French Madeleines

French Madeleines - Montessori Life As We Know It

We are right in the middle of a practical life explosion. Joshua wants to do so many things himself and at the top of his list is baking. He has been going to his supplies area, digging out his bowl, getting out his wooden spoon, going to the cupboard and getting out flour and sugar and declaring “want to bake, Mama”.

I have been following a lovely blog run by Helene called French Foodie Baby. I LOVE this blog, Helene writes about all the lovely food she cooks for her little boy Pablo – and her family, everybody eats together. I have been following now for some months and the recipes on there are delicious! I highly recommend you go and check her out, I really enjoy her posts and she has such a wealth of information on introducing (tasty!) food to your baby. I picked out French Madeleines to bake with Joshua today as it is fresh, simple and toddler friendly.

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter
Pinch of salt
Seeds from one vanilla bean
Zest of one lemon
8-10 strawberries (cut up), or a handful of chocolate chips

Method:

1. Have your toddler get out all the utensils required for this exercise. We will need a madeleine tray (we have the Soffritto madeleine tray which we got from House homewares in Australia, overseas this one looks good), a medium sized bowl, wooden spoon, whisk, measuring cups, measuring spoons, wavy chopper and chopping  board. I always have Joshua put on his apron prior to starting baking.

2. Place the empty madeleine tray into the freezer. Do not skip this step, I researched a few recipes on madeleines and they all say to do this.

3. Melt butter in a small pan or in the microwave.

4. While you are preparing other parts you can have your toddler help prepare by cutting up the strawberries. Joshua has his chopping board and his wavy chopper and cut off the green stalks and chopped up the strawberries with his wavy chopper. (Australian supplier you can try is the General Trader or other shops that sell kitchen gadgets).

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Joshua cut the tops off the strawberries quite efficiently and then systematically chopped up all the strawberries into little pieces before transferring these to the little bowl.

5. In a bowl have your toddler whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.

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6. Have your toddler crack the eggs into the flour mixture and mix together with a wooden spoon.

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7. Add the melted butter, the zest and scrape the vanilla bean seeds. Mix, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

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We took this opportunity to inspect the vanilla bean pod and to smell it before I cut it open and scraped out the seeds.  I highly recommend using the vanilla bean pod and not vanilla bean paste or extract. The flavour that it adds to the madeleines is amazing, I promise you the flavour is worth it.

8. Preheat the oven to 220°c (450°F).

9. Grease the madeleine pan. Have your toddler stir the strawberry pieces or chocolate chips into the dough. (Since this is two batches, place the remaining dough back in the fridge). We used strawberries today as we had quite an abundant supply on hand.

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10. Fill each shell about 3/of the way, and place in the oven for 6-8 minutes. This part needs an adult but I did have Joshua spoon a few of the madeleines into the tray. Watch them carefully, as they’re quick to burn, we did 6 minutes only and this was more than enough to cook the madeleines.  As soon as they’re golden and puffed up, take them out of the oven and remove from the pan. Let them rest on a kitchen towel and cool down prior to eating. You could dust these with a little icing sugar prior to serving.

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These quantities will make about two batches, so if you have one pan, don’t forget to stick it back in the freezer before making the second batch.

I would love to try this in orange, they can also be made in vanilla, chocolate and lavender flavour. I enjoyed one of these with a cup of tea, these are such a lovely goûter (afternoon snack).

An interesting literary reference to madeleines was brought to my attention by Helene. She referred to this delightfully as “Madeleines de Proust”, an expression which refers to a vivid memory from childhood that is triggered by a taste or smell and refers to a passage written by Marcel Proust in his book Remembrance of Things Past. He uses the memories brought back by madeleines as a way to contrast involuntary memory with voluntary memory and says that voluntary memories can never be as complete as they do not bear the essence of the past. Isn’t it amazing the memories that are evoked through our senses? Our senses are so powerful, that’s why I believe that Montessori education and concrete learning experiences offered are so effective.

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Cherry Clafoutis

I have been unwell the last few days so we have been home and Joshua is back into baking again. We made a cherry clafoutis that Joshua loved and was a great way to use up our stock of cherries, the first of the season here in Australia.

