This is what happens when you brazenly bake and cook and concoct and discuss food around your children: they become mini foodies. They ask to take cooking classes. They announce plans to become bakers when they grow up. They want to create masterpieces in the kitchen using only water, Cheerios, salt and herbs snipped from the garden. (I had to taste that one.)
Lately Little e’s been asking to bake things, by which she means stir some ingredients in a bowl and see what happens in the microwave. There’s been a lot of congealing and rubberiness. She’s been delighted.
So the other day I decided, when asked the same old question–can I bake something today?–to try to slot in a cooking lesson (disguised as fun, of course).
I told her we’d make a white pudding. That sounded AMAZING to her, so off we went…to make a roux.
I know one of the things she likes about cooking–that we all like, I imagine–is the magic, the alchemy of it. We take separate substances and combine them, heat them, change their structure or size, and–abracadabra!–we have a whole new substance. A combination that’s more than the sum of its parts and is, hopefully, tasty.
I never think about this anymore. I’ve made too many hundreds of dinners, lunches, cakes and puddings to think about what’s actually going on. There’s an end result to get to (before everyone gets hangry). But cooking with kids slows you down, brings you into the moment.
We forget all that we know. All that we take for granted. Butter and flour, heated together into a paste, then slurried with milk? Yeah, that’s a roux, but look what happens! The hot butter cooks the flour, coats it with fat, so that when you add the milk, the flour expands and thickens the liquid evenly, into a smooth sauce. Or in our case, with less milk, a thick pudding. It IS magic. This is wheat and animal fats combining in a way never found in nature. Some ancient human alchemist-cook stumbled upon this strange bit of edible science and we’ve been making it ever since. It’s miraculous, and to my five-year-old, it’s that and more. It’s a symbol of all that she gets to discover, these small and bright secrets of the world.
A tadpole becomes a frog, a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, teeth sprout from the smooth, pink gums of a baby. These are some of the things she’s witnessed, and now she’s seen how flour and fat can thicken into something delicious. She knows how to make a roux.
And eat it like pudding.
What recipes do (or did) your kids like to make?