I have kids. Two of them, though sometimes I joke that I have three. Needless to say, I have my share of messes in my house that aren’t remotely created by me. They come in all forms and are found in all sorts of places – especially when I’m baking with kids. Most of the time, they drive me batty, like when I walk in my door only to find that someone was playing in the muddy field at school during recess and brought clumps of mud into the entryway. Thankfully, we don’t wear shoes in the house so it goes no further than that. Most of the time.
Other times, people think their messes are beautiful when they aren’t at all. That would be Little Miss, who I’ve discovered is inordinately proud of the mess she allows to fester in her bedroom. We clean it top to bottom every Saturday now, but by Tuesday last week, she had this sign proudly hanging on her door. She couldn’t wait for me to wake up so she could show it to me. I’m so proud.
But there are truly some beautiful messes in life. They are the ones that may want to make you pull your hair out at the time but if you take a step back are actually beautiful messes. Our life is surrounded by them, and the secret is to recognize them and cherish them because they only last for a short time.
Baking with kids is one of those occasions that tends to present a ton of beautiful messes, at least in my house. Cooking and baking is a skill I want to pass along to the wee ones for a variety of reasons. With Little Miss’s dairy allergy, there are so many foods she can’t eat the way they’re made traditionally but that she can enjoy when we modify them at home. Though I always keep my fingers crossed that she’ll outgrow her allergy, if she doesn’t, I want her to be able to continue to enjoy foods (without paying an arm and a leg for the allergy free versions). Baking with kids is also a great way to practice math and fractions, and it builds a great sense of independence.
The first time Mister Man made spaghetti and meatballs by himself from scratch (with my supervision), he was so incredibly proud of himself. He claims that the food tasted better because he made it himself, and I suspect there’s a grain of truth to that. It gave him the confidence to enter a cooking competition within our school district where he moved on from our school level competition and placed amongst all kids in the district in a larger competition.
Needless to say, the only way the wee ones get proficient is by doing things themselves. And that’s one of the biggest challenges of baking with kids. Because baking is second nature to me – I don’t need to officially measure many ingredients because I can eyeball them simply because I’ve made them enough times, and I can quickly add and mix and stir no matter what I’m making. Kids don’t have those skills yet, which means that it takes way longer when you’re baking with kids to get those same cookies complete. And then there’s the messes the create. It’s hard for me to let go of the control, but unless I allow them to make those mistakes, they’ll never learn how to do it right.
Little Miss has only recently expressed an interest in really being in the kitchen and doing things independently, though she would always hang around when we did things together in the past. Now she wants to actually make things herself, and I love it. I’ll admit that my laziness was the instigator, though unintentionally so. On a Saturday morning where for once we didn’t have anywhere to go, I was enjoying the quiet in bed dozing. Oddly, the wee ones decided they were hungry for breakfast and wanted to eat. Little Miss begged for pancakes, but I didn’t want to get up yet to make them (nor did my husband who is the usual pancake maker in our house). I told her that if she wanted to make pancakes, she could do it herself.
And she did. I told her where to find the cookbook that has a basic recipe and she did it all, with the exception of me melting the coconut oil for her (butter for most people). Just like Mister Man, she was so incredibly proud of herself, and a new love of baking was born. It didn’t matter that my kitchen looked like a tornado had hit. Anything I can do as a parent to encourage her to learn new skills and become independent is a win. Granted, we still have some lessons to teach like… use a knife when you’re scooping flour not your finger, but we’ll get there.
Since then, she’s invited friends over and made cupcakes with them (with my only task to put them into and remove them from the oven). She’s made spaghetti and meatballs by herself, in the process learning the new skill of chopping fresh garlic. And this morning she woke up yet again with a yearning for pancakes, so I set her loose.
Even though she’s capable of making the pancakes, that doesn’t mean that she’s perfect. Baking with kids means you have to accept the imperfections and even embrace them sometimes. That may mean that you end up having to pick out a little eggshell from your liquid ingredients, but it’s also a great time to teach the trick of using the main piece of eggshell to dip into your ingredients and pull out the pieces of eggshell. How else will Little Miss know that eggshell attracts eggshell, making it so much easier to remove than if you use a utensil or your fingers to remove shells. Or you may end up with flour spilled on your counter or the floor, even though you have the flour canister sitting so close that it’s touching the bowl, but that remains one of those beautiful messes if you focus on what’s happening in the big picture.
