Adventures in Ratio Baking: The Best Part

I love ratio baking because it requires less brain power.

Yes, not using a recipe uses less thought on my part.

Well, once I started to figure out all the math, that is. Math is my weakest area, so it took me about a month to figure out the 3-2-1 cookie ratio. Which is why I started with the 1-1-1-1 cake ratio first.

But, honestly, baking without a recipe is easier on my brain than using one. It might seem weird because, with a recipe, everything is spelled out. There shouldn’t be much thought put into it.

Well, baking with a recipe, for me, involves:

  1. Figuring out what kind of cake I want. That’s really not too hard because I always side with chocolate.
  2. Finding a recipe. Do you have any idea how many grandmas made the world’s best chocolate cake?!
  3. Making sure I have all the ingredients. I guarantee you, I do not keep shortening, molasses, corn syrup, buttermilk, coffee, liqueurs, etc. stocked. And I’m back to step 2…
  4. Hunting down my measuring spoons and cups because my kids are enamored with them.
  5. Getting out two or more bowls because recipes call for adding wet and dry ingredients alternately into a third mixing bowl, sifting the flour into one bowl and adding it into the mixing bowl, and mixing the dry and wet ingredients separately. So, read the recipe carefully first.
  6. Precisely measuring out everything (which should be done by leveling off the measuring cups with the back of a knife) and keeping track of how much I’ve added so I don’t have to start over.
  7. Mixing, which can sometimes be confusing and require adding ingredients in specific orders and certain ways. I always end up reading this at least half a dozen times to make sure I do it right.
  8. Baking. Finally! Just have to double check the baking temperature and time…

And using ratio baking requires:

  1. Deciding to bake. I’m always up for it.
  2. Taking out my scale, three bowls (one for the eggs, one for the butter, one for the dry ingredients, though sometimes I use the same bowl for the latter two), a spoon, and a knife.
  3. Weighing the eggs. It’s easiest to do them first because everything else can easily be added or subtracted to get the right weight.
  4. Weighing the butter (I use the knife to cut it), sugar, and flour (plus cocoa powder for chocolate cakes) to match the eggs.
  5. Mix. There are different mixing methods, though the creaming one (cream butter and sugar first) is the easiest and more common one. I prefer the egg foaming method of whipping the eggs and gradually adding the sugar first.
  6. Bake! For 3 eggs, a temperature of 375 degrees for 25 minutes in an 8 inch round pan works great. No double checking necessary.

Of course, starting out with ratio baking was slow. And it does take a little time to ensure equal weights, but, overall, ratio baking is faster and easier for me. There’s no making sure I have everything and double checking every number and step. There have been so many days when my daughter and I have literally walked through the door, I’ve said to her “let’s bake,” and we have cake within the hour.

My favorite part is that, by not having to reference a recipe, I’m better able to interact with my kids. I can talk to them without saying, “Hang on. I need to measure out the flour.” There’s also no more wondering if I counted the number of cups of flour right anymore, and having to start over. Instead, I spoon flour into a bowl, chat with my kids, and keep an eye on the weight. My kids even get to help dump everything in, when they’re not busy banging unused and lonely measuring cups on the counter or eating chocolate chips.

Baking with ratios is so much more relaxing. I do have to make sure I take what I need out so I don’t forget anything, but that takes mere moments. I love not second guessing myself and reading the same number 10 times. I love being able to calmly answer my oldest child’s numerous questions while scooping out flour. And, when mommy is relaxed, the only meltdowns they have involve who gets to sit on the counter next to the bowl.

So there you have it. It may not be true of everyone who ratio bakes, but I definitely find it’s easier on my brain, is more relaxing for me since I’m not anxiously quadruple checking everything, and baking with kids is a much calmer endeavor because I can offer more of myself to them.

Have you tried ratio baking? Would you?

