Yesterday, we made meringue snowmen, just like they make for Father Christmas in an episode of ‘Big Cook, Little Cook’. This was our first attempt at these, and we may not have payed perfect attention to how much sugar that actually went in, which I suspect is why these fellows turned out slightly more tanned than they perhaps should have been. But the fun and the learning was there, and they taste great! 😋
A little background before we get started…
‘Big Cook, Little Cook’ is one of Penguin’s favourite shows, and the idea of making these snowmen have been with us for a while now, so I’m glad we finally got around to giving it a go! About a year ago, Penguin was watching the episode in which they make these over and over again, particularly pausing on the recipe. At that time we were living with relatives, and I didn’t feel comfortable about making a mess in their kitchen. But I made a printout showing the pictures of all the ingredients (as they were shown in the programme) plus written labels to match. Penguin was pleased with that, and I told him that we’d make the snowmen when we eventually had our own kitchen.
We moved out from our relatives house in the spring, and although we still haven’t found a proper long-term solution to our housing, we do at least have our own kitchen to cook and bake in.
…so let’s get these snowmen going!
To get ready, we got our ingredients printout out, and put the relevant episode up on the computer so we could cook along with Big Cook Ben and Little Cook Small.
We got all the ingredients out, along with a bowl, whisk, spoons and a baking tray. We also had a wooden spoon, as that’s what Little Cook uses to fly off on in each episode, to aquire and/or find out more about a particular ingredient (in this case, marmalade).
To make these Meringue Snowmen, Big Cook and Little Cook use:
- 3 eggs (only the egg whites are needed!)
- 170 grams of sugar
- a couple of spoonfuls of marmalade (used as filling between front and back of each snowman)
- some creme fraiche (also filling)
- a little bit of neutral cooking oil for greasing the baking paper/tray
- icing pens for decorating
- icing sugar as snow/final touch
You could make these without a filling if you prefer, or maybe use something different between your snowman halves, all depending on what you fancy.
Firstly, you need to separate the egg whites from the yolks (this gave me the perfect excuse to make myself some homemade aioli afterwards, yum!). Then, whisk the egg whites until they become a firm, white foam (‘until it forms little peaks’, to use Big Cook’s words). We cheated and used an electric whisk for that bit. Penguin isn’t totally comfortable with the noise of the electric whisk, but he’s coping much better with it now than when he was younger. The sound of vigorous hand whisking isn’t a favourite either, so in this case it was worth using the electric whisk, especially as it would otherwise have taken us ages. (Top tip: The colder the eggs the longer it’ll take, so to save time and energy, use eggs that are at room temperature or warmer👍). Once the egg whites have been whisked, they become such a lush foam, which Penguin loves. So while adding the sugar, a little bit at the time, we also enjoyed some sensory exploration, which might be why we lost track slightly of how much sugar we added… ☺️
With the meringue mix made, it’s time to grease your baking paper with oil (though we took a gamble and just greased a tray, skipping the paper). Big Cook used a brush for greasing his baking paper with, but we opted for some extra sensory (tactile) input, using our hands.
Then we put blobs of meringue mix on our tray, attempting to make snowmanlike shapes. The mix was quite tricky to control, so we made it a joint effort. The snowmen were then cooked in the middle of the oven at gas mark 2, for about an hour. Big Cook says to let them sit in the oven afterwards, for about 2 hours, before decorating (while Father Christmas is sitting in their café, waiting to be served…?!). We left our snowmen out on the side after the initial hour in the oven, and decorated them about an hour later.
After drawing faces, buttons and scarves on a couple of snowman halves, we (just like BC and LC) spread some marmalade and creme fraiche on two undecorated snowman halves, and then assembled our snowmen, put each on a plate, and dusted them with icing sugar.
TA-DAA!! ☃️ Perhaps not the most elegant snowman ever, but pretty cute, don’t you think?
And I can tell you it was really tasty, too! Penguin however didn’t fancy eating it at all. To him, baking has always been more about the process than the final result, with the exception of pizza, which he loves to eat as well as make. And although he’ll now eat many more different things than he used to, he’s still very selective (as many with autism are). He did taste all the ingredients at some point (if touching the creme fraiche with just the tip of his tongue counts as tasting), but was happy to leave the eating to me and Papa Penguin.
Some final thoughts on this activity:
All in all, this was a fairly simple and enjoyable little kitchen project for us. And using something that is already a keen interest, such as a favourite tv show, is great for motivation! This kind of strong personal interest can be called an ‘affinity’, to use a term relevant to the context of autism and learning, which I’ve written a little about in a previous post, here.
This activity was also great for us from a sensory perspective, providing tactile, visual, olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste) and auditory input, as well as proprioceptive input from muscles and joints, especially when squeezing the icing pens. What types of sensory input that is favoured, craved or avoided varies from person to person. So it’s a good idea to have a think about what your child’s sensory preferences are, and try to create activities and learning opportunities that appeal to their sensory systems. And if your child has some sensory aversions which you’d like to work on, you could perhaps sneak in a small dosis of that as well, now and then, but don’t force it. To ‘throw them in at the deep end’ isn’t generally something that works for this, and it could even make an aversion worse.
I was pretty sure that this activity would be a good fit for Penguin as he’s loved similar projects recently, such as making icing and decorating gingerbread .
If you’re in need of professional advice regarding sensory processing issues, it can be a good idea to contact an occupational therapist (try finding one who specializes in sensory processing, if possible). I’m not an OT, just a parent with a fair deal of experience of sensory processing differences (of which I have a few myself, too, though not at all as pronounced as Penguin’s). Over the last 2,5 years in particular, I’ve seeked out A LOT of information on these things, through books as well as various online resources, discussion groups etc. It’s helped me immensely in understanding Penguin’s differences (as well as some of my own and my husband’s), and the knowledge I’ve gained is constantly influencing our living and learning.