity only with children you can trust to keeps their hands away from their mouths and face. To be extra safe, use pasteurized eggs.

rainy-day strawberry cake

April 20th, 2010

When it rains, strawberries go on sale at the CalAve farmers’ market! Who knew? Perfect for a pie, for most bakers. I’ve already confessed my cookie-baking phobia, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that making pie crusts aren’t yet in my repertoire. (We’ll discuss my avoidance of yeast another day. How is it that I claim to be a baker?) In my recently, very specifically filed recipe clips, I found the answer under Desserts > Fruit: strawberry cake.

Strawberry cake in a 9-inch Emile Henry pie pan.

Strawberry cake in a 9-inch Emile Henry pie pan.

Carter had decided he would rather watch a movie with Daddy than bake with Mommy, until I started making the cake around bedtime. Then, big surprise, he wanted to stay up and bake. Carter got away with it only somewhat (yes, he gets away with probably too much with me, but that’s yet another story). I let him get out of bed to arrange the strawberries on top the batter—a perfect colorful, tactile task for kids.

This strawberry cake is closer to a coffeecake or teacake than a dessert cake. It’s delicious and looked beautiful in the Emile Henry pie dish I got for a wedding present—something I didn’t registered for, but should have. Mine came from Williams Sonoma, Emile Henry also now makes a pink “Bake for the Cause” pie dish. Another confession: I had to Google to find out how to measure a pie pan. The answer is rim to rim at the widest part.

I also had to Google to find out the origin of the recipe—turns out I clipped it from the June 2005 Martha Stewart Living, so it’s nearly as old as Carter. Good thing I saved it. Better thing: I could—finally—easily find it.

Strawberry Cake

6 tablespoons butter, softened, plus more for greasing pie plate
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking poweder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat over to 350˚F. Butter a 10-inch pie dish (or a 9-inch deep one).

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.

In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on medium-high to cream butter and 1 cup sugar together until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low; mix in the egg, milk, and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Gradually mix in flour mixture.

Transfer batter to buttered pie pan. Arrange strawberries on top of the batter, with cut sides down, as close together as possible. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over the berries.

Bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325˚F. Bake until the cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into wedges to serve.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

magical popover debut

January 5th, 2010

popoversAs far as I’m concerned, a perfect present is something I really want and wouldn’t buy for myself—like a popover pan (thanks, Dawn!). I’ve never met a Nordic Ware pan I didn’t like (I’ll cop to collecting Bundt pans), and the English popover pan is no exception. I’d never actually made popovers. It sounded like fun, and it is.

The basic batter is super simple—milk, eggs, flour, salt, butter—and should be easy to put together with kids. Sadly, I didn’t get to try because Carter has been recovering from pneumonia and was napping when I mixed up the first batch.

Better yet, though, is watching popovers balloon up like new skyscrapers in the oven. Popover pan cups are 4 inches high, and the batter goes from filling the cups halfway up to towering over the top—demonstrating yet again the magical chemistry behind baking. Carter missed the transformation because he was in the bath, but he was impressed with the result when I carried the pan in to show him.

You can make popovers in a muffin pan, too, so don’t be scared off by my choice of specialty bakeware. I read a bunch of popover recipes and the key to the “pouf” is high heat. You heat the oven with your baking pan of choice in it with a silver baking sheet or a baking stone under it. Once the batter has rested (another key) and everything is hot, fill the pan quickly, and don’t open the oven door once the popovers are baking.

Jeff appreciated my effort. Carter ate half of one with strawberry jelly and was underwhelmed. He, like me, has an expressive face that doesn’t hide much. I hope he’ll be a little more excited when he feels better and we make them together. I also want to experiment with flavors. I have my eye on Mary Cech’s orange nutmeg popover recipe in Savory Baking. I’ll report back.


