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Recipe: Even the littlest chefs can assist with Thanksgiving tasks

  • NEW YORK TIMES
                                Whisking batter to make a cake is a good Thanksgiving prep task for kids.

    NEW YORK TIMES

    Whisking batter to make a cake is a good Thanksgiving prep task for kids.

For many families, this year’s Thanksgiving is going to feel topsy- turvy, and, as challenging as it might be for grown-ups, it may also be strange for children.

For my 12-year-old daughter, there’ll be no big, festive dinner at Grandma’s house, no running around the backyard with cousins, no sneaking crispy bits of skin off the resting turkey or mini marshmallows from the bag. (Yes, we see you!)

But pausing some traditions creates opportunities for new ones. A smaller, podded celebration is an excellent time to lure your children into the kitchen and cook Thanksgiving dinner as a family.

More important, though, helping with the meal gives kids a chance to become deeply invested, allowing them to experience the joys of the process along with the flavors.

Some of my earliest and best Thanksgiving memories involve helping my parents at a young age: peeling roasted chestnuts for the stuffing with my dad around age 6, and whipping cream for the pies and cakes with my mom just a year or so later.

Having a say in planning the menu and preparing it by your side gives children skills that can enable future cooking — into this holiday season and beyond. And it’s never too early to plunge in. Even the littlest kids can lend a hand with simple tasks like crumbling cornbread for stuffing.

All ages, from curious toddlers to eye-rolling tweens and TikTok-ing teens, can help in some way. The fluffy-topped pumpkin fudge torte offered here is a simple but sophisticated recipe — one they’ll be proud of making before they devour their own share.

Lastly, let’s talk about cleanup. Cleaning as you go is as vital a kitchen technique as correctly holding a knife. My advice? Take a deep breath and let them make a mess, because that’s what cooking’s all about, and then instruct them how to help clean it up.

Two useful tips: Have a damp cloth at the ready for wiping up splatters and spills, and use set out bowls for trash that are easy to reach.

Yes, cooking a meal with your kids could take longer than if you did it yourself. But if you can give them the confidence and skills to do it again, won’t it have all been worth it?

YOUNG KIDS (AGES 3-5)

Keep the littlest chefs by your side, letting them climb onto a step stool, so they can reach the counter and be part of the action. Since these young ones are still developing their fine motor skills, give them tasks that let them use their hands whenever safely possible.

Picking herbs off stems, tearing lettuce for salad and squeezing lemons or other citrus (that you’ve already cut) into bowls for dressings are all good candidates.

If you’re baking sweet potatoes, let your younger chefs wrap them in foil. And they’ll love smashing graham crackers for pie crusts. (Just put the graham crackers in a heavy-duty plastic bag first.)

GRADE SCHOOL (AGES 6-9)

Grade-school kids are ready for a lot more responsibility in the kitchen, and they’re at a great age to absorb whatever you teach them.

They can help prep ingredients: measuring out flour, sugar, spices and condiments; cracking eggs; grating cheese, ginger and citrus zest; and grating or pressing garlic. And they can be excellent whiskers, mashers and sandwich-makers. (For this torte recipe, school-age kids can whisk together the ingredients, and perhaps even melt the butter, and they can learn how to use an electric mixer for whipping the topping.)

This is also the time to introduce them to the world of knives and other sharp kitchen equipment like skewers and graters. Butter knives and rigid plastic knives marketed for kids are wonderful options for slicing fruit, cheese and soft vegetables. Depending on your kid, you might even be able to give them a real knife to use. (Be sure to supervise them closely.)

Make sure that whatever knife you give them is small enough to fit comfortably in their hands: Paring and small, 6- to 7-inch knives work well. Then, go online together, and watch a few instructional videos on how to safely use them. (Your knife skills might benefit, too.)

OLDER KIDS (10 AND UP)

These older kids are ready for any task you feel good about giving them, including those at the stove. Go over basic stove safety (especially oven mitt use) and don’t stray far from the kitchen until you’re sure they’ve got it.

At this age, youngsters are ready to start tackling simple recipes, as well as straightforward things like mashed potatoes, pumpkin bread, muffins and salads — before moving on to more complicated soups, stews and pasta dishes.

Once they’re comfortable, encourage them to get creative. Any mistakes will make them better cooks, and every success will give them the pride and confidence they need to be true partners in the kitchen. Soon, they’ll be cooking dishes or even meals for the family, if they’re excited about the process.

And getting them excited about cooking is a lifelong gift that will repay everyone — sage parents and empowered children — for years to come.

PUMPKIN FUDGE TORTE

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks), plus more to grease pan
  • 1-1/4 cups (275 grams) dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (45 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (95 grams) all-purpose flour
  • >> Pumpkin cream:
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons (30 grams) powdered sugar, divided
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon, for garnish

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-inch springform pan.

Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa and salt. Pour melted butter into cocoa mixture; whisk until smooth. Let cool until lukewarm, 5 to 10 minutes.

Whisk pumpkin puree into cooled cocoa mixture. Whisk in eggs, one at a time. Whisk in flour until smooth and silky looking.

Pour batter into prepared pan, scraping bottom of bowl with spatula. Bake until top of cake is firm and doesn’t wiggle if you shake the pan, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool, at least 2 hours.

>> To make pumpkin cream: Beat cream and 1 tablespoon powdered sugar until thick and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate up to 6 hours if not using immediately.

Just before serving, in a small bowl, vigorously whisk remaining 3 tablespoons (25 grams) powdered sugar, pumpkin and vanilla until mixture is smooth and no white lumps of sugar remain, about 1 minute. Using a spatula, gently fold pumpkin mixture into whipped cream until very streaky.

Run small offset metal spatula or butter knife around inner edges of cake pan, then release sides of cake pan and remove. Place torte, still sitting on bottom of springform pan, onto a platter. Dollop pumpkin-streaked whipped cream on top and sprinkle lightly with pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon. Serves 10 to 12.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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