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For my eighth birthday, my mother gave me a cookbook. It wasn’t much of cookbook, but it was mine. I can remember her helping me through those recipes until soon, I was confident enough to tackle many of them on my own. It changed my life. It started a lifelong love with cooking.
That cookbook also provided a wealth of shared experiences with my mother. The greatest conversations that I recall from my childhood and youth took place in that kitchen. The cookbook is long gone but the memories, the lessons that I learned from my mother, and my passion for baking remain. I’m glad that my mother had the wisdom to give such an unusual gift to an eight-year-old boy.
Some time back, I was baking at my brother’s house. Soon my nephew’s kids—they were three and four years old–pulled up stools and pitched in. By the time the scones were mixed, there was a little flour on the floor, a lot of flour on the kids, and we had dug more than a few egg shell pieces out of the dough but the gleeful chatter made it worthwhile. And we were best buddies.
Cooking with small kids can be a joy—for them and for you. Cooking with older kids, especially a teenager, will pass on life skills and create memorable shared accomplishments. Maybe, just maybe, a lot more will come out of the shared experience than a chocolate layer cake. Whether with your children, your grandchildren, or the neighborhood children, don’t miss the opportunity to cook with kids.
Another fun way to engage your kids in the kitchen is to make your own play dough.
When we were children growing up in a farming community, our parents were pretty self-sufficient. I don’t know whether children’s commercial play dough was available but we never saw any. Instead, my mother made homemade play dough with flour and salt.
She had the four primary colors, food colors, in her cupboard. They were pretty diluted and no matter how much color you added, the play dough was pastel. Now you can buy brilliant colors, nine times more concentrated than those in the store and in 41 colors, even neon (electric).
You can check out our AmeriColor Food Colors here.
When you make your own, your child has a sense of self-sufficiency. Besides, you know what is in this play dough and when it ends up in a child’s mouth, there’s no reason to be concerned since everything is edible.
“This is the best!!! My lil girl loves it and plays with it every day. We use cookie cutters and my stamping-up stamps to add to the fun.”—Peggy F.
Two Recipes: Cooked or Not
We have two recipes—one that calls for cooking and one that only requires mixing. For years, we have used the mixing-only recipe and it makes a nice play dough. But we like the play dough from the cooking recipe. It’s easy and we recommend that.
Making Play Dough the Cooking Method
With this recipe, you cook the dough on the stovetop for three or four minutes.
Since the ingredients are all mixed together at once, you will have one color of play dough. If you wish to divide the batch into multiple colors, reserve the color until after the play dough is cooked.
Divide the play dough into portions and knead in the color with the paddle attachment and your stand-type mixer. You may knead the color in with your hands but you may wish to wear latex gloves to avoid staining your hands.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons cream of tartar
1 cup salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk until completely combined.
Cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, for three or four minutes or until the mixture changes consistency, becomes thick, and loses its stickiness. Dump onto waxed paper.
Knead the play dough for a few minutes or until smooth.
Store in a covered container. This product does not require refrigeration. It is non-toxic.
Play Dough without Cooking
The following recipe is a big batch recipe. It makes about 3 1/2 pounds of play dough — ten of the five ounce commercial tubs. If you are having a party and want even more play dough, make two batches — about all that can be made in a stand-type mixer at one time. You can also make this play dough by hand.
If you want multiple colors, divide the dough and knead in the food coloring after the dough is made. If one color is sufficient, add the food coloring with the water and save the step of kneading in the coloring. To keep the food coloring from staining your hands, you may wish to wear gloves for the kneading.
3-4 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 1/2 cups salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 cups hot water
Food coloring (We recommend Americolor professional food color gels–41 colors available.)
Store the dough in a sealed container to keep it from becoming dry. If it becomes too dry, place it back in the mixer bowl and knead in a dribble of water. Mix three cups of flour together with the salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of your stand-type mixer. Add the oil and water and knead with a dough hook in your electric stand-type mixer for five to six minutes. (If you are kneading by hand, knead for eight to ten minutes.) Add more flour to get a soft, workable dough.
Baking and Painting Your Play Dough Figures
When your child makes some particularly memorable figures, sculptures that he or she would like to keep, bake them in a 250 degree oven until they harden. (Baking times will vary depending on the size of the objects baked, from 20 to 30 minutes. They won’t bake through but the heat of the oven will put a hard case on them and preserve them. In time, they will dry completely and be as hard as a rock.
If your child likes, he or she can paint the figures after they are baked. Acrylic paints cover better than water colors and are water soluble so that spills and brushes can be cleaned with water.
Tips for Cooking with Kids
Safety first. Keep younger children away from a hot stove and sharp knives. Even very young children will want to put the flour in the mixing bowl or break an egg. Turn the mixer off and let them do it.
Choose simpler recipes and quicker recipes for young kids. Kids love to get their hands in the dough. Consider a cookie recipe, like Snickerdoodles, Chocolate Sugarsnaps, or Pennsylvania Dutch Sugar Cookies, where the cookies are hand-formed.
Praise often, even if the product isn’t perfect. When a mess happens, take it in stride and don’t voice blame.
Use the recipe to teach life skills. Help the child read and interpret the directions. Learning to follow written instructions is an important life skill. Help the child understand the fractions found in most recipes.
Have a few mixes on hand for cooking with kids. With a mix, there is less that can go wrong. Since it takes less time to bake, a mix may be more suitable for a child’s attention span or may better fit an available block of time.
Enjoy the good times with your kids!
About the Author
Dennis Weaver has burned food from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Miami, Florida. He is the founder of The Prepared Pantry in Rigby, Idaho and the author of How to Bake: The Art and Science of Baking available as an E-book or as a Kindle book on Amazon. Dennis lives in Rigby, Idaho, with his wife, Merri Ann. They have five wonderful children and six beautiful granddaughters.