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Adventures in Ratio Baking: Chocolate Cake Attempts 1 & 2

For years, I faithfully followed recipes whenever I baked. Cooking is a completely different story, but I always believed in following the recipe exactly when it came to baking. After all, baking is a science and I’m not great with science or math.

But I started feeling a little suffocated by recipes last year. I’ve been baking completely on my own for almost 20 years and finally had enough of following them to a T. It got boring. Spending time searching for new recipes became a chore. I felt stuck, and it sucked the fun out of baking. It was only interesting when my kids were enthusiastic and I kept busy repeatedly telling them they couldn’t play with the flour.

So, I started getting a little creative. I have a chocolate cake recipe that makes an excellent cake but extremely flat cupcakes, so I started tweaking it to get that nice little dome. Actually, I still need to finish those tweaks. Then I started experimenting with cake mixes and switching up ingredients for similar ones.

But what I really wanted to try was ratio baking. I lacked one important ingredient, though. The kitchen scale. I always faithfully followed the recipe, so never bothered to get one. I think my husband heard me talk about one enough that he surprised me with one for Christmas.

At first, I didn’t do anything with it. My mind was swirling with too many incomplete thoughts and ideas that I wouldn’t have been able to make anything remotely edible. Instead, I did a lot of reading on how to do ratio baking, especially since I’m terrible with numbers, and ratios and fractions scare the living daylights out of me.

So, I started with cakes. They’re one part flour, one part fat, one part sugar, and one part eggs. Easy enough. I just have to make sure everything weighs about the same. Of course, there are different methods of mixing them together, but I prefer the creaming method of creaming the butter and sugar together first. The easy part is measuring everything (just have to remember to measure the eggs first). The hard part is remembering to substitute cocoa powder in for some of the flour, add the vanilla extract, and add the baking powder.

I set up a baking corner, so everything I need is in one place. It’s convenient as I don’t have to wander around the kitchen to find everything, but inconvenient because my mind tells me everything is right there so I don’t have to take out everything I need. This screwed up my first attempt.

Oh, I did great at substituting in some cocoa powder. I even added some vanilla extract. I diligently weighed everything while my daughter stood on a chair and watched me. We creamed together the sugar and butter, added the eggs and extract, and added the flour and cocoa powder. I made sure the cover the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. The oven was ready. I set the timer.

It was only when the cake turned out to be almost as flat as a pancake that I realized 1) I probably could have doubled what I used or used a smaller pan, and 2) I forgot the baking powder/soda. Oh well. At least it was chocolatey and edible.

For attempt #2, I made a home in my spice rack for the baking powder. This time my son was home to help. Previously, I used only 2 eggs. This time, he wanted me to use 3. We weighed everything out. After weighing the flour and cocoa powder, I made sure to add about a teaspoon of baking powder this time.

It was great. Instead of a less than 1/2 inch cake, I had a little over an inch of cake. Success? Not quite. The batter was quite thick and I should have added milk or something to loosen it up, but I decided not to, just to see how what I had would turn out.

Well, it’s a much higher cake and just as chocolatey, but definitely a little dense.

Cake is cake. I’ll still eat it. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee, so I liberally partake in chocolate. I guarantee you chocolate cake lasts less than a week with me around.

And I’ll remember to add milk or something when it’s time for attempt #3. One of these days I’m bound to bake the perfect cake. I just might need more cocoa powder.

Ratio baking: chocolate cake

Attempt #2.

Ratio baking: have you tried it? Would you?

My Family’s Top 5 Go-to Dinners

I’m really bad at meal planning. I hate having to think about what’s for dinner. I’d rather be playing with my kids and trying to tell my son he doesn’t have to hide in the same spot every single time.

If I’m lucky, I remember and ask my husband what he’d like to eat a couple of days before we go to the market. If I’m really lucky, he tells me exactly what he wants. Most weeks, though, I ask him about 20 minutes before we head out the door and we stand around in the produce section wondering what to make. Our son gets impatient and becomes overly theatrical about it. Our daughter is happy standing in the back and making noises while bouncing on her feet.