We are loving French recipes at the moment, French recipes are so delicious and so easy to make. Cherry clafoutis (pronounced kla-foo-tee) is a very traditional version of the French flan that is made traditionally with cherries. This recipe required a bit of preparation of the cherries but also was a great chance for Joshua to exercise his practical life skills – pitting the cherries, helping me wash them, pouring, scooping, stirring. I sourced this from French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. Check out the blog recipe here.

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Ingredients:
2 cups (150g) pitted cherries or plums (or other moist fruit – we used just a little more as we like lots of cherries in our clafoutis!)
1/3 cup (75g) granulated sugar (white sugar)
1/cup (70g) plain flour
Pinch of salt
3 eggs
11/cups (360ml) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon icing sugar for dusting

Method:

1. Pit the cherries.

2. Place the fruit in a bowl with half the sugar, stir well and set aside.

2014_11_14_IMG_76123. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 9 inch (23cm) baking dish. We used a flan pan and this worked quite nicely.

4. In a large bowl, sift the flour with the salt and the remaining sugar. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and milk to combine. Add the vanilla extract.

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5. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and combine well. Pour the batter into the dish and drop in the cherries as evenly as possible. If after pouring the batter you find that the cherries float around I would push them back into a more even spread.

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6. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is firm and golden brown. Cool, then sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve immediately.

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I tried another method which is to bake this dish twice – bake a thin layer to the bottom of the dish, then add the fruit topped with remaining batter and baking until done. I found that this baked the clafoutis a little more thoroughly and evenly. I also recommend serving the clafoutis in the baking dish as it does not transfer well to other dishes. It puffs up in the oven and then sags a little – this is meant to happen so don’t panic when it does.

Just to note – the pan was completely cool when Joshua put his mouth toward it as he did in the picture above, I would never allow him near a baking pan that was hot, unsupervised.

What I love so much about this recipe is how easy it is to make and how toddler friendly it is. Joshua did most of the work for this, I helped by preparing the measured ingredients, putting the flan into/taking out the flan from the oven and slicing up to serve only.

Activity of the Day – Banana Bread

I had a few queries on the banana bread I was making with Joshua today that I thought I would do a post on it. I am by no means a cooking expert but this one is so easy to make and toddler baking friendly.

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Best ever banana bread recipe:

Ingredients:
100g butter – soft
100g brown sugar
1 egg 450g bananas, mashed (ripe ones are better)
3 tbsp natural yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla essence
225g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of salt
100g raisins
40g chopped pecans or walnuts (optional, i didn’t put these in as I am not a fan of nuts in bread)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease and line a 22 x 11 x 7cm tin (A small loaf tin basically).
  2. Have your toddler mash up the banana in a separate bowl while you measure out the other ingredients.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy then add egg and continue to beat until smooth.
  4. Add mashed bananas, yoghurt and vanilla essence. 
  5. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate soda, cinnamon and salt and beat this gradually into the banana mixture.
  6. Finally stir in the raisins and chopped nuts if using. Let your toddler use their wooden spoon to mix this in themselves. (At this point you will probably need to pull out and fend off little fingers if you haven’t had to already as the batter is delicious).
  7. Bake for about an hour until stick inserted in the centre comes out clean. (I checked at 45 minutes and this was enough to cook it and have it super moist so would recommend checking to see what it is like at this time and decide if you want to cook it longer. My oven at that temperature seems to cook things a bit quicker.) Let it cool in the pan and is lovely served warm.

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Summer Days

Our little family has been spending a lot of time together and making the most of the fantastic weather before my husband has to go back to work. For us, the festive period and the summer break are a time for being together and recharging our batteries for the year ahead. We are usually extremely busy in the lead up to Christmas time and need time to spend on little projects and to nourish our relationships as my husband goes away frequently in the lead up to this time. This is a quick post on some of our doings in the last few weeks.

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From top:

  1. Enjoying home made banana ice cream.
  2. Riding a trike.
  3. Building Lego Technik earth mover with Daddy.
  4. Playing with matching Lego Duplo earth mover kit – piling up blocks in the back of truck.
  5. Joshua and his Daddy.
  6. Practical Life – Practicing turning screws on a small home project.
  7. Practical Life – Crushing biscuits for lemon slice.
  8. Enjoying a strawberry and mango frozen yoghurt pop.
  9. Piling up blocks in trike trailer.
  10. First go at riding his balance bike, a present from grandparents.
  11. Practical Life – Squeezing orange juice exercise.
  12. Practical Life – Nurturing the veggie patch, and a little tomato has appeared.
  13. Helmet on and starting to push off and ride balance bike properly with some help.

