First, a confession: this post is mostly, if not entirely, inspired by my newfound love (obsession?) for The Great British Bake-Off, known in the US as The Great British Baking Show. For those of you unfamiliar with the best form of TV entertainment, it’s a baking competition (for Brits, obviously) that runs the gamut of all kinds of bakes – breads, pies, desserts, pastry. It’s judged by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood – yes, real names – and it’s amazing. The most frequently used comment by a judge upon tasting a baked offering is: “That’s quite lovely.” It’s possibly the least dramatic TV competition I have ever seen, and everyone is delightfully reserved and friendly. There are three seasons on Netflix. Go ahead and check it out, I’ll just wait here.
Because I’ve been watching this show a bit (a lot), I was inspired to do some baking of my own. David and I tossed around several possibilities and settled on pretzel bread. We used this recipe, and they were fabulous. The whole time we were making the bread, I kept thinking what a great activity this would be to do with kids. Since I don’t have any of my own, I borrowed my sister’s.
I recently spent time with my family in Ohio, so I took the opportunity to share this experience with my six year old niece. It was a completely different process than baking with my 27 year old husband. It took quite a bit longer. I answered quite a few more questions. It wasn’t quick, but I think it’s worth it. Here’s why I think you should try baking bread with your kids this week.
- It’s a science lesson. We chose a recipe that involved adding yeast to sugar and water and waiting for it to become frothy. When I did this on the first round, I was fascinated watching it and realized I had no idea why it was happening. I had to do some research myself so I was prepared to answer Kaelyn’s questions about what we were seeing. Children are full of curiosity about how the world works, and this is a fun way to see an idea in action.
- It gives them a connection to their food. Most of our kids don’t have any concept of where their food comes from, except the pantry or the grocery store. We live in a world that encourages meals on the run, ready-made snacks, and abundant packaged goods. Starting with simple ingredients like flour and water and turning them into a recognizable food item is educational and helps kids understand some of the processes that lead them to being able to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. There’s another added benefit – my niece is generally pretty wary of new foods and sticks to what she knows and loves, but she was excited to try the bread she made and was willing to try some new things to accompany it.
- It requires patience. This was the part that made it more difficult to bake with a six year old. We had to allow the yeast to proof, mix the dough, let it rise, knead the dough, shape it, let it rise again, bake it, and let it cool. Although the actual mixing and kneading and shaping didn’t take a very long time, the process from start to finish was long. When we set our dough aside to rise the first time, I told Kaelyn that it would need to double in size. She couldn’t quite believe that was possible with it just sitting there. We had to wait an hour to see that it was true, and there was no way to rush it. It was fun to see her amazement when the hour was up and we pulled our giant ball of dough back out. It required patience for me too, because I wanted her to be able to do everything and had to slow down a lot to explain what needed to be done and how to do it.
- It’s a life skill. It’s a strange time in history when a 26 year old girl has only seen bread made a handful of times, and a six year old is experiencing it for the first time. Bread is a basic food item, and it is a valuable skill to possess to be able to make it yourself. I took Kaelyn with me to the store to purchase the ingredients as well, asking her to help me find what we were looking for. She hunted around until we gathered all the things on our list – and a few things that were not on the list. Grocery shopping is something she’ll be doing the rest of her life (unless Amazon does it for her). When we began mixing the dough, she was in charge of reading the recipe and we discussed which measuring tools were best for each job. She helped me organize our workspace, learned to turn on the mixer slowly, and joined in the clean up effort afterward. She was part of every step of the process so she could see what was being done and ask (lots of) questions about it. Her favorite part was the tactile experience of kneading the dough – she was fascinated with the way it stuck to her hands and liked rolling it out.
- It’s an opportunity to spend time together. In the car on the way to the market, Kaelyn asked me why she has to eat healthy food. We talked about how our bodies need to be fueled just like cars do, and need the right fuel to be able to work properly. Then we grocery shopped together, and bought the ingredients we needed plus some fresh peaches because everyone knows they are the very best way to fuel your body. We talked the whole time we were mixing, kneading, and shaping the dough. Having a shared goal is a bonding experience, and it gave us a small project to work on together without other distractions. Ultimately we were able to literally break our bread together, and that’s an experience worth working for.
Have you ever baked bread with your children? If you have, or haven’t and decide to try, I’d love to hear your stories.