June 10, 2021

(++++) SWEET!

The Big, Fun Kids Baking Book. By Food Network Magazine. Hearst Home Kids. $19.99.

     The biggest problem with this book is the table of contents, or rather the pages immediately after the table of contents. The TOC itself blandly lists the types of baked-goods recipes to be found on upcoming pages: Muffins & Quick Breads, Brownies & Bars, Cookies, Cupcakes, Cakes and Fake-Out Cakes. But the six following pages, which show pictures of the specific items in each section, are so delicious-looking that you can gain three pounds just by staring at them. And you can quickly get to a state of “paralysis by analysis,” trying to figure out just which scrumptious goodie to make first, and second, and third, and 17th, and…and, and, and (there are more than 100 possibilities!).

     What is particularly delightful about The Big, Fun Kids Baking Book is that kids who follow the recipes (which, it is worth mentioning, often would be greatly helped by some adult assistance – a great recipe for bonding time) really can end up with baked goods that look remarkably like the photos. Both the recipes and the pictures are that good and that accurate.

     This is not to say that everything in The Big, Fun Kids Baking Book is easy to do. Most baking, until you get quite good at it, is rather unforgiving of recipe deviations. The folks at Food Network Magazine make that point subtly at the start of this book, suggesting that readers who “like to throw a little of this and a handful of that into the pan and see what happens” will tend to be cooks (the audience for the previous volume, The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook), while those who like to “take your time, measure everything carefully and follow recipes just as they’re written” will tend to be bakers. That’s a pretty good distinction for the young and presumably just-learning-the-ways-of-the-kitchen audience for whom this book and its predecessor are intended. But that is not to say that young readers must slavishly follow the words here: some of those words are intended to promote creativity even as the book as a whole shows the importance of following baking recipes with care. For instance, in addition to recipes for several types of muffins and quick breads, there is a “Design Your Own Recipe” offering for banana bread, which gives the basic way to make a loaf but encourages five different possible mix-ins (such as nuts, dried fruit and chocolate chips) and provides three options for glazes. That’s a good start for the sort of adaptive behavior that enthusiastic bakers develop sometimes out of creativity (“what if I mixed this with that instead of that?”) and sometimes out of necessity (“how am I going to make frosting when I’m out of powdered sugar?”).

     The recipes in The Big, Fun Kids Baking Book are delicious-looking and -tasting, although it would have been nice if calorie counts per portion had been included – to give young bakers an idea of when a good thing becomes too much of a good thing. The book includes so many forms of yum that it will be hard for a young reader who gets started to stop making treats. Of course, that is the point (although moderation really is called for with many of these recipes – parents will have to provide it, gently). And the “fun” part of the title (a grammatical irritation: “fun” is a noun, not an adjective, no matter what social media [plural] say) shows up again and again. For instance, there are two pages called “Decorate Your Doughnuts” that display five very different and highly colorful approaches; and there are “Did You Know?” boxes scattered throughout the book with baking-related facts (Albany, Georgia, is home to more than 600,000 pecan trees; Oregon produces 99% of America’s hazelnuts; you can make an edible jigsaw puzzle out of sugar-cookie dough; a classic Oreo cookie is 29% cream and 71% cookie; and so on). There are also “Tips” that add a little suggestion here and there to the recipes: Birthday Cake Bars, for example, “will still taste great” whether finished off with store-bought frosting, or with the book’s frosting recipe, or with no frosting at all; and any cupcake can be made in mini form – you get about three times as many minis as regular-size ones.

     As for the section called “Fake-Out Cakes,” it is for somewhat more-advanced young bakers, featuring cakes that look like what they are not. There is a Chili Dog Cake, and an Ice Cream Sandwich Cake, and more – but these recipes are not for anyone in a hurry: it takes two hours to make the Spaghetti-and-Meatballs Cake or the Pineapple Cake, an hour and a half for the Egg-in-a-Hole Cake, and so forth. Still, there is something extra-tempting about working on a Taco Ice Cream Cake (one-and-a-half hours plus freezing time) or a Grilled Cheese Cake (one hour and 45 minutes). And what might young bakers do to stay occupied as the “Fake-Out Cakes” come into being? Well, a “Did You Know?” box says, “The average person in the United States eats about 35,000 cookies in a lifetime. How many do you think you’ve had so far?” The more-complex recipes allow plenty of time to count – indeed, to add to the count. But, umm, it wouldn’t hurt to go online before doing that and figure out just how many calories are in 35,000 cookies. There are, after all, limits to fun, even to the fun in The Big, Fun Kids Baking Book.

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