A Fun "Toy" Kids Never Get Tired Of

Baking bread can be a serene, contemplative process. But, in houses with kids, it usually isn't! Writer Christine Whittaker Sofge shares how making and baking bread can be an educational and fun experience for you and the kids.
Christine Whittaker Sofge

b>A treat for the senses
I began baking bread with my daughter as soon as she could stand on a stool. I thought I was being "educational." Little did I know, I was the one receiving the education. It is fascinating to watch a child's reaction to the bread-baking process. They crinkle their noses at the yeasty smells while stirring the ingredients, marvel at the transformation from liquid to dough. But the coup de gras is kneading -- the feel of the dough as they bury their hands in it and the taste as their little fingers find their mouths. A total sensory experience!

One of the best things about baking bread is how long it takes. Bread-baking is a process, a project. None of the steps are difficult or take very long. In fact, only 30 to 45 minutes of activity is needed, but that activity is spread over several hours. And it is those hours that make all the difference! During that time, you and your children will have shared wonder and laughter, developed a common sense of purpose and fun, anticipated the magic of transformation and reveled in a sense of accomplishment.

Getting started: Bread-baking for kids (and parents too!)
Plan for a mess: No tippy-toeing around this one. Bread baking is messy. We clear off and scrub down the dining room table (a better height for my little ones to knead the dough) and keep the vacuum cleaner standing at the ready.

Dress for the occasion:There is nothing much cuter than a two-year old wearing his mother's apron! My kids and I each have our designated aprons for bread-baking. If I forget to put mine on, they are sure to remind me. Somehow the simple act of wearing aprons gives us a sense of camaraderie and togetherness.

Everyone needs a spoon: Mixing up the ingredients probably has the most potential for conflict for kids. Arguments can start over whose turn it is to pour or stir (the two-year old still believes every turn is his turn). We sing songs to distract, keep strict accounting of turns and we each have our own spoons.

We all knead a little love: This is when high hilarity (and boundless mess!) comes into play. We divide our dough into three pieces, set the timer and go to it! To ensure that the dough actually gets enough kneading, when kids don't quite have the strength or desire to sustain kneading for 10 minutes, we make it a game, swapping pieces every couple minutes. I also encourage them to punch, throw (ON the table please!) and stretch the dough. A great thing about bread dough is its forgiving nature. Knead it from five minutes to 20, and it will still turn into bread. Yummy bread!

Putting the dough to bed: My kids seem to really take to the idea of nap time for the dough. We cover the dough carefully with two towels (Hey, two kids, two towels. I've learned not to argue this point.) and set the timer. We shush each other, giggling, out of the kitchen, to let the dough sleep while we clean up a bit. If I time things right, the kids take their naps along with the bread dough and wake early enough to punch it down for the next rise. They are amazed every time at how it grows!

The shaping of things to come: My children are particularly fond of rolling out "snakes" for braided loaves. They also like to free-form shapes: animals, letters, numbers, whatever they think of. And though, after rising and baking, the shapes are not always recognizable, they are always tasty.

Revealing the magic: Probably the biggest thrill for all of us is taking the bread out of the oven. As the smells of baking bread waft through the house, the kids congregate in the kitchen, waiting for that magic moment -- the dough has become bread! No point in explaining the chemistry of bread-baking. They wouldn't believe it anyway. They know it is magic. Heck, I understand the chemistry, and it still looks like magic to me.

What's holding you back?
Perhaps you understand that baking bread with kids can be a joyful experience, but have your reasons for not pursuing it.

Too busy: In today's rush pace of life, sometimes we need to make a conscious effort to slow down and enjoy our family. Baking bread is a great project for a rainy Saturday. So, if you are stuck at home anyway, bake some bread. Or make a date. Set aside some special time just for you and your children. And what better reward than a fresh loaf of homemade bread, still warm from the oven? A little bit of heaven.

Too messy: Well, no getting around this one. Bread baking is messy. Put things away as you go, wash up bowls while the bread is rising in the pans. Do a bit at a time and it's not overwhelming. And ask the kids. The fun IS the mess.