The good news is that I always keep a broom handy near my kitchen because I know this happens all.the.time. I’m pretty sure the wee ones have been using brooms to sweep kitchen messes since they were two or three years old, partly because using brooms doesn’t require too much skill and partly because they think it’s fun. I recently retired my old broom and picked up the new O-Cedar Angler Broom, which the wee ones love because it traps everything in the first pass, which means they have to spend less time picking up the messes they’ve made.
For Little Miss to sweep that flour from our floor with her new favorite broom before it was tracked all over the house took just seconds, and then she was back to working on her pancake recipe.
This morning it was my turn for one of those beautiful messes that turns out to be a blessing in disguise. I had forgotten that the last time we baked, we used up the last of my baking powder. It’s one of those ingredients that I always have more of, and it had slipped my mind to buy some at the store. Of course, our favorite pancakes call for baking powder, and we realized this after we had half the pancake batter made. Fortunately, I know how to make a substitute for baking powder – not that I’ve ever had this issue in the past.
When you run out of baking powder, you can still salvage your recipe. For every teaspoon of baking powder, use a quarter teaspoon of baking soda and a half teaspoon of cream of tartar, thankfully both are ingredients I keep in my pantry. We made this substitute for our pancakes, and I was blown away. I’ll admit that I tend to not like most pancakes very much because I find them tougher than I like. These pancakes? They were amazingly fluffy and light and I actually really liked them. This mistake on my part became one of those legendary beautiful messes that has resulted in a new keeper of a recipe in our house.
I’ve never been able to follow recipes verbatim because I always find something I want to tinker. Pancakes are no exception. Though the recipe is prepared similarly to most quick breads with the dry ingredients being mixed together before liquid ingredients are added, this version of pancake batter turns out way different in the end. It makes the softest and most fluffy pancakes, which makes sense with the added cream of tartar and baking soda in place of baking powder. Because of the way baking soda reacts when it gets wet, the batter is thinner than many pancakes, as well, which means you want to be sure to give it plenty of space on your griddle, but they’re worth it. Even my husband (who eats just about anything and tends to not notice much in the way of flavor nuances) told Little Miss that her pancakes this morning were awesome and better than normal.
These light and fluffy pancakes are incredibly tender and tasty. When you have a pancake where kids don't ask for syrup, you know you have a winner!
- 2 c flour
- 2 T sugar
- 1/2 t salt
- 3/4 t baking soda
- 1 1/2 t cream of tartar
- 3 T butter, melted
- 1 1/2 c milk
- 1/2 t vanilla bean paste
- 2 eggs
- chocolate chips, as desired
- Preheat your griddle to 350 degrees. Lightly grease the griddle with oil using a paper towel to spread it evenly and as thinly as possible over the surface.
- In a medium bowl, add your dry ingredients. Using a whisk, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar until thoroughly combined. Set aside for the moment.
- Melt your butter either over the stove or in the microwave and let it cool slightly while you mix your other wet ingredients.
- Add your milk to a 4 cup liquid measuring cup (or a bowl if you don't mind dirtying extra dishes). Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until the egg is completely incorporated. Carefully pour in the melted butter, whisking to combine.
- Pour your wet ingredients over your dry ingredients and gently stir until the dry ingredients are mostly mixed together, though a few small clumps of flour may remain. Don't overmix your batter or your pancakes will be tougher.
- Drop your pancake batter onto the griddle to make pancakes, being sure to avoid the edges of the griddle, as these pancakes will spread more than many others. Add chocolate chips to your pancakes on the griddle, as desired.
- When the pancakes begin to have bubbles forming and popping, use a spatula to flip them and cook on the other side for another minute before removing. Serve immediately.
You can easily make these dairy free pancakes by using coconut oil and a dairy free milk. We prefer coconut milk, but they work great with rice milk or soy milk, as well. Feel free to use other "toppings" in your pancakes, too. Chopped apples with a little cinnamon, sliced bananas, dried fruit, and more make for fun pancake varieties.
I know I’m not the only one creating these beautiful messes. Or having them created for me. What beautiful messes show up in your house? And how do you clean them up? Speaking of cleaning them up, there’s also an O-Cedar giveaway with some really awesome prizes that you can enter. Check it out below!