Last weekend I planned to bake cookies with my son. This was going to be the first of many cooking sessions we would enjoy together. I mixed the dry components in one bowl and in another I beat the butter and sugar together, then adding the egg. I found a baking tray. I was all ready. I nearly dug out the matching aprons I’d made a few years back, one for me and one for him, but I decided that was too much. We were going to have fun mixing the dry and wet mixtures together, producing flattened lumps of mix all ready for the oven, to be followed by the joy of eating our own baked cookies.
Some friends had helpfully come in on the plan by suggesting we buy a two step stool from IKEA. This is a pretty solid wooden job and Dave had lovingly added a frame so that our son could safely stand and join me at the kitchen work surface. Dave had sawn and drilled, assembled and sanded for three evenings and the result was beautiful.
I should tell you that our son is eighteen months old. Can you now guess where this is going?
I dug out of the kitchen drawer two wooden spoons and two spatulas. Dave showed our son how to climb up onto his stool – so far so good. I showed our little one his wooden spoon and his spatula. Then I showed him the two bowls of mixture. He looked vaguely in the right direction and then started to head down, down the stool he had just been helped to climb up.
He walked over to a cupboard where we store our plastic bowls and plates and which double as his crockery and our picnic set. He started to get the bowls and plates out of the cupboard. I picked him up and told him he could do that another time – it was the third time that day he had emptied that cupboard, before repacking it with my help. I popped him back on the stool and started to mix the bowls of ingredients together. He started heading down the stool again and now with Dave’s help, he got out of the stool. He was straight back to the cupboard. His eyes lit up as the plastic cups went crashing to the floor. Dave and I looked at each other and realised that we hadn’t a clue when children might start enjoying cooking or helping out in the kitchen. Our three year old niece enjoys it, but I couldn’t imagine her little brother, who is older than our son, having the patience. The dream of a lovely half-hour spent cooking together faded as another stack of plastic cups went crashing. Clearly that was far better fun.
These cookies have sultanas, roughly chopped apricots and walnuts, together with mixed spices. The batter or dough is a sponge cake mixture. They are super easy to make. Dave and I have enjoyed them a lot this week – even though our son picked a solitary sultana out of one and decided that was all he wanted! They are perfect with coffee mid-morning, or a cup of tea in the afternoon. They are wonderful still warm from the oven, or will keep perfectly for a day or two in an air tight container.
As with all sponge based recipes, make sure you beat the sugar and butter together until it is creamy, soft and light yellow – I use an electric mixer for this job. Also, only mix the dry and wet ingredients together when your oven is warmed to the correct temperature and you are absolutely ready to start baking. You want the raising agents in the flour and baking powder to do their job in the oven and not when sat on top of the kitchen counter.
Sultana, apricots and walnut cookies
175g/6oz caster sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
350g/12oz self-raising flour
¼ tsp baking powder
pinch of bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground mixed spice
110g/4oz walnuts, roughly chopped
170g/6oz dried apricots, roughly chopped
2 lemons, zest only
Makes 20 cookies
Preparation time – 25 minutes
Cooking time – 15 minutes
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/375°F/Gas mark 5.
2. In a large bowl beat the butter well until it’s soft and then beat the sugar into the butter. Continue to beat the mixture until it’s creamy, soft and light yellow. This may take two minutes with an electric mixer.
3. Beat the eggs in a little at a time, and continue to beat until it’s all combined.
4. In a separate bowl sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and mixed spice. Add in the dried fruit, the nuts, the lemon zest and mix until it’s all combined.
5. Mix the butter mixture with the flour mixture well. Spoon 20 balls of the mixture onto baking trays. Split any remaining mixture between the 20 balls. Flatten the balls a little with the back of a spoon.
6. Bake in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes until they are lightly browned. Leave on the tray for five minutes to firm up a little before you transfer to a cooling rack.
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