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Kid-Friendly Recipe: Sandwich Cake (Sandwichón)

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This recipe comes straight out of Mexican mothers’ vintage recipe boxes. Its birthplace is the southern state of Yucatán, where a man by the name of Petronilo Vázquez Madera, a baker — and by several accounts a very innovative fellow — started experimenting with recipes in which to include the sliced bread he sold. Thus, in the 1970s, to the joy of many mothers, the sandwichón was born. And it’s no wonder it stood the test of time! The sandwich cake could be made quickly and easily in advance, requires no expensive ingredients and could feed a crowd of hungry little birthday party guests.

Party or no party, it’s an easy, tasty treat that the whole family can enjoy!

When cooking with kids, it’s always important to create a safe environment and to cook far ahead of the time and not when everyone is hungry because the process will not go quickly. This is doubly important when cooking with children with special needs.

Pre-preparation and Tips for Cooking with Children with Special Needs

  • Before you bring in your special little one, do all the chopping beforehand and put away all knives so you can cook safely together. You can chop all the veggies by hand, but a food processor makes it quicker. Older kids without special needs can help out, but make sure to teach them how to chop safely, such as with a rocking motion, as shown in the video below.
This video by Jamie Oliver's "Kitchen Buddies" offers tips on how to teach kids to use a knife safely.
Jamie Oliver's "Kitchen Buddies"

  • If you’re cooking with children who are on the spectrum, avoiding sensory overload is paramount. After prepping the ingredients, make sure you have a quiet and place to work in. Removing physical dangers is important but making sure the space is as calm and distraction-free as possible will set you up for a happy learning experience.
  • Presenting children with lots of things at the same time can also be overwhelming or triggering so, again, it’s important to take things slow. To do this, introduce ingredients one at a time to take note and talk to your child about the different textures, smells, colors and tastes of the ingredients. Keep in mind that some children on the spectrum have food aversions and phobias. The feeling of slimy or runny things, such as that of boiled eggs, may make your child uncomfortable, so don’t force them to deal with those items. Read more about food selectivity and sensory sensitivity in children with autism spectrum disorders.
  • Once you introduce the items, try measuring and counting out ingredients. This helps to teach children the procedural nature of cooking and helps prepare them for more complex cooking in the future.
  • When it’s time to decorate or mix, remember to be gentle. Low muscle tone and fine motor skill development can make mixing tough mixtures and decorating with delicate things a challenge.

Recipe Variations

  • The recipe is the one we use in my family, but experiment away! Try making different fillings. Maybe tuna instead of chicken, ham instead of turkey, or create a new mix with your favorite veggies. Avocado, red bell pepper, cucumber, carrots, corn, peas, asparagus and broccoli should all work well. A vegetarian version made with a layer of hummus, a layer of cheese and another of veggies sounds delish as well.
  • White bread is classic, but whole wheat is a tasty, healthier alternative.
  • You can serve it the traditional way, with a side of macaroni or potato salad, or take it in a healthier direction with a small green leafy side salad.
IMG_7421.1
A slice of sandiwchón served up with a side salad.

Makes 12 servings

Ingredients

16 slices of white bread
1 cup chopped turkey breast lunch meat
1 cup chopped cheddar cheese
1 finely chopped chopped celery stalk
1 finely chopped green onion
1 hard boiled egg, chopped
½ green bell pepper, finely chopped (save the rest for giardiniera)
¼ cup pitted olives, chopped
1 5oz. can cooked chicken breast, drained
1 small can of roasted red bell peppers, drained and finely chopped
⅔ cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream, divided (half is for the toppings mixtures and half is for the frosting)
1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
3 tsp mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Decoration
A few sprigs of parsley, 2 pitted olives, 2 slices of cheddar cheese, cubed tomato, 2 pumpkin seeds

Instructions

Step 1 - Fillings
First, make the fillings. For the ham and cheese filling, mix the chopped ham and cheese with 3 tbsp. mayonnaise, 2 tbsp. sour cream and 1 tsp. mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the veggie filling, mix the celery, green bell peppers, egg, olives and green onions with 3 tbsp. mayonnaise, 2 tbsp. sour cream and 1 tsp. mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the roasted red bell pepper filling, mix the red bell peppers with 1 tbsp. mayonnaise and 1 tbsp. sour cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the chicken filing, mix the chicken with 3 tbsp. mayonnaise, 2 tbsp. sour cream and 1 tsp. mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Learning moment: Taste the ingredients separately and talk about what they taste like. Ask your little one to describe the tastes and even write in a journal what was their favorite part. Remember to go slowly to avoid sensory overload.

Step 2 - Frosting
Second, make the “frosting.” Place the softened cream cheese in a microwave-safe bowl with the sour cream and mix together until homogeneous. If you’re having difficulties with this, place the bowl in the microwave for 2 15-second bursts until soft and easy to mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Learning moment: Think and talk about how different temperatures affect food. When working with children on the spectrum, remember that they often have low muscle tone, so making things soft and