When I was little I loved baking with my mother and I have fond memories of pressing the flapjack mixture into the tins and of course licking out the bowl. I don’t really remember much of what we baked, aside from the flapjacks, there were a lot of cakes which I remember because the raw batter tasted better than the raw oat mixture. This, I suspect, is because I have now learnt that baking with children isn’t always about the idyllic child parenting bonding experience I had anticipated. If I were to characterise it as anything I’d say it’s closer to an extreme sport.
That sounds like an exaggeration, maybe its more like American ninja were all your physical and mental abilities are put to the test in a gruelling challenge against time. That’s really not far off the mark.
We begin with setting up the ingredients. My kitchen is the size of a postage stamp so communal cooking has to be done in the living room instead. My child cannot be left alone with a single item because she will instantly start eating it. Sugar I can kind of understand, just sticking your fingers in the butter and licking them clean, well… I guess, maybe, on a really bad day I could resort to that but eating flour straight from the bag, seriously? What kind of monster being is it that sprung from my loins because I am sure that is not human.
Getting from the kitchen to the living room isn’t a long distance, my entire flat is the size of an A4 envelope, but there is no direct line of sight so to ensure that nothing gets lost among the way I have two choices: too fully prep when she is asleep or mentally gorging herself on endless Shaun the Sheep episodes or to incorporate her into the prepping process. One, I’m not that organised but, two, I figure the more involvement the better, particularly as the whole point of the baking is as a pleasant way to pass the time and instil in her her own fond bowl-licking memories. Well, that is, aside from the whole baking to satisfy my daily chocolate cravings which I think probably shouldn’t be the only essential I go to the shops and breach self-isolation for. I am currently eating mouthfuls of cake in between writing sentences.
So, I want to keep the minion engaged but I can’t leave her alone with any ingredients for even a moment. I go for the let’s ride on mummy’s shoulders to transfer the ingredients from the baking shelf to the table. First physical challenge is carting around 12kg of non stable, wriggling weight mass on my shoulders, trying to duck through two door frames each way.
First mental challenge engaged, this is lockdown, and I am entrusting my child with carrying things like a bag of flour and sugar. If she drops these we are doomed. Even if I could just pop out to the shops gone are the days where I could simply pick up the items I need. No, nowadays you go to the shops come home with 10 kgs of bananas that went off yesterday, a spatula, two packets of bagels and a spare inner tube for your bike tyre and count that as a win.
It takes a few legs to transport everything successfully and by the time we have everything on the table I am profusely sweating and my neck feels as though it has extended several inches and started the kind of theatrical droop cut Tulips will do for you.
I’m not a masochist so I get the bib ready for the child, she points out mummy needs her bib. Drat. Bib, or apron rather, is in the kitchen. I am physically incapable of hoisting her on my shoulders again and what’s more the bib is at a level that will cripple me for an eternity if I have to contort myself down for her to be able to pick up while still atop of my shoulders. I look nervously at the child and the contents of the table but decide to chance it. ‘Don’t touch anything’ I tell my progeny. Quick as a flash I whip to the kitchen grab the apron, try not to curse as the strings get tangled in some utensils, and run back to the table. I can’t have been gone more than a minute.
Where are the eggs. I know we brought them I remember the blind panic of getting them out of their container, putting them in the mixing bowl and nervously handing up to niblet to hold. The mixing bowl is there, the eggs are not. ‘Where are the eggs, baby girl? And please stop leave the butter alone’. I am met with silence. I am terrified but I nervously look to the floor. I spot one egg, miraculously intact and start to utter a small prayer of thanks under my breath. I then spot the other egg, not intact and leaving its oozing entrails in a sticky path across the floor up to the edge of the rug which is stoically soaking up the yolk.
It’s upsetting but it’s okay, it’s not my last egg but it will warrant a rethink of dining plans for the following day. I sprint to the kitchen for another and return in record time.
Now the baking can begin and, here, distraction is key. My multitasking skills kick into overdrive as I try to measure ingredients, supervising her adding items to the mixture, stepping in to complete tasks as she gets bored of them and trying to prevent her from licking everything. If high hygiene standards are a concern of yours never accept edible produce from people with children.
Somehow, I get to that critical stage of transferring batter from the mixing bowl to the cupcake cases. Having her put the cases into the baking pan buys me enough time to get batter into one and a half of the cupcake cases. Only ten and a half to go and now she want to take the spoon and fill the paper holders except she also wants to sample as she goes. It’s okay, there are only 3 of us in the flat who are going to eat these so it doesn’t matter if we don’t make all twelve cakes but I also want to avoid the scenario of my child eating three cake-full’s worth of batter at this afternoon’s activity, a mere three hours before she is due for bed.
I have a genius idea and distract her with the baby’s spoon I hadn’t cleared from lunch, and quickly clean by licking it. It is much smaller and slows her down enough for me to move fast enough to fill up the other cases.
As she proudly carries the full cupcake tray back to the kitchen I hover like a deranged moth but also cannot help but relish the moment of my beautiful girl with flour in her hair, butter on her cheek and the entire lower portion of her fact just a mushy mess of batter, carefully concentrating as she navigates the short route to the oven.
I cheat with the icing and just stat making that when she’s immersed in the antics of those naughty pigs (which is how she refers to Shaun the Sheep), her episode ends as I’m finishing up but with enough time for her to ‘assist’ in icing the last cake and once again clean the bowl.
By the time we are finished I am emotionally and physically exhausted and all my sweetooth cravings have been effectively squashed for at least a week. But as the Beard finishes up work and we all stop for an afternoon tea break and she proudly tells daddy how she helped make the cakes I get a warm fuzzy feeling that I know will surpass my back pain and anxiety and lead to more baking activities in the future.