1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon oil (for greasing a popover pan; plus 2 teaspoons if using a muffin tin)

In a mixing bowl, whisk the milk and eggs. In another bowl, whisk the flour and salt; add to the egg mixture. Stir with a spatula just until combined; the mixture will be lumpy. Add the melted butter. Whisk until the batter is bubbly and smooth, about 30 seconds. Let the batter rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour, then put it in a container with a spout, if your mixing bowl doesn’t have one.

Meanwhile, put 1/2 teaspoon oil in the bottom of each of the 6 cups of a popover pan (or in each of 10 cups of a muffin tin)—no need to spread around. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven; place the popover pan (or muffin tin) on a silver (not dark) baking sheet or a baking stone on the rack. Heat the oven to 450˚F.

After the batter has rested, remove the pan from the oven and distribute the batter evenly among the cups in the pan—work quickly and keep the oven door closed. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Do not open the oven door! Lower the heat to 350˚F and bake until popovers are golden brown all over, about 15 minutes more. Remove the popovers from the pan and cool them on a wire rack for a few minutes. Best served immediately.

Adapted from Baking Illustrated

beer-spiked chocolate cupcakes

September 14th, 2009

Weeks ago, I signed up to make a dessert for our block party. It was today, but had completely slipped my mind until I got a reminder email around noon. Carter wanted to make cupcakes, which aside from the Linzer cupcakes, I haven’t made very often, so I went in search of a foolproof recipe.

I was reading through cookbooks and searching online, when I came across a five-star recipe on the Food Network site with an intriguing addition: a bottle of Guinness! On one hand, what doesn’t taste better with Guinness? On the other, I had never contemplated putting a bottle of beer in chocolate cupcakes. I don’t know why it works, but it does. (The alcohol cooks off during the baking process, so these are kid safe.)

Topping chocolate cupcakes off with cream cheese frosting also never hurts. Today, that’s what Carter was most interested in because he was making frosting for the first time. He loves to turn the crank on the sifter and hold the electric hand mixer by himself. He also insisted on frosting the cupcakes, which he did very carefully and deliberately, proving that baking is good for helping kids focus. (He had me “finish” them with a little smoothing.) And, of course, in the end, with cupcakes, it’s all about the sprinkles, lots and lots of sprinkles.

Note: Having the ingredients at room temperature helps keep the butter from clumping. If you’re short on time, putting the eggs and the bottle of beer in bowls of warm water speeds up the process.

Beer-Spiked Chocolate Cupcakes

2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 pinches salt
1 1/2 cups (1 12-ounce bottle) stout beer, such as Guinness, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease or place 24 paper liners in muffin tins.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine the beer, butter, and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the sour cream until the mixture is thoroughly combined. In three separate parts, add the dry ingredients, blending well after each addition.

Pour the batter into the muffin tins, dividing equally to make 24 cupcakes.

Bake for 12 minutes and then rotate the pans. Bake another 12 minutes, or until risen, nicely domed, and set in the middle but still soft and tender. Cool in pans on wire rack.

Adapted from Chocolate Stout Cupcakes, Dave Liedberman (Food Network)

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup powdered sugar
8 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift the sugar into a mixing bowl. Add the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Blend until smooth.

handheld mixer, check

September 8th, 2009

hand-held mixer debutIMG_0962Another great banana bread recipe—and Carter’s first solo spin with a handheld electric mixer. Just like Widget on Wow! Wow! Wubbzy, who, Carter tells me, invented the Blenderoma 3000 to help Wubbzy make doodleberry pie. (Once again, I must ask myself if my child watches too much TV. At least, Widget is a positive female character who likes to invent and build things.) Carter was so excited about using the mixer that he yelled for Daddy, to “come quick.” Then he showed Jeff how to use the mixer and let him take a turn. 