Fortunately, we do have some family favorites that are relatively quick and easy. We keep most of the ingredients stocked, so it’s easy to say we’ll eat this or that. Unfortunately, for me, at least, it feels repetitive, but it does solve the problem.

“What’s for dinner?”

I’m suddenly sorry I asked my mom almost daily.

  1. Pasta. This is seriously our number one go-to, unless we had it last week. It’s easy and my husband happens to absolutely love the sauce, which is also incredibly easy to make. The best part is the pasta can be cooked ahead and frozen with a bit of olive oil drizzled and mixed in. The sauce can also be cooked ahead of time and frozen. My recipe makes enough sauce for at least 2 pounds of pasta, so, the next time we decided to have it, I don’t even have to cook it if I was smart and froze it into two sections. Head over here for my sauce recipe, which also works really well for the pizza my husband likes making.
  2. Pizza. My husband already devoted a post to this. He grew up in New York City, so pizza is near and dear to his heart. I couldn’t care less, but he’s very particular. He’s spent several weekends perfecting his dough recipe and trying out different sauces, only to go to my pasta sauce and proclaim it perfect. For pizza, the sauce ingredients can just go in the blender with more sugar than salt. I hate having to stretch out the dough, but his recipe makes 2, so we just pop one in the freezer, though it usually only stays in for a day or two. I did mention he loves pizza, right? Oh, and the dough is best when left in the fridge at least over night. For his recipe, pop over hereBake and then.....PIZZA!
  3. Spanish-style beef. A few years ago, I was flipping through some recipes my mom had saved, but never made. I came across one for Spanish-style beef and rice by Rachael Ray. My husband liked it, so I added it to my recipe book. And then I experimented a bit. I’ve used beef, chicken, and a mix of beef and sausage. It really is quick to make and so easy that I usually hold my daughter almost the whole time. It’s great with rice, but we also enjoy it with tortillas. For my version and one way we enjoy it, go hereIMG_0895
  4. Lemon chicken. This is something my mom started making when I was a kid. My parents planted a lemon tree one year and it’s been extremely bountiful. We’ve had so many lemons that my dad is in the habit of asking just about everyone if they want any lemons. One or two? Nope. Try a whole bag full of them. I’m not sure where my mom got the recipe, but I got mine for lemon chicken from her. For all I know, she made it up just to use up the lemons. It’s really simple. Slice a chicken breast in half so it’s neither too thick nor too thin (pound if too thick) and salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a pan with some oil and cook chicken. Remove chicken and add 3-4 tablespoons of butter and the juice of 2 lemons. Add chicken back to the pan and coat in the sauce. As far as I know, it goes with just about everything.
  5. Chicken and tortillas. This is something my mom made for us a lot when we were growing up. It’s fast and easy. And, okay, I prefer this one way more than my husband because it’s really fast and easy. Even if we don’t have tortillas, we can still put it with rice or Asian noodles. I like to slice the chicken on the thin side so I don’t have to marinate it as long and it cooks faster. A half hour before dinner time? Yup, this will be done on time! See why I prefer it? For the recipe for the marinade and the chicken and tortillas recipe, head on over here.

Hmm. Maybe I do know what’s for dinner next week.

What are some of your go-to dinner recipes? If you have the recipe link, feel free to leave it in the comments!

Simple tips to help making baking with toddlers fun and more managable

Baking with Young Children Tip #5

In lieu of a daily question on Fridays this month, I’ll be giving a baking with young children tip. I’ve switched up Fridays this month to highlight dads, but I can’t bring myself to forego food entirely.

Baking tip #5: Have fun!

Doing anything in the kitchen with small children can be difficult. There are small people getting underfoot, small people demanding attention and to be picked up, small people screaming if they don’t get to help, small people littering toys that you must navigate like a minefield, small people who decide the time when you absolutely must get something out of the oven is the best time to have the largest poop ever, small people who want to try to touch the oven while it’s on and open.