Don't know how: This is the easiest to solve. If you can make brownies from a mix, you can make bread. There are cookbooks written for beginning bakers and even one written specifically for baking bread with children. These books have simple, illustrated instructions. Most beginners' biggest fear is kneading the dough. Don't be intimidated by the kneading. Though many books show you a "proper" method for kneading, there is no wrong way! As long as the bread dough gets plenty of exercise and is mashed around vigorously for at least five minutes, enough gluten will have developed to make a fine loaf of bread.

So, now what's holding you back? Get yourself some flour and yeast and start playing in the dough!

Favorite bread recipes
Here are a couple of our favorite bread recipes.

Buttermilk Bread
(Adapted from a recipe in Mary's Bread Basket and Soup Kettle by Mary Gubser. This makes three loaves and can be used as a base to make all sorts of variations. We usually make two plain loaves and one variation (such as cinnamon swirl or pesto swirl).

2 packages dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups buttermilk (or 8 tablespoons buttermilk powder and two cups milk or water)
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
4 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
8 to 9 cups flour

1. Heat buttermilk (or milk, if using powder) on stove until warm (not to boiling).
2. While the buttermilk is heating, add yeast to warm water and stir with a fork until dissolved.
3. Pour warm buttermilk into a large bowl, add melted butter and yeast mixture.
4. Add 2 cups of the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda to the mixture and beat thoroughly.
5. Gradually stir in enough more flour so that the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and is soft and workable.
6. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 10 minutes (until smooth and satiny).
7. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel and allow to rise about 1 hour.
8. Punch dough down and knead lightly in bowl. Cover and allow a second rising (about 45 minutes).
9. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead one minute. Cover dough with a towel and let rest 10 minutes.
10. Divide dough in three portions, form into loaves and place in 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 - inch loaf pans. Cover with a towel and let rise until nicely curved over tops of pans (about 40 minutes).
11. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks and cool.

Cinnamon Sugar Swirl
1. Take one portion of dough and press it out into a rectangle about 9 x 14 inches.
2. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over surface of dough.
3. Roll tightly from narrow end, jelly-roll style. Pinch ends together and tuck under to form loaf.
4. Let rise in loaf pan and bake as above.

Pesto Swirl
1. Take one portion of dough and press it out into a rectangle about 9 x 14 inches.
2. Mix 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil (or 1/8 cup dried basil), 2 cloves pressed garlic (or 2 teaspoons garlic powder), 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese and 1 beaten egg.
3. Paint mixture over surface of dough, leaving 1/2 inch border on all sides.
4. Roll tightly from narrow end, jelly-roll style. Pinch ends carefully together and tuck under to form loaf.
5. Let rise in loaf pan as above. Pierce loaf five or six times with a toothpick and bake as above.

Sesame Potato Braids
(Adapted from a recipe in Mary's Bread Basket and Soup Kettle by Mary Gubser. This makes two beautiful braided loafs that you can bake in a loaf pan for sandwich-type bread or on a baking sheet for a lovely dinner braid. The kids especially love rolling out the "snakes" for the braids, painting the loaves with egg-white and sprinkling on the sesame seeds.

1 cup lukewarm mashed potatoes
2 packages dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup warm potato water
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup dry skim milk
5-6 cups flour
1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Untoasted sesame seeds

1. Prepare one cup mashed potatoes (or warm leftover mashed potatoes in microwave). Beat until smooth. (If you are using leftovers, add a spoonful of mashed potatoes to 1 cup warm water to make potato water).
2. Mix yeast and 1/2 cup warm water. Stir with a fork to dissolve.
3. Combine potato water, butter, sugar, salt, dry milk and potatoes in large mixing bowl. Add yeast mixture and blend until smooth.
4. Add 2 cups flour and beat thoroughly. Gradually stir in flour until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and forms a soft, workable dough.
5. Turn out on floured board and knead about 10 minutes or until smooth and satiny.
6. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise 1 hour.
7. Punch down, cover and let rest 10 minutes.
8. Divide dough in half and cover one portion.
9. Cut one half of dough into three pieces. Roll into snakes about 14 inches long.
10. Braid, starting in the center and working toward each end.
11. Place on a greased baking sheet and tuck ends under or place in a greased 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan. Repeat with second portion.
12. Cover and let rise about 45 minutes. Brush loaves with egg-white glaze and sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds.
13. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven 10 minutes. Lower heat to 350 degrees and bake another 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.PregnancyAndBaby.com

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