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Family baking needs an added ingredient

Baked New York cheesecake. Double chocolate cup cakes. Banana bread. Scottish shortbread. Chocolate chip cookies. Pear and berry crumble. All favourites in my home-baking repertoire, and all big hits with my kids.

I have a whole shelf in my kitchen stocked with books about baking. And it doesn't take much for me to lift one down and start browsing its contents. The trouble is, browsing is never enough.

Once I've flicked through the lip-smacking names like Gorgeous Desserts, Baking with Passion and La Dolce Vita, it's hard to ignore the call. Luscious photographs of fruit tarts, extravagant pastries and unctuous chocolate confections are all it takes to get me salivating. In the time it takes to say Black Forest Gateau I have the oven heating, the baking tin greased and the counter covered in the tools of my trade.

Of course, when I do whip up homemade treats now, there's no chance I'll be allowed to do it on my own. Suddenly the art of baking becomes less of a solitary pursuit and more of a group exercise in damage limitation.

The three children love nothing better than pulling chairs over to the kitchen island and lining up excitedly, dying to get their mitts on my quaking bags of flour, sugar and eggs. They see this exercise as an opportunity to make a giant mess, all with mum's consent, and they embrace the challenge with gusto.

Thirty minutes later the kitchen is in chaos. A fine layer of flour coats everything in sight, while a trail of small floury footprints trails off into the living room. The cupboard handles and drawers are patterned with sticky fingerprints in varying sizes and textures, from pale cake batter to dark chocolate splodges that have set to a glossy brown.

One thing the great bakers of the world consistently omit from their ingredient lists is a generous pinch of patience. Things like pure vanilla essence or 70pc dark chocolate might seem essential, but without patience baking with kids can be a chore.


Some days they pour the whole bag of sugar into the mixing bowl when you're not looking. Other days they nibble on the low supply of chocolate chips before they've been added to the cookie dough. Sometimes they turn on the mixer before you've added the cover, and a snowstorm of flour fills the kitchen air. And there's always a bit of peace brokering to be done when it comes to licking the wooden spoon or bowl.

Kids need patience, too, as they're more geared towards instant gratification. Forty minutes in the oven can seem like a lifetime to a small child and you may as well talk to the wall as try to convince a five-year-old that his rocketship cookies will be better if they're left to cool for 10 minutes.

Frayed tempers and giant messes aside, there's much to recommend home baking with your children. It really is a rewarding activity everyone can help with and teaches children about where food comes from. Homemade treats are much better, and tastier, than shop snacks and kids will love the sense of achievement.

A word of warning though: self-discipline is another essential ingredient. You'll be amazed how many buns you can wolf down when you think the kids aren't looking!

Jillian Bolger