Learning maths, science and life skills through baking

Dr Susanne Ng, a former scientist turned baker, says measuring ingredients teaches children mathematics skills, while having to wait for the cake to bake teaches patience. PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN, SUSANNE NG, CREATIVE CULINAIRE

Baking is not just for adults.

Kids can have fun making cookies and cakes while picking up academic concepts and life skills.

For Dr Susanne Ng, 40, a former scientist popular on social media for her chiffon cakes, which take the shape of cartoon characters like Hello Kitty and Pusheen, baking is a regular home activity she enjoys with her daughters Christine, nine, and Charissa, six, who love making cookies and macarons. Her 11-year-old son Caleb joins in occasionally.

"Kids learn really fast and they also can understand well if you explain every step to them," says Dr Ng, who holds a PhD in biomedical engineering and previously worked at research agency A*Star.

As baking requires precise measurements ("like a researcher doing a laboratory test"), it became a fun way for Dr Ng to teach her children mathematics concepts such as adding, subtracting and dividing.

It helps kids understand sequencing and planning as "none of the steps can be skipped", says Dr Ng, who has written four recipe books.

The young ones also learn life skills such as patience. While it can take as little as 30 minutes to make cookies, cakes can take hours while bread may require up to a day.

Then there is perseverance. "It takes practice to achieve the desired outcome. The kids must be ready to face a few failures," she says.

This year, she is working with Japanese company Sanrio to teach online classes on making cakes in the shape of My Melody, Little Twin Stars and the most famous Sanrio character of them all, Hello Kitty.

She shares suggestions on how you can introduce baking to kids:

For toddlers: Make some cupcakes and let the kids decorate them with colourful sprinkles and fruit toppings. They can get creative with their designs and have lots of fun.

For pre-schoolers: Try no-bake recipes such as those for snowskin mooncakes. Let them knead, pull and shape the dough. This makes for a good sensory experience.

For primary schoolers: Start with simple recipes so they can be involved from start to end. They can measure the ingredients, do simple mixing and decorate their work. When they are more confident at baking, teach them advanced techniques such as folding the right way so the batter will not be deflated.

VANILLA CHIFFON CAKE

INGREDIENTS

• 2 egg yolks

• 13g castor sugar

• 28g vegetable or corn oil

• 26g water

• 4g vanilla extract

• 40g cake flour, sifted

• 3 egg whites

• Pinch of cream of tartar

• 30g castor sugar

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 140 deg C using top and bottom heat. Prepare a 15cm round chiffon tube pan.

2. Prepare egg yolk batter: Beat egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl using a whisk. Add oil and mix well, followed by water and vanilla extract. Mix evenly. Add sifted cake flour and mix till no lumps are found.

3. Prepare meringue: Whisk egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar using an electric mixer, then add castor sugar gradually and whisk till firm peaks.

4. Gently fold meringue into egg yolk batter one-third at a time.

5. Fill cake batter into chiffon tube pan until batter is 2cm from the rim of pan. Gently tap pan on counter top to release any air bubbles.

6. Transfer pan to oven and bake for 52 to 55 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of cake comes out clean.

7. Invert pan on a wire rack and let cool completely before unmoulding by hand or knife.

Makes a 15cm-wide cake

•Recipe by Susanne Ng (@susanne.decochiffon)

CHOCOLATE CAKE

INGREDIENTS

• 120g sugar

• 1 egg

• 65g melted butter or corn oil

• 160ml milk

• 1/2 tsp vanilla essence

• A pinch of salt

• 140g plain flour

• 1 tsp baking powder

• 1/2 tsp baking soda

• 25g cocoa powder For the ganache

• 200g dark couverture chocolate

• 150g dairy cream

• 15g unsalted butter

METHOD

1. Stir the sugar, egg, melted butter, milk, vanilla and salt in a large mixing bowl until most of the sugar is dissolved.

2. Sieve the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa powder directly into the mixing bowl.

3. Use a hand whisk to stir till smooth, but do not overmix.

4. Pour into the baking containers. Bake at 180 deg C in a preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes till cooked. Let it cool down before decorating it.

5. Prepare the ganache: Place the chocolate and dairy cream in a bowl over a saucepan with simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted.

6. Add the butter and stir through to make a smooth and shiny ganache.

7. Leave to cool and thicken slightly before pouring over the cake.

8. Decorate with fresh fruit and chocolate curls.

Makes two 10cm by 20cm loaf tins

•Recipe by Judy Koh from Creative Culinaire The School

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2020, with the headline Learning maths, science and life skills through baking. Subscribe