I chose this Williams-Sonoma banana bread recipe for the whole-wheat flour and the fact that once mashed, the very ripe bananas my neighbor gave me equalled 1 cup. Carter and I have made similar recipes, like the  Ba-Ba banana bread and Nandini’s mini banana muffins, that employ the creaming method, where you blend together room-temperature butter and sugar. However, Carter usually exits from the kitchen when I use either the stand or the handheld mixer because he doesn’t like the noise. This is the first time Carter asked to do it himself—and then went it alone using the handheld mixer. He was proud of himself, and, needless to say, I was proud of him, too. (Tip: use a mixing bowl with a nonslip bottom to keep the bowl secure on the counter.)

We made four loaves in mini loaf pans. I don’t know if it’s the method or the stick of butter and cup of sugar (I’ll try less next time), but this is some good banana bread.

Whole-Wheat Banana Bread

1 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup very ripe bananas, mashed, (3 small or 2 large)
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a standard loaf pan or four mini loaf pans.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. 

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until blended—a handheld electric mixer is helpful for this step. Beat in the banana, then the eggs, one as a time, until completely mixed.

Add the flour mixture into the egg mixture and gently blend by hand just until combined (do not overmix!).

Spread the batter in the loaf pan(s) and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 55–60 minutes for a standard loaf pan or about 30–35 minutes for mini loaf pans. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack or serve warm.

Adapted from Muffins & Quick Breads (Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library)

Great Grandma’s Coffee Cake

August 25th, 2009

Great Grandma's coffee cake decoratedMy mom’s mom was well known for her signature coffee cake, and tonight Carter and I made her recipe. (We halved it because we had only a cup of sugar, which gave me a chance to talk about dividing and fractions.) Even Carter remarked at how easy and fast it is to make. I think that helped keep him engaged in the whole process, as did letting him do several things for the first time.

Carter did the usual—scooped the flour, cracked the eggs (oops! one overboard, it happens), poured the milk. The new technique he learned was how to mix dry ingredients with butter to form coarse crumbs. I had him try using my pastry blender (I love Oxo’s blender with blades) and then I had him try doing it with his fingers, which is a great tactile experience for kids. He liked both ways, and the variety helped keep his interest.

For some reason, Carter is newly entranced with wanting to use the spatula to scrape batter into a pan; he got so excited doing it that he called for Daddy to come watch. He also insisted on sprinkling the topping. Then he put his handprint in the middle. I told him I thought we wouldn’t be able to see it after coffee cake baked, but nothing like an experiment to find out. (Sure enough, telltale ridges remained of his mark.)

When I was checking the coffee cake for doneness, Carter really wanted to use the “needle” (aka a cake tester). I was reluctant because the pan was hot, but I also want him to learn to do these things safely. I put his hand in a long oven mitt that went up his arm and guided his hand, while explaining to check to see if any crumbs stick to it: another new concept. (I can’t recommend the cake tester I have because the metal part too easily separates from its wooden handle, but I do recommend having a cake tester on hand. One of these days, I’ll probably get a Oxo cake tester as a replacement.)

Of course, once the cake cooled, Carter made it his own by adding sprinkles. The candles are for Pink Bear, who celebrates her birthday on a regular basis.

Great Grandma’s Coffee Cake

4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup butter (room temperature)
1 cup milk
3 eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla 

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Butter two round cake pans or one 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Sift together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, combine dry ingredients with butter until coarse crumbs form. Reserve 1 cup of mixture for topping.

To remaining mixture,  add milk, eggs, and vanilla.  Mix by hand until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and evenly sprinkle reserved mixture over the top.

Bake at 400ºF for 35 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

Cornmeal apple cheese muffins

August 23rd, 2009

Carter wanted to go the airplane museum, a weekly request. I wanted to make cornmeal apple cheese muffins, a long-lost, pre-Carter recipe that turned up when I recently cleaned out my stack of recipe clippings. So first we baked, then Carter devoured a muffin on the way to the Hiller—and another two when we got home.

Carter favorite part about making this muffin recipe is that he got to turn a lot of handles: sifter, nutmeg grater, and rotary cheese grater. Equipment notes: I have a sifterwith a handle that you turn rather squeeze, which is easier for Carter (and me!) to use. I’ve mentioned before that we grind our own nutmeg, a personal preference that also gives Carter more involvement. After a few knuckle scrapes with a box cheese grater, I almost always use a rotary cheese grater, which Carter used today for the first time with very careful oversight.

