In the Kitchen and on the Best-Seller List, Young Cooks Take the Lead

ORDER UP They specialize in brownies, cake pops and whipped hot chocolate. They make a respectable chili, diner-worthy scrambled eggs and pizza with the optimal cheese-to-sauce ratio. Meet the celebrity chefs of the great pause: kids. For the first time in recent memory, youthful enthusiasm has propelled three cookbooks to the top of the children’s middle grade hardcover list.

“Everybody is home together so you’re spending that quality time in the kitchen. Plus cooking has a great STEM connection; you’re doing math and science but you’re also making something,” says Kelly Barrales-Saylor, editorial director at Sourcebooks, publisher of “The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs,” and “The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs,” now at No. 1 and No. 5 on the list. (“The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook,” from Food Network Magazine, is at No. 3.)

Molly Birnbaum, editor in chief of America’s Test Kitchen Kids, not only managed a team of recipe developers and wrote copy for both books, she sifted through hundreds of surveys from more than 8,000 junior recipe testers across the country. She says, “We won’t publish a recipe unless 80 percent of our testers say they’d make it again. They give us wonderful details about the process: things they like, things they didn’t like, things that worked, things that didn’t work. Kids are so descriptive in their language; we get a lot of heartwarming and funny comments based on their recipe testing at home.”

What were the standout items? “Anything on a stick,” Birnbaum says. “Anything small. Anything that can be totally your own is popular.” Mug cakes — a fudgy, microwaveable concoction made in (you guessed it) a mug — are a particular favorite.

Birnbaum recalls one notable flop: pie pops. “They’re cute in theory, but the ratio of filling to pie crust was hard to get right. These got universally panned on survey, so we ended up not using them in the baking book.”

No matter what they’re whipping up, Birnbaum and her team encourage pint-size foodies to corral all equipment and ingredients before they start cooking. This way they don’t get halfway into the recipe only to realize they don’t have enough flour or cucumbers, or a baking pan of the appropriate size. The practice, known as “mising,” is inspired by the chef’s term “mise en place,” meaning “everything in its place.” Perhaps this concept will provide perspective for people experiencing cabin fever right now. Homemade cookies will help too.

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