Four ingredients, a zip-top bag, and the patience of a saint: Baking bread with preschoolers. - Something Edible
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Four ingredients, a zip-top bag, and the patience of a saint: Baking bread with preschoolers.

Four ingredients, a zip-top bag, and the patience of a saint: Baking bread with preschoolers.

Abstract: Water, yeast, salt, flour. The ingredient list is zen, so why is it that more people don't bake bread at home? Beyond time, I think there's an intimidation factor that's associated with a staple food that ubiquitously comes in twisty-tie bags at a supermarket. I'll bet it was soon after the second time I pulled a free-form loaf out of my oven that I realized that bread-making was fundamentally so easy that a child could/should be able to do it. In what was surely a lapse of sanity, I decided that I was gonna prove myself right; so I taught a short class at my local recreation center. For this seminar, preschoolers and their parents worked together to create bread dough that they would be able to take home and bake in time for the family's evening meal. With just a little thoughtful planning, some simple baking becomes an opportunity for quality time with your kids; and I can't think of a better way to spend time with my little ones than doing something where the reward is uh, "baked-in".

Purpose: When I'm to the point where I know a recipe like the back of my hand, I love to take that knowledge and share it with my kids. I happen to think baking's a good place to start (as long as mom or dad is manning the oven of course), as there isn't much about throwing together baked goods that's all that time-sensitive before it hits the oven.

My local rec center gives self-proclaimed know-it-alls like myself the opportunity to teach classes in a variety of subjects from couponing to yoga and everything else in between. I thought it might be kind of fun to do a cooking class for little kids, but I wanted to do something a bit more than decorating cookies or making animal cut-outs from American cheese singles. I wanted something healthy and unanimously delicious that could be shared. I wanted bread.

The great thing about those 'no-knead' bread recipes is that they are ridiculously simple, yet they consistently make for a killer loaf of bread. Dump in the ingredients, mix it up a little, and then wait while the dough 'kneads' itself as the yeast does its thing. It's that hands-off approach, that renders a crispy-chewy crust and an irregular crumb that is inherently delicate and soft. The concept of making bread by hand without complex ingredients is far and away different than the bread we buy at the supermarket. So different in fact that somewhere along the way, somebody decided to start calling it 'artisan' (I'm sure a hipster somewhere can take credit for that). I just call it delicious. All the same, this loosey-goosey approach to baking is a perfect fit for little kids if the whole experience can be put on rails. To make that happen I had to scale down a no-knead style recipe so that it could conveniently fit in a zip-top bag where the mess could be [mostly] contained. From there, the dough could be taken home to proof, and mom or dad could then slap it down on a parchment-lined sheet pan so it could be ready just in time for dinner.

Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt heaping
  • 1 tsp rapid-rise yeast heaping
  • 2/3 cup water tepid

  • Into a 1 gallon zip-top bag, add flour, yeast & salt. Seal the bag, and shake up good. Open the bag, add the water and then close the bag to gently knead the whole mess into a dough.

    Open the bag and let it sit at room temperature for two-ish hours to proof. When it's time to bake, cut open the bag and sprinkle the dough with as much flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to everything so you can [attempt to] shape the dough into a ball. Place the ball on a parchment-lined sheet pan and preheat the oven to 450F. When the oven's hot, dust the dough with a bit more flour, slash the top a couple of times with a serrated knife and bake for 25-30 minutes. Let the loaf cool at least 15 minutes before slicing with a serrated knife.

    … and, if you're not able to bake the same day:

    After the initial two-hour proof, close the bag except for the last inch and put it in the fridge. The dough should easily keep for another 3-5 days. When it's time to bake, after shaping and placing the ball o' dough on the parchment, let it rest at room temperature for an hour before firing up the oven.


    • This style of bread making is probably the reason I started baking bread in the first place. If this oft-cited New York Times piece on no-knead bread piques your interest in simple home-baked bread, I would emphatically recommend Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
    • This type of dough is referred to by the professionals as a high-hydration dough. This is a dough that is very sticky, especially at room temperature. When it's time to assemble that glutinous mass into something that looks like a ball, don't be stingy with that flour. Dust with as much as it takes to keep the dough from sticking until you can slap it down on the parchment.
    • You could also bake this on a baking stone if you've got one. Although a cornmealed pizza peel is the standard method to get a loaf to the stone, you'll probably be a'ight just putting the dough-laden parchment directly on the stone. 
    • About that parchment - It ain't wax paper. This is paper that's been impregnated with silicone so it can withstand high oven temperatures. If you didn't know the difference before reading this, I've just saved you from making a terrible mistake.
    • This makes about a three-quarter pound loaf that should accompany a dinner for about three or four people. If you're feeding more, the proportions can easily be doubled, and it should all still fit comfortably in the gallon baggie.
    • There's nothing that says you gotta make this in a zip-top bag. The only reason I use the bag is to give the kids a less-messy mixing experience with a transport vessel to boot. Assuming you trust your kids to not make a mess (huh?), a bowl and spoon should work just fine (I've even found empirical evidence to back these claims).

    Results: Admittedly, part of the reason I cook with my kids is a bit selfish: I like to mess in the kitchen; you're stuck with dad; deal with it. On the other hand, my kids learn some valuable stuff, and they don't even know that it's time that I've blocked off in the daily routine as a "learning opportunity". You want to teach your kids math and science? We've got volumetric and weight measuring, and we've got microorganisms that are respiring. You need to teach reading? Labels and instructions abound. What about values? Well, we've got that covered too.  The more kids cook, the more they understand that ultimately that food has to be made. In a world where prepared food seems to be the norm, it's good for kids to know that something even as basic as bread comes from somewhere before the store (I've taken this one step further with my little one). Anyway, when the flour's settled, a kid gets to experience a finished product is tangible, damn tasty, and evoking of positive reactions from those they are closest to; and that makes for some of the finest positive reinforcement a parent can hope for.

    If y'all want to play along at home, follow this link for a kid-friendly rebus-style recipe included with the recipe proper as listed here in the post. Those squares to the left are for stickers so that the steps can be marked off as you do 'em. Kids love stickers. I don't think I could have got thru the potty training years without them.

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