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Grandma relives childhood with her first Easy-Bake Oven

Monday, December 22, 2003

By Marlene Parrish, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Happy 40th birthday, Easy-Bake Oven. I have baked a tiny chocolate cake in my first kid-size appliance. Sorry if I'm late to your party, but during your heyday, I was raising my three sons. The boys were into G.I. Joe, Tonka trucks and MatchBox cars. The oven I played with back then was from Sears.

Now I have grandchildren and another shot at playing with my food.

The toy oven can make a number of goodies, including, clockwise from left, cheescake with graham cracker crust and topping, s'mores, pigs in a blanket, mini pizzas and chocolate chip cookies. (Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

PG tested Easy-Bake Oven recipes

According to the Easy-Bake Oven Web site, the first working toy oven was invented in 1963 by designers at Kenner Products (now a division of Hasbro). In its first year, more than 500,000 kids talked their parents into spending $15.95. By its fifth anniversary, the Easy-Bake Oven was a household name. There have been 11 models and many colors, but all of the ovens were "powered" with the heat of an electric light bulb.

Mine is not. It plugs in like a real appliance. I bought the latest model, the Easy-Bake Real Meal Oven, for $34.99 at Kmart. The oven comes with a special thermal gizmo that indicates when the oven is preheated, and images appear as the oven goes from cold to hot. Besides the oven, there are cooling, warming-melting and storage areas.

I sent an identical model to my 6-year-old grandson, Nate, in Seattle. When I visit there this week, we're going to bake. (He's been cooking with me since he was 2 1/2 years old. Serious stuff, too.) I'm taking a folder of recipes.

Why not use the packaged mixes sold for the Easy-Bake Oven? The mixes cost $6.59 each. For that, you get a package with maybe 3 tablespoons of (probably stale) dry mix. Could be a miniature cake, a brownie or two pretzels. Do the math.

If you are unfamiliar with Easy-Bake, here's the drill: Small metal pans containing batter, dough or other mixtures are slid into the oven using a plastic pan-pusher. The oven "doors" are hinged metal flaps that swing from the top, allowing the pans to enter and exit the oven, which can get up to about 350 degrees when properly preheated. The heat (the source is far away from small hands) can cook the miniature items in a short time. After baking, the pans are pushed out to a cooling area.

Easy-Bake made easy

For a whole week I played and learned. Here are some tips for parents to consider before a lucky child pulls the ribbon on the Easy-Bake Oven present.

Set up a simple kitchen station OUT of the main kitchen. Don't plunk the oven on a counter. It takes up too much space, and to get any use out of it, the oven should be convenient for the child to use at any time.

Instead, place a card (or shorter) table out of the way but next to a wall near an electrical outlet. Place a plastic cloth on the table. (It's not a bad idea to put an old plastic sheet under the table to protect the floor.) Then set up the oven and make sure there's room for a generous work area.

Supply a chair, and make sure there is good lighting from either a bright lamp or a window.

Each oven set comes with a pusher/lifter that is embossed to show the place where it should be placed in the oven. The raised lettering is difficult to see. It helps to re-mark it with a black permanent marker for emphasis.

Give the chef a box of real food supplies that can be stored under the table. These are good: cocoa, baking powder, salt, vanilla, graham crackers, round cocktail crackers, Wheat Thins, peanut butter, crispy rice cereal, a labeled sandwich bag of Bisquick mix, chocolate chips, raisins and marshmallow creme. Place flour and sugar in wide-mouth, airtight containers. (Short, plastic freezer containers are ideal.) Pizza sauce, string cheese, sliced cheese and grated cheese can be stored in the family fridge.

Supply real, but kid-size, mixing bowls and utensils. Include a set of measuring spoons, a straight-edge spatula and a ruler.

Pans are 3 1/2 inches in diameter and hold 1/2 cup volume when completely full to the rim. Do not overfill, or you will not be able to get the "cakes" out of the oven without a mess. Add no more than 1/4 cup batter for a "cake." Try 1/3 cup pancake batter for a "thick pancake."

Immediately after pushing the pans into the oven and noting that the oven flap is down, ALWAYS look on the other side to see if the second metal flap is also down. If the pans have been pushed too far forward, they need to be pushed back into the oven. If both metal oven flaps are not down, you will lose oven heat and the food will not cook in the right amount of time.

Give the cook a demonstration of how to measure, how to level off a cup, how to use the pusher and how to take food out of the pan. When measuring milk, do not give the cook a whole carton. Pour about 1/2 cup into a deep cereal bowl; then dip out measuring spoonfuls from the bowl.

After the demonstrations, butt out. Let the kids play, learn and screw up by themselves. Besides, there are many lessons to be learned here -- measuring, fractions, organization, kitchen safety and teamwork go with the territory.

Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette
A two-layer cake is almost as easy as pie in the Easy-Bake Oven, which is celebrating its 40th birthday this year.
Click photo for larger image.

When the adult-in-charge is baking his or her own food, please share some of the batter or dough. A snippet of pie pastry and some cinnamon sugar will keep a young chef happy. When making, say, muffins, contribute some batter, about 1/4 cup per wee pan.

For cookies, figure 1/2 teaspoon per cookie and roll with the palms of the hands to the size of a marble. Flatten slightly. Each mini-pan will hold 3 cookies.

To experiment on cake flavors, figure 4 tablespoons dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, cinnamon) to 2 tablespoons wet ingredients (milk, egg, vanilla). Cake layers are best baked one at a time. Fill and frost with whipped cream or marshmallow creme.

Only two 4-inch all-purpose pans come with the oven. I wondered if I could stretch the equipment, so I bought a six-pack of graham cracker piecrusts, single-serve size. Since they aren't regulation issue, they are flimsy and the shape is difficult to push in and take out. They are also just a titch too high. But I leveled off the crumbs with a flat spatula, automatically making "crumb topping" on the cheesecake.

There are two specialty cookbooks available.

"The Official Easy-Bake Cookbook" (Dutton Children's Books) is good for older children. The recipes are fine but the typeface is small, and the pages are crowded with distracting design elements.

Then there's "The Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet." Big-name chefs were asked to contribute recipes, and there is a lot of product history. It's a sometimes hilarious adult read, and apparently the recipes work, but do you really think your 8-year-old will attempt Rob Feenie's Roasted Quail with Wild Mushrooms and Pomme Anna or Bobby Flay's Queso Fundido with Roasted Poblano Vinaigrette?

My Easy-Bake Oven is great fun. I love it. Man your pot holders, Nate. Here comes Grandma.


Marlene Parrish can be reached at mparrish@post-gazette.com or 412-481-1620.

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