Sami Arseculeratne Martinez Photo
Fall is prime time for heating up the oven and taking on a deliciously rewarding baking project with the kids.
Jen Comfort, president and principal cake designer of She Takes the Cake, based in Manlius, started baking alongside her mom when she was a little girl. From those early days grew a love of creating sweet treats and the “sugar artist” now gets a helping hand from her own daughters, ages 9 and 12.
Comfort admits that baking with the kids often results in a little extra mess, and things go slower than if you were doing it by yourself. But the experience and the time spent together in a constructive and gratifying pursuit will have lasting benefits. Comfort runs a thriving business and understands that parents may not have time for weeknight kitchen projects, but she encourages baking as a fun weekend project.
“Parents can take their kids to a local farmers’ market and buy fruits or veggies in season to use in baking and cooking,” she says. Even if this practice doesn’t evolve into a habit, the once-in-a-while experience is essential for young people. Kids can begin helping in the kitchen by kindergarten age, and they will be learning kitchen safety and self-reliance in the process. Baking can also have other side benefits. She recalls the time one of her daughters realized her mom used math when making a cake.
The Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes, whose recipe accompanies this article, are a delightful weekend or holiday treat with a healthful array of aromatic spices, two vegetables and one fruit. Cupcakes are simple to bake and can become a household staple for many occasions.
What distinguishes a cupcake from a muffin? Comfort says with a laugh that she’s heard that if you toss one against a wall “a cupcake goes poof and a muffin goes thud.” She adds that while the rustic muffin is heavier and has no icing, its more glamorous cousin—the cupcake—is lighter and usually topped with frosting. No matter what you call it, the cupcake’s manageable size makes it easy to grab and go.
“Cupcakes are good portion control and are easy to serve because you don’t need a plate and fork to enjoy them,” says Comfort. Even frosting a cupcake is easier for small hands, and a child can personalize the treat with his own decorations. Cleanup is also simpler since you’re using paper liners.
“Moms and dads should try to bake from scratch whenever possible,” Comfort says. “Boxed items have additives and preservatives that I would rather avoid.”
Besides, there are lessons to be shared when measuring ingredients, whether by weight, quantity, or in ratios. Comfort believes that when kids get involved in this level of food preparation, more thought goes into nutrition and healthy eating.
“More pride goes into baking things from scratch,” adds Comfort. “The recipe becomes a project that shows their accomplishment.” ■
Sami Arseculeratne Martinez has a grown son and daughter. She and her husband recently moved from their Hamilton home to Connecticut.
Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes
2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
15 ounce can pumpkin
½ cup milk
1/3 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1½ cups shredded carrot
½ cup golden currants
(or raisins or dried cranberries)
½ cup chopped walnuts
Line a cupcake pan with paper baking cups. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Organize and measure out all ingredients.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients: flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, nutmeg and cloves. Add pumpkin, milk, eggs and butter. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until blended. Beat on medium to high speed for 2 minutes. Fold in the shredded carrot, currants and walnuts
Spoon batter into paper or foil cupcake baking cups in a muffin pan until about three-quarters full. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean. The top of the cupcake should give to slight pressure but bounce back a little.
Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes then carefully remove from pan and let cool. Makes about 18 cupcakes.
Fluffy Cream Cheese Icing
4 ounces lower fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
¾ cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
With an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar. When cupcakes are completely cooled, frost with cream cheese icing. For decoration, top each cupcake with three candy corn pieces or dust lightly with cinnamon.