It’s stressful. It’s difficult. It can be downright annoying. It’s not easy baking, or even cooking, with small children around.

I know. I’ve been there. It wasn’t bad with one child, but adding another suddenly made it twice as hard. Two little ones demanding two different things. Two little ones to keep away from the oven. Two little ones who want to play with everything and grab all the chocolate when I’m trying to make chocolate chip cookies for them.

But! I remember they’re small. They’re young. They’re exploring. They’re learning. And I want learning to be fun. So I try to have fun. I play keep away games when it’s time to open the oven, or hide and seek where I count really slowly. I give them measuring cups to play with. I let my older child choose something we can add in, like chocolate chips, nuts, candy pieces, coconut flakes, etc. I let him mix and teach him to mix in the flour slowly. I use the stand mixer and get to watch their eyes turn into saucers as they watch it go around and around. I take my time baking. If it takes an hour to get it into the oven, it takes an hour.

It’s so important to just have fun. My kids love baking. Not only do they get a treat out of it and it occupies us for a morning, but they enjoy helping me add the ingredients, mixing, and learning how to bake. Baking isn’t a chore to me and I hope to pass that on to them. Baking is fun.

So, have fun while baking!

Baking with Young Children Tips

 

Baking with Young Children Tip #4

In lieu of a daily question on Fridays this month, I’ll be giving a baking with young children tip. I’ve switched up Fridays this month to highlight dads, but I can’t bring myself to forego food entirely.

Baking tip #4: Utilize the measuring cups you aren’t using to entertain your little ones.

I don’t know what it is about those little measuring cups, but my kids are obsessed with them. I can’t open the drawer and take one out without having to give one to each of them. Of course, sometimes I have to negotiate with them so I also get to use the one I need. Which can get tricky, but the alternative is no measuring cup and that doesn’t usually go over well.

My toddler is easy. I put some chocolate chips into his measuring cup and he’s happy as a clam. We almost always bake after his morning snack and he doesn’t get any sweets as a rule before noon, so, on baking days, it’s like a little treat. He happily snacks on his chocolate and I get to stir in the flour without having to worry about a white cloud. He’s also always very enthusiastic when I say it’s time to bake…

My 1 year old is a little trickier. She always wants a measuring cup, too, and will whine until I give it to her. The easy part is she’ll take any of them. The hard part is putting her down with it. I’ve mastered baking while holding her, but sometimes it hurts when she decides she’d like to drum on me. Though, when I do get to put her down, she loves drumming on everything in the kitchen and then will wander away just in time for me to open the oven. And then I get to play hunt down the measuring cup. Oh well. At least she was entertained long enough.

I really don’t know why those cups are so popular with my kids, but it definitely helps make baking fun for them and they’re entertained long enough for me to do things like stir in the flour and open the oven.

Baking with Young Children Tip #3

In lieu of a daily question on Fridays this month, I’ll be giving a baking with young children tip. I’ve switched up Fridays this month to highlight dads, but I can’t bring myself to forego food entirely.

Baking tip #3: Crack those eggs into a bowl.

Seriously. If you’ve ever baked with young children, you know those round little ovals that roll everywhere are very tempting for little hands. And you’ve probably cleaned up a few broken eggs or more.

Since the eggs should be brought to room temperature and the butter should be softened before baking, I take them out while my kids are occupied, about an hour or so before we start baking. Instead of letting the eggs roll around, just crack them into a bowl! Then little hands can’t drop or knock them off the counter and they can even help add the eggs.

Hopefully this will save an egg or two out there. I know I’m tired of cleaning up eggy messes.

Baking with Young Children Tip #2

In lieu of a daily question on Fridays this month, I’ll be giving a baking with young children tip. I’ve switched up Fridays this month to highlight dads, but I can’t bring myself to forego food entirely.

Baking tip #2: Practice counting by using the smallest measuring up and counting each one. For two cups of flour, use a quarter cup measure and count to 8.