I had only an old newspaper clipping with no attribution, but thanks to Google and Darlene’s Kitchen Pantry, I found out that this cornmeal apple cheese muffins recipe comes from the Apple Cookbook by Olwen Woodier. My yield using an ice cream scoop for a consistent measure was 15 small muffins. 

Cornmeal apple cheese muffins

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup silk (skim, low-fat, soy, or rice)
1/4 cup apple juice or cider
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 medium apple (such as Braebrun, Empire, or Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and finely diced

Preheat over to 400ºF. Grease 12 large or 18 small muffin cups.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, apple juice, honey, oil, and eggs. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquids and the cheese. Stir by hand to barely combine the batter. Gently fold in the diced apples so the batter is lumpy, not smooth. Do not overmix.

Fill each muffin cup about two-thirds full. Bake 15–20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove from the muffin cups immediately and cool on a wire rack or serve hot.

Adapted from the Apple Cookbook

odd measures

August 17th, 2009

Gadget alert! For all the recipes that call for 2/3 cup of this dry ingredient and 3/4 cup of that—say, like the banana chocolate chip oatmeal muffins or sour cream–maple muffins Carter and I recently made—it’s especially handy to  have “odd-size” measuring cups.

Odd-size measuring cups are another one of those gadgets that wish I’d bought a lot sooner! I have an All Clad set, which also includes odd-size measuring spoons (2 teaspoon, 1 1/2 tablespoon, and 2 tablespoon), from Williams Sonoma, but just look for a basic set that includes 1 1/2 cup, 3/4 cup, and 2/3 cup to take the guesswork out of measuring dry ingredients in these frequently asked-for quantities. My guess is, pretty soon, they won’t be the odd ones out.

It’s just so much easier for Carter to scoop and level flour 3/4 cup flour with a 3/4 cup measuring cup. Ditto having a 2/3 cup measuring cup to show him how to tightly pack and measure 2/3 cup of brown sugar for the banana muffins. Plus he’s learning about fractions without even knowing it!

Grind my own nutmeg? Are you nuts?

July 31st, 2009

I admit that a nutmeg grinder sounds like a pretty geeky gadget. In fact, not that long ago, I pooh-poohed the mere concept of freshly ground nutmeg that same way I pooh-poohed that of freshly ground black pepper. Who has the time, when you could just as easily scoop the same spice out of a jar all ready to go?  And this still remains a fine strategy as far as I’m concerned.

Just like any cook worth her salt arguing for fresh ground black pepper, though, I’m going to plead my case for fresh grinding nutmeg: it’s a small thing that makes a big impact.

For convenience and to keep the nuts fresh, I keep my nutmeg grinder, which also holds nuts in compartments on top, in the refrigerator. 

After very carefully showing Carter the slit on the bottom toavoid, I held the grinder and let him turn the handle for the first time when we made banana bread last weekend. Having him marvel at the smell made it even more worthwhile than the added flavor.

Shopping notes: My nutmeg grinder looks like the Peugeot Tidore Nutmeg Shaver, but I can’t imagine that I paid $40 for it. The Carefree Kitchen Compact Nutmeg Grinder and Norpro Spice Grinder are similar in design, with a turn handle on top and a slit on the bottom—away from little fingers.

(No) spilled milk

July 28th, 2009

A good way to teach kids to pour liquids (for example, their own cup of milk) is to first pour it into a small pitcher and have them practice pouring from there into a cup. I learned this tip from author Nancy Hall when I was editing the book Gymboree’s 365 Activities You and Your Child Will Love. I started doing this with Carter ages ago and still do it, using a 1- or 2-cup liquid measuring cup. He likes pouring his own milk without any mishap, and I don’t mind the mitigated risk of spills, either.