Sunday, 28 March 2010

Baking for beginners part 2

Last week I had my fourth baking class with Year 3. I was lucky enough to get to pick the project (and as a consequence provide them with all the stuff, hey ho) which gave me a little freedom. The previous time I had been very frustrated when an economising gesture ruined the biscuits the kids made because a cheaper, substituted ingredient caused them to collapse.

I thought it would be fun to do bread and butter; this is mostly because I think it is fun to make things the kids tend to assume you can only buy ready-made.

Because of time constraints I went for soda bread. Soda bread is dead easy. As I did the previous 3 times, I tested the process with Z and B on the weekend. I think if a 4 year old can manage it with supervision, 8 year olds should be able to manage it with minimum intervention. B was delighted. She had 'her' bread with the chilli we had for dinner that night, enjoyed a toasted slice with 'her' butter for breakfast, and showed off about it to her pals at Nursery. Quite rightly, too.

Our trial run established that double cream needs to be definitely at room temperature to make the butter and that soda bread takes less time than we usually spend. Oh, and that the oven needs as much time to heat up to the required 230 degrees as the bread takes to make, so it's best to turn it on before starting.

The kids were rather incredulous when i told them what we'd be making. As before, some had made bread before while some wouldn't know a rolling pin if it fell on their heads. I was pleased to see they all remembered how to wash their hands properly. They all did a super job.

DIY Butter -
200ml of double cream at room temperature. This is very important.
a jar with a tight fitting lid
Shake, shake, shake and shake. Remove the butter from the jar, press all the liquid out. If you are going to keep it for any length of time, rinse it over and over again to make sure you get every last bit of buttermilk out. Salt it if you like. If divvying up between loads of kids, put a heaped spoonful in mini cupcake cases and pop in the fridge for a bit.

Butter was the big hit. I talked them through the phases they could expect but the kids still pulled on my apron every 30 seconds to ask "is it butter now?" First the butter sloshes about a bit, then it barely seems to move as it becomes thick whipped cream. That lasts a while. Next is the slightly grainy phase when it looks a bit rubbish really. Then, suddenly there is a big SLOSH as the fat comes together to make butter and splashes about in the remaining buttermilk. Opening the jars to see their dollops of butter was so exciting. The kids all shouted to have a go squeezing the buttermilk and they were so keen to taste it.

Soda Bread
Sift 250g plain flour with
1 tsp salt and
1 tsp bicarb
Add 2 tsp brown sugar
Stir in 225ml plain yoghurt or buttermilk
Knead for a minute or two. Form into as high-domed a ball as you can. Slash the top with a deep X (or, if making it for a table of 6 kids, a star) and bake at 230 degrees for 12 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 200 degrees and bake for a further 15 minutes.

When the loaves had all been baked - in the same oven at the same time - the result was amazing. The loaves were each an accurate reflection of how the groups did. I've never seen such a blatant physical manifestation of cooperating and erm, not.

Two tables worked together very well. One of them in particular got a little enthusiastic about the kneading part and made the most beautiful loaf of soda bread I've ever seen. I was so impressed. Z's gang was one of those who did well, which is nice to know but not really surprising. They are a lovely group of kids.

Two tables pulled it together in the end after a rocky start, and produced prefectly edible bread, if not entirely appetising. One table (yes, the same one) did nothing but argue. They took twice as long as the others, clearly forgot to add the bicarb, didn't knead because none of them would get their hands sticky, probably added the salt three or four times over (based on the finished result) and produced an utter disaster of a loaf. It looked like home made salt dough we do for playdough, but baked to have a stiff crust around it. It would have been disappointing to take home and probably woulod have made them sick if they'd actually tried to eat it.

I went home and baked a replacement for them, although I did send their effort into the class as well. I felt a bit grumpy about it when I was dashing back to the school in the pouring rain, but it wasn't really much bother.

I had a very proud parenting moment when L told me I shouldn't have baked them a new one. "It is the natural consequence of their actions, Mummy. How else will they learn not to fight and to follow instructions?" Ah, the sweet pleasure of having your dearly held parenting beliefs repeated earnestly to you by your 10 year old...

He is of course entirely correct. However, on the off chance the 5 kids concerned did try and eat their grim slab of crusted dough, I didn't want to be responsible for making them sick. Plus it's nice to have something to show your parents, even if you did need a bit of a nudge (OK, a blatant replacement). I'm crossing my fingers for a better go next time.
When I saw the class in the playground the next day, they were all dying to tell me how they'd shared the bread and butter with their families and how their mums/dads/grans had pinched the biggest bits. It was lovely to see them so proud of themselves.
The bread was suffiently successful that several parents asked me for the recipe later. I feel pretty good about that -a nice result for my first attempt at a classroom activity.
As ever, I recommend getting Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's wonderful Family Cookbook, which is where I got the recipes. It really is a super book.


  1. A marble (put in dishwasher or boiling water for a bit to sterilise if you worry about such things) in the cream will help to agitate it and get it to butter stage a bit quicker. We also open it at each step to have a look / taste.

    Sounds like a fab lesson :)

  2. How splendid! Loved reading this.