Merrill's daughter Clara has quite the appetite -- and it's all Merrill can do to keep up. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, she steps into the fray.
Today: Clara's love for muffins is well-documented and now, she's venturing out on her own and baking a batch herself (...sort of).
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It's a new year, and Clara is about to turn three. She's also about to get a baby brother (due to make an appearance in early February), and she's feeling excited and proud about being a big sister. Apparently, she's most looking forward to teaching her brother how to eat pizza. I told her she might have to wait a bit.
We got Clara a "big girl" bed back in November and moved her crib and changing table into the baby's room. She brushes her own teeth now, puts on her own shoes, and carries her own backpack.
Naturally, I decided it was high time to get her started in the kitchen.
I gave her this stool as a Christmas present so she could belly up to the kitchen counter with me, and my mother gave her an apron. We made Secret Cookies twice (she pressed a whole tray with colored sugar all on her own), and then biscuits. Now every time I pull out my cutting board, she says, "Mama, can I help?"
Over Christmas, Clara tried her first corn muffin and loved it, so this past weekend we made our own. I asked my sister, an expert on cornbread, for guidance, and she pointed me to Fannie Farmer. I like a middle-of-the-road cornbread -- not too sweet, but not completely savory -- and slightly cakier than not. With lots of salted butter, of course.
Fannie offers up several variations; I was most drawn to the recipe for "Rich Cornbread," which calls for sour cream and two eggs (I subbed in bacon fat for the butter because we had some, and I urge you to do the same.)
Clara and I measured and mixed, and in about 20 minutes we were spooning batter into muffin cups (well, she was spooning batter more over and around the cups than into them). Fifteen minutes later, we watched impatiently as they cooled on a rack.
When we couldn't stand it any longer, I took two still-warm muffins, spread them thickly with butter, and we sat down at the table to eat them together. Neither one of us left even a crumb. These muffins are tender and full of flavor, with just the right heft, and they'd be great with everything from chili to roast chicken (which we had them with).
Clara has eaten at least four since the weekend, and she's told anyone who will listen that she made muffins herself. If you've had great success making a particular recipe with a toddler, please let me know in the comments -- now the pressure's really on.
1 cup cornmeal 1 cup all-purpose flour 1/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon baking soda 2 teaspoons cream of tartar 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt 1 cup sour cream 1/4 cup milk 2 eggs, beaten well 1/4 cup bacon fat or butter, melted