I know the rule to baking is to use exact measurements, so this might sound weird and perhaps you don’t even want to try it and risk the end result. However, I have been baking since I was a small child and neither my mom nor I have ever perfectly measured the dry ingredients. I have never leveled off the measuring cups and have never had a problem. People usually rave about my baked goods.

So, I don’t have a problem with using different measuring cups. Besides, my son likes to claim the biggest one, often leaving me to use the half and quarter cup measures.

He wants to make me use the quarter measuring cup to measure out 2 cups? No problem. I’ll make him help me count. However many quarter cups go into what needs to be measured out is the number he needs to count to. I get my dry ingredients measured and he gets to practice counting. Win-win.

Though if your child doesn’t want to count, I use a musician trick to counting. I play the harp and sometimes have had agonizingly long pauses before I play again. No joke, I once had to count a 30-something measure rest.

For the first measure (first cup), count 1 2 3 4 (if using a quarter cup measure; 1 2 if you’re using a half cup).

For the second measure (second cup), count 2 2 3 4 (if using a quarter up measure; 2 2 if you’re using a half cup).

The idea is that the first number is the number of the measure (or cup, in this case). That way you know how many measures (or cups) you’ve counted.

Though it’s easier if your child is agreeable and does the counting for you.

Happy baking!

Baking with Young Children Tip #1

In lieu of a daily question on Fridays this month, I’ll be giving a baking with young children tip. I’ve switched up Fridays this month to highlight dads, but I can’t bring myself to forego food entirely.

Baking tip #1: Set a timer to be a minute less than the baking time.

Have you ever tried baking a cake, but end up with a screaming child or a toddler who has to go to the potty right now? It happens! And it can get tiring when you’re making cookies. Kids don’t have a real sense of time, or the fact that things in the oven need to come out at specific times.

So set a timer to one or two minutes less! It gives you a grace period, long enough to get the toddler to the potty or do a quick diaper change or set the baby somewhere safe. Just don’t set it so short that you forget the timer went off.

Happy baking!

Meal Planning For Those Who Hate It

I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate meal planning. Wait, I don’t think that was enough hates… Oh, well. This is actually one reason why I didn’t want to be a stay at home mom (yeah, life loves to laugh at me). I don’t know how my mom did it. I remember finding her standing in the kitchen, staring into the freezer. No way did I want that to be me.

Fast forward 15 years. I’m a stay at home mom who has to plan meals and snacks for 4 people. So not what I want to be doing…

I am dreadful at meal planning. On Thursdays, I ask my husband what he wants to eat next week, praying he has a good idea. If I’m lucky I have an idea by Friday night. Usually, we stand in the market on Saturday mornings and wonder what we’re cooking. Yeah, so not good at this.

Luckily, I’ve developed a system, of sorts, that mostly works.

  1. Make 2 lists. One list holds every dish my husband and I make. These are tried and true and are usually well-received. The second list holds the recipes we would like to try one day. This way we have a go-to place to start, a place where we can peruse the recipes and decide what we want to eat. Though, whether we achy do this may or may not happen…
  2. Keep a stocked cooking shelf. Make sure you have the spices and cooking basics that you use the most. We always have ground ginger, garlic powder, Adobo seasoning, basil, oregano, cumin, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, oil, olive oil, tomato sauce, and coconut milk on hand. It’s what we use the most and they’re easy enough to experiment with.
  3. Buy the produce you use the most. We are a bell pepper loving family, so when we don’t know what we’re cooking, we always buy peppers. Even if we don’t use them, we can always slice them and munch or sautee them.
  4. Cook dishes that make a lot of servings or double recipes. Cooking a lot of food at one time can actually save time. See below. I come from a family of 5, so my mom’s recipes make a lot of food. Just because I have a smaller family doesn’t mean I make less. It just means…
  5. The freezer is your friend. Freeze the extra! Portion them out. Freeze half. Just get some of it in the freezer and you’ll always have food on hand. Just defrost and heat. If you make a lot of food over a week or two and freeze some, eventually you just have to take something out of the freezer.
  6. Be like my husband and enjoy the same thing for two or three days (AKA leftovers). My husband loves eating the exact same thing day after day. I try to cap it at two days. Which means I don’t have to plan meals for every night of the week! Just 3-4.

This is how I survive meal planning. Or, really, how I get around meal planning. As I write this, I’m pretty sure I only have to cook once next week, if that! Bring on the extra play time with the kids!

Note to self: take something out of the freezer.

Do you plan meals or do you wing it? What are some of your tips?

 

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Baking with Small Children

I love to bake, ever since my mom deemed me tall enough to stand on a chair and see over the counter. Having kids didn’t slow down my love of making cookies; for awhile it just meant Daddy had to entertain our son.

But, one day, Daddy wasn’t home and I was dying for a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie. I looked at my 1.5 year old son, looked at the kitchen, and fetched a chair. He already loved standing on chairs (stood on one until he figured out how to open a door), so I decided it was time to introduce him to Mommy’s favorite hobby: baking.

When my husband came home, he thought I was nuts for trying to bake with a young toddler.

And maybe I was. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been! Mostly because my son is awesome in every way and actually listens to me (well, about 75% of the time, but he was super good when he was younger!).

He’s been happily baking with me for 2 years now, though touching the eggs is out of the question after he decided to “help” and dropped them on the counter.

As for his less then year old sister? Well, sometimes we wait until she naps. Otherwise, I hold her (she’s very curious and loves to watch, but I always put her in her high chair when I have to open the oven).

  1. Do make sure they are tall enough to see over the counter, or, if you have the space, put them on the counter! Or mix on the floor. Who says you have to do it on the counter? There’s also the dining table, the coffee table, the child’s table…
  2. Mess is inevitable, especially with flour. So, having something under everything makes clean up faster and easier. I’ve used paper towels, wax paper, regular towels… I prefer something disposable as it’s easier to pick it up and put it in the trash. I have a bad habit of forgetting I have something in the washing machine.
  3. Let your toddler pour the dry ingredients into the bowl. My son loved doing this, until he just completely missed one day. We had a talk about where it goes, but, since then, he would rather put his hand on my wrist and “help” me pour. Again, having something under the mixing bowl would be helpful!
  4. Be careful with the wet ingredients, but  don’t rule them out! My son can and does pour in milk, water, and oil. He touched butter once and freaked out, so that’s out for him. Also waiting until he’s a little older before he can handle the eggs again. Otherwise he was really good about counting them when he handed them to me.
  5. Let them mix. It might take forever, but it’s so much fun for them! But they’ll probably only mix the top layer. And may fight you when you say “my turn.” We mostly use a stand mixer and both my kids LOVE watching it. It’s kind of hypnotic.
  6. Have fun. I always let my son pick something to add. Chocolate chips, candy pieces, sprinkles, shredded coconut, etc. And he picks how much.
  7. Be careful with the oven. I made it very clear the oven was super hot. Whenever I opened the oven, I always made my son back up 2-3 feet and not move, otherwise I closed the oven. I’d rather have burnt cookies than burnt son. On that note, my daughter goes right into her high chair, a safe distance away.
  8. Let them watch it bake. If your oven has a window, turn on a light and let them watch. My son and I would always crouch down so he could ooh and aah.
  9. Finally, let them have a little snack when it comes out. My son loved picking his piece, and it’s a good way to get more milk in him!

I love getting my son involved and he has so much fun. Most days, he is the one asking if we can bake. Well, it’s been weekly lately, but I don’t complain.

It’s fun to bake with a toddler, as long as you’re prepared and careful. So, go have some fun in the kitchen!

For more great tips, check out how Neighboring Nikita introduced baking to her 1 year old!

Do you have any other tips to make baking fun and safe?

 

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