In Which We Cook With Small Children

Sweet & Salty Soft Pretzels
Sweet & Salty Soft Pretzels

I love to bake. I’m not necessarily a master at it, and now I can’t use eggs, but there’s something about making things that I grew up buying in the store that appeals to me. It started with a little thrill that you can actually bake bread at home. And then – what?! – you can make bagels? Then I started getting a little crazy and trying more complicated things like chocolate croissants (not easy, but certainly yummy).

So, somewhere in my baking-crazed mind, I developed this vision of baking with my kids. I imagined us adding ingredients, mixing and sampling together. I have baked a few times with Bug. He’s got a good personality for stuff like that because he’s careful and focused when he wants to be. On the other hand, he never stops talking, which means that I sometimes have to check off each cup of flour as I add it to the bowl so I don’t lose count. LadyBug has never had any interest in baking and that was fine with me. She tends to be a whirling dervish sort. The type you’d include if your baking vision included walls coated in flour and oil.

Well, one day last month, I had another vision. In it, I was making soft pretzels with my two little sous chefs (now 2 and 4 and certainly ready for something as simple as a pretzel). I sat the kids at the island and started pulling out ingredients as they peppered me with questions. “Just give me a minute to get out all of the ingredients…” “Yes, we’re making pretzels.” “Yes, you can eat one when they’re finished.” “Yes, your sister can also have one when they’re finished.” “No, we still need the rest of the ingredients.” And on like that.

As I made the dough, I was admittedly a bit stingy about what I’d allow them to add. They tend to be somewhat… well… klutzy. LadyBug got to add the water (with help) and Bug added the brown sugar after each of the kids dutifully sampled it to make sure it tasted ok. I’m not sure how, but I think I managed to get all of the right ingredients in with all of the correct quantities. Even with so many never ending questions. The fun part, I explained to them, is actually making the pretzels.

That’s right. My vision included my two cutie-pies rolling out little “snakes” of dough and folding them (with some help, surely) into cute little pretzels. What my vision failed to include was my kids dropping their dough on our less-than-clean floor just moments after I handed it to them. It failed to capture the springiness of the dough, which basically ensured that no child could ever roll a snake long enough to make into a pretzel. It missed that even I found the dough tough and tiresome to work with and that LadyBug would decide that “throw the dough on the floor” would make a fun game.

What did I do? I kicked that vision to the curb and got serious about the whole thing. I took Bug’s “log” (he never could get a snake) and cooked it as is into a lovely pretzel rod. I doled out smaller pieces of dough that was just right for nibbling, smashing and dipping in water. And I enlisted Big Guy who was unlucky enough to walk in before the whole process was complete.

And I learned quite a few things from the whole endeavor. First, cooking with my kids is certainly an adventure. Second, a pretzel by any other shape still tastes as salty (or sweet if you snag a cinnamon sugar sample). Third, my self-proclaimed non-artistic husband gets pretty creative when asked to roll out some dough  (he made all kinds of curly pretzel-shapes). And fourth, my vision of pretzel making with my kids will have to wait until they get a bit older. We had a different vision to live out that day…

P.S. Making soft pretzels is actually pretty easy AND fun. Make sure you find a recipe that calls for you to boil them before baking so you get a nice, chewy texture like you’d find in NYC!

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