This week marked the end of Carnevale, and the beginning of Lent. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, and the day before – Shrove Tuesday – is the last day of Carnevale. In Italian it is called Martedi Grasso – Fat Tuesday – like Mardi Gras. In Australia, we know it as Pancake Tuesday. The origin of these names is the tradition of feasting on that day to use up foods that are not allowed during the Lenten fast – things like butter, sugar and eggs.
Cooking food with children at kinder is about involving them in the process. Our choice to make Australian pancakes is partly a nod to that tradition, but also partly due to practicalities. Pancakes are one of the easier things to make and cook in class.
I call them ‘fritelle’ in the Green Group program. I don’t know what pancakes are called in Italy, or whether they even eat them. But in the part of Italy I know best ‘fritelle’ are the Carnevale speciality. There, they are a kind of small donut, and are deep fried. Pancakes are also small and fried, so I figure ‘fritelle’ is a fair enough translation. But pan frying in an electric frying pan is much safer, and is something I am prepared to undertake in class.
We gathered as a whole group to make the pancake batter – burro, farina, uova, latte, zucchero e un pizzico di sale. The children took it in turns to add a spoonful of flour and stir the ingredients together. I had some keen volunteers to break the eggs, but I decided to do that myself rather than turn it into frittata by adding 13 eggs.
Another useful property of the pancake recipe is that it is very forgiving. I needed to be able to offer gluten and dairy free pancakes, and substitute ingredients work well. I had White Wings gluten-free self-raising flour, Nuttelex buttery margarine, and ricemilk. As it happened, I did not need to go dairy-free on the day, so I went with butter and cow’s milk. I made the pancakes fairly rich, with a bit of sugar, and plenty of butter and egg, so they were tasty enough to eat plain.
We cooked the fritelle around lunch time. While the children ate their lunch, I took children aside one at a time to cook a pancake with me. By doing it with one child at a time, I felt better able to control the risk, while still giving each child the maximum opportunity to be actively involved. The children poured a ladle of batter into the pan, watched the pancake for bubbles forming on top and told me when it was time to turn it, flipped it over with a spatula, counted to 20 while it cooked on the other side, and turned it out onto their plate.
Doing it one child at a time was lengthy, so it was important that the other children were not just waiting. They were engaged with eating their lunch, packing up and moving off to play. At the same time, they were in the room while it was happening, and were able to participate vicariously while others did it first. This can be important for children who are cautious about trying new things.
There is a lot of good learning to be had in an experience like this. Children are directly involved in doing something that is often done for them*. They are involved in making healthy food. They witness ingredients changing state from solid to liquid to solid. It is a memorable experience, with cultural resonance. It introduces new language in both Italian and English.
But the component I particularly noticed this time was the impact of my decision to work with each child individually to cook their pancake. I read something last year about the value of warm individual interactions with educators, where children can feel competent and appreciated. My initial motivation in setting it up as an individual activity was simply to provide close supervision around a hot frying pan. But I soon noticed it was providing a context for me to have an extended, supportive interaction with each child. And perhaps that was, in the end, the most valuable part of the whole exercise.
*These reflect various aspects of the Early Years Learning Framework including agency, wellbeing, science, memory, risk, cultural competence, language.
The next instalment of our activities with herbs was pizza with rosemary topping – pizza bianca al rosmarino.
I like to cook with yeast with my classes. It is such as great science experience, seeing the dough rise. The kids can knead the dough as much as they like – and that is a pleasure in itself.
This is a simple dough of granulated yeast, olive oil, strong white flour, salt and water. It is called pizza bianca (white pizza) because it is made without tomato. The topping is rosemary, salt and olive oil.
Our classes are less than 4 hours at the moment, and it can be hard to complete a complex activity in a day. So for this, we made the dough during our afternoon session, and then made up the pizzette the next morning. I also find it good cooking with yeast in winter in our centre, because we have heating in the floor. We can put the dough on the floor, and be sure it will rise.
