It’s hard to get kids involved if they don’t have something to play with. That’s why cooking with children can be so challenging. You can’t get a younger kid involved in grilling a burger or browning some ground beef. Even if you were confident they’d be safe around the high heat, there’s nothing tactile for them to play with.
Once I figured out the way this worked, I completely changed the way I cooked with my kids. Instead of trying to get my young ones to measure ingredients or set timers, I had them play with things. I’ll let them stir (in an oversized bowl to contain the mess), knead, arrange, and decorate while I handle the mundane adult work myself.
You can apply this concept to most recipes, but there are certainly some that work better than others. I like letting my kids mix my salads, for example, because it gives them an opportunity to play with their food in a constructive fashion. They can form patterns with different ingredients and have fun to arrange things the way that they like.
Perhaps the best way to cook with kids is to let them have fun with dough when you bake. This simple pretzel recipe provides lots of opportunities to let your little helpers knead the dough, teach them why yeast rises, and then let them form their own pretzel shapes. It’s a perfect way to get them involved in the kitchen.
Simple Pretzel Recipe
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1 package instant dry yeast
1.5 cups warm water
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp butter, melted
vegetable oil (enough to grease a bowl)
2/3 cup baking soda
8 cups water
Melted Butter (several tablespoons, to coat)
Salt (to taste)
To Prepare Dough:
- Add salt, sugar, and water to a mixing bowl. Stir to combine, then pour the yeast on top. Let it sit for about five minutes, or until the mixture begins to foam. This means your yeast is lively and you’re ready to proceed.
- Add the rest of the dough ingredients (flour and melted butter). Knead until the dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the edges of the bowl. I use my Kitchenaid 6000 with a dough hook for this, but you can also simply use a bread machine or trick your kids into kneading your dough by hand.
- Remove your kneaded dough from your bowl. Clean the bowl, then cover the inside with vegetable oil. Return your dough to the bowl and tightly cover it with plastic wrap. Let it sit in a warm place until your dough roughly doubles in size. This tends to take about an hour, and it never fails to impress my kids.
- Towards the tail end of this hour, preheat your oven to 450 F. Prepare a couple baking sheets to cook your pretzels on. I’m a fan of covering cookie sheets in parchment paper that’s lightly greased with vegetable oil, but that’s me.
- Prepare your alkali wash. Some people like to keep this solution boiling hot, while others prefer to use warm water to avoid burning themselves. I’ve seen at least one recipe call for boiling the water and then letting it cool completely. In any case, you’ll want to mix about 8 cups of water with about 2/3 of a cup of baking soda in a large pot and then stir until the soda is completely dissolved. You’ll be dipping your pretzels in this in a second. If you’re working with kids, I’d recommend keeping this solution warm but not hot enough to be dangerous.
- Form your pretzels. Move your dough to a lightly greased surface and start having some fun! This recipe can make between 8 and 12 pretzels. If you want to make them the adult way, divide your dough into 8-12 even pieces, then roll those pieces out into two-foot long pretzel ropes. Then, form your ropes into pretzel shapes. The classic pretzel shape is formed by making a U and then crossing the ends of the U and turning them up towards the bend. There’s no rule that says you have to make your pretzels this way, however. You can make them any size or shape you want!
- Dip the pretzels into the alkali wash for about a minute each. Fish them out with a spatula or tongs. The baking soda wash isn’t super dangerous, but it is caustic enough that you don’t want to dunk your hands in it repeatedly. Make sure you have your kids wash your hands after they help you with this part. Place your pretzels on your baking sheets when you’re done.
- If you want, you can brush a bit of melted butter onto your pretzels and top them with some salt.
- Bake your pretzels in your preheated oven until they’re a fairly dark golden brown. This usually takes between 8 and 14 minutes. If you’ve elected to make more, thicker pretzels, you’ll want to bake them a little bit longer. On the other hand, if you’ve gone with more, thinner pretzels, you’ll probably want to pull them out before the 10-minute mark.
A Fun Recipe To Play With
If your kids love being tactile (like mine), you’ll have lots of fun playing with pretzel dough with them with this simple recipe. They’ll get to make all sorts of crazy shapes and they’ll learn a little bit about how yeast makes bread rise in the process. At the end of the day, you’ll be left with delicious pretzels that you and your kids can enjoy together.