We’ve even managed to fit in some updates to our work spaces which I hope to share shortly. I hope you have all been having a wonderful summer break. The weather here in Melbourne has been wonderful and we have spent lots of time catching up with family and friends during this time.

What activities have you been up to during the summer?

Activity of the Day – Christmas Baking

We are enjoying the festive season this year. Having a toddler motivates me to bake so that we have lots of little edible presents to give to family and friends and to put out for Father Christmas as well. When looking for toddler recipes I look for recipes that require minimal intervention by me that Joshua can do himself as he follows instructions really well. Joshua gets to do just about all of it except put it in the oven and take it out. Depending on the age of your child they may be able to do more things like measure out ingredients, use electric beaters or chop up more things independently. At the moment I prepare all the utensils and measurements for the ingredients and tell Joshua what we need to do to complete the recipe. He loves cooking – particularly being able to do the entire process himself – and this morning came to me with his red mixing bowl in hand to request a baking session.

The following recipes tick all the boxes as great recipes for toddler hands and developing skills.

Kids Cookie Stars

In my search for toddler friendly recipes I stumbled across this fantastic recipe from Lesson Learnt Journal for Kids Cookie Stars.

Kids Cookies Dough Ingredients:

  • 100g softened butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence (or more/less as per taste preference)

For Decorating the Star Kids Cookies:

  • Silver cake decorating balls

Method:

  1. Turn on oven to 150°C to heat. Line a tray with baking paper.
  2. Combine all the Kids Cookies Dough ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix until the dough is ready. (I found you might need to use hands to rub the butter into the mixture if required).
  3. Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface using a rolling pin; or pat down the dough with the palms of your hands.
  4. Cut out star shapes with star shaped cookie cutters. Place the biscuits onto the tray and decorate with silver cake decorating balls.
  5. Bake at 150°C for 15 minutes.
  6. Let the biscuits cool on the tray.

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These are easy to make, toddler gets to do all of the work (after having the activity set up) and these are all ingredients that we had on hand in the pantry. Best of all the cookies are tasty! This recipe is going onto our list of kid friendly recipes. The original recipe called for 1 tablespoon of water and vanilla paste. I substituted the water for an egg which is more binding and great for a cookie dough (just need to use a bit of flour to dry the dough a bit when rolling it out) and used vanilla essence instead of vanilla paste (either is fine, vanilla paste is more concentrated so you would not use as much in the recipe.)

4 ingredient shortbread cookies

This recipe I came across a little while ago from Sixtine et Victoire’s Deb who made these lovely cookies with her daughters. I didn’t have the cookie stamps but we made the shortbread anyway and it was delicious. On my wish list are the cookie stamps!

You will need four ingredients (or five depending on the type of butter you use):

Ingredients

  • Butter: 1 cup (226 grams) the recipe called for unsalted butter but If you do use unsalted, then add 1/4 tsp of salt (2g)
  • Flour: 2 cups (260g)
  • Sugar: 1/2 cup (60g)
  • Pure Vanilla Extract: 1tsp (4g)

Method:

  • Beat butter until smooth, add sugar, beat until smooth and then add the vanilla extract.
  • Gently stir in flour until incorporated. Flatten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill the dough for at least an hour or until firm.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177°C, we put it on 180°C) with the rack in the middle of the oven.
  • Line two baking sheets with baking paper.
  • Flatten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill the dough for at least an hour or until firm. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough into a 1/4 inch (0.6cm) thick circle. Cut into rounds or other shapes using lightly floured cookie cutter.
  • Place on the prepared baking sheets and place in refrigerator for about 15 minutes (do this step if using cookie stamps).
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until very lightly browned. (We put it on for 10 minutes)
  • Cool on a wire rack.

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We had a little help from Daddy for the shortbread recipe. I think Joshua enjoyed it a lot, especially as Daddy has just returned from a stint of work travel. The J cookie is Daddy’s handy work.

The recipes are remarkably similar however the shortbread ends up being a bit lighter, more buttery and crumbly than the Kids Cookie Stars cookies. Both are delicious though. I’d be happy to do either of these again with Joshua, they are both on my list of toddler recipes. Joshua really enjoyed our stars theme, his favourite song at the moment is “Twinkle, Twinkle little star”.

We shared these cookies with friends today, they were gobbled down. Delicious!

Activity of the Day – Baking muffins

We decided to do a little baking today as we had not done much in the way of practical life lately; life gets busy this time of the year and it becomes more important to make the time to continue with our usual practical life activities. Baking together is something we have been enjoying for quite a while but I have been putting a lot of thought into how to prepare our environment to support Joshua’s budding cooking skills and to encourage independence in the kitchen.

I love cooking – when I’m prepared! We have made our kitchen accessible to Joshua, he has a step stool that is nice and sturdy enough for him to stand up and work on or to stand on to watch while I cook and he snacks. More often than not lately he wants to join in, sample the carrots, drag over the chopping board to see what I am chopping up and sample it or just feel the texture, look at the meat, see when I put things in to cook. All of these observations I feel are helping Joshua toward a natural love of food – he LOVES his food, especially a lovely home cooked meal – and is giving him a real desire to want to participate in the preparation of it. We are lucky enough that both sides of our family have grandparents that are wonderful cooks. Joshua’s Grandpa cooks wonderful traditional Malaysian staples that I grew up on (congee, curries, salads, stir fries, soups, stews) and Joshua’s Nanna and Nonno make wonderful traditional English and European dishes (Turkey, ham, salads, pasta, lasagnes, sweets and desserts). This has given our family a wonderfully diverse range of foods which we have been exposed to and fortunately my husband and I both enjoy both these ranges of food and have exposed Joshua to these from an early age.

Joshua is currently 22 months old. This is a lovely age to start introducing cooking for a variety of reasons:

  • Participating in family life – the child has pride in feeling he is contributing toward the family meal.
  • Independence – helping build life skills and letting the child do it themselves from an early age.
  • Practicing and refining fine motor skills – grating, peeling, chopping, pouring, stirring. What better way to practice than through doing something productive?
  • Intrinsic motivation – preparing something for yourself to enjoy and eat and knowing that you are able to do it for yourself.
  • Focus and concentration – starting a task, following through and completing a job. A continuance of the non-practical life activities that we do with Joshua at the moment, getting out an activity, preparing it, using it then putting it away after it is finished.
  • Exposure to food preparation instils an appreciation for healthy plant foods at a young age which helps to shape healthy eating habits. This is a lifelong appreciation that a child will have for how food is prepared.
  • Encourages child to enjoy a wide variety of foods – the best time to encourage this is from a very young age. As Joshua is half Caucasian and half Asian it is very important to me to encourage him to eat and enjoy foods that come from both sides of his heritage.

Today I decided it would be nice to utilise all the little cooking tools I have accumulated for Joshua and let him really do a recipe on his own. We decided to do some banana and strawberry muffins, an easy recipe if we get everything prepared first. I adapted this as a smaller version of a French Yoghurt cake that I make that is smaller portions of it. It is super easy for even the littlest cooks to make and very tasty.

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Before commencing I set up the kitchen bench with all of our ingredients and measured them out, talked Joshua through step-by-step what needs to happen and what we are making. And so we began.

Chop up the strawberries. Mash the banana. Stir all the ingredients into the mixing bowl.

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Interestingly, in the process there were some parts that Joshua balked at – particularly pouring the flour into the large mixing bowl. I suspect this had little to do with lack of ability and everything to do with his not being able to eat the mashed up banana and strawberries after the flour was poured on top. Joshua enjoys sampling while I am preparing food and today was no exception. It was interesting to observe as I know Joshua loves food and has a deep appreciation for all the ingredients. He also showed a lot of enthusiasm for the finished product!

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Once the ingredients were all in and being mixed together, Joshua enjoyed one of the greatest joys of baking – tasting the batter.

We plan on doing a fair bit of baking with the festive season upon us. Next on the cards is gingerbread and shortbread for the family.

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We actually made this one again but with mango and strawberries and it was delicious!