We gave each child a piece of dough to work, flatten into a pizza shape, sprinkle with salt and rosemary, and drizzle with oil. We put each of them on a separate piece of baking paper, and wrote the child’s name in pencil.
We cooked it in a hot oven, and the children ate them for lunch.
We made ‘biscotti al rosmarino’ at kinder this week.
We asked the children to divide into two groups for this experience. They divided into two even groups themselves. At first the groups were 5 and 10. I was interested to see how they spontaneously started to volunteer to wait until tomorrow, until the groups were fairly even.
First they went out and collected some rosemary from the garden. The children cut up the rosemary with scissors. They combined the ingredients, taking turns to add and stir. Each child got a small amount of dough to roll into a ball. They pressed them down gently on the tray to flatten them.
The cooked biscuits filled our room with the scent of rosemary.
We ate some biscuits during class. Each child had to ask “Posso avere un biscotto al rosmarino.” We practised how to say it. They could not have a biscuit unless they asked for it in Italian. All the children did it.
There were plenty of biscuits. At home time, we offered a biscuit to the people who came to pick us up. The children had to say: “Vuoi un biscotto al rosmarino?” Most of them did that too.
And the biscuits were yum.
Melt butter. Cut rosemary fine. Combine flour and sugar, then add melted butter and eggs. Blend into a workable dough. Form into small balls, then flatten onto a baking tray covered with baking paper. Cook at 180° until the colour starts to change.
We have often cooked biscuits as gifts in our program. My long-time co-educator contributed a wonderful, flexible, reliable, pliable biscuit dough recipe.
This dough can be worked by children, and will hold its shape when you use cutters to make novelty shapes. It copes with substituting ingredients. The biscuits are sturdy enough and keep well enough to put into gift bags to go home.
When made with Nuttelex, No Egg and gluten-free flour, these biscuits are dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free and gluten-free, ticking all the boxes most commonly needed for preschool settings. And they are still nice to eat.
(see below for substitute ingredients)
500 gr SR flour
250 gr butter
flavours if desired eg vanilla essence, lemon or orange rind
Mix all dry ingredients. Melt butter/Nuttelex and egg/No Egg together. Mix with dry ingredients to form a soft dough. Knead for a few minutes. If too dry add extra egg or more No Egg.
Roll out on a floured board or table with rolling pins or by pressing. Use cutters for different shapes.
Bake at 180 degrees till golden.
Remove from tray gently as they tend to be soft. As they cool down they harden.
Notes on method
Flours behave differently depending on where the grain is grown, and local weather and altitude conditions. Eggs vary in size and liquid content. So you will have to experiment a bit with your local products.
We can’t give a precise definition of ‘too dry’. You have to get a feel for it. You want a dough that doesn’t start to crack on the edges as soon as you roll it thin (that is too dry), but is not sticky (that is too wet). You should be able to pick it up off the table or board after rolling it out.
Don’t make the shapes too fussy, or you won’t be able to get it out of the cutter, and the fiddly bits of the biscuits will break off too easily.
When children do it themselves, they will produce a variety of thicknesses. Try to group biscuits of the same thickness together on one tray for cooking. Otherwise, you will have to take individual biscuits off as they cook and put the rest back in the oven.
You need to stay close by as they cook. They turn quickly – once they start to brown they will burn soon after. You want to catch them just before they start to colour.
The wonderful thing about this recipe is how well it copes with any – or even several – of the ingredients being substituted for allergy-friendly ones. Use the substitute ingredients in the same quantity and method.
substitute flour …. with gluten free SR
(we use White Wings – some gluten-free flours have flavours that are not neutral enough for such plain biscuits, or have too much rising agent, so you may need to experiment)
substitute butter… with Nuttelex (or another dairy-free margarine)
substitute sugar….with Equal Bake
substitute eggs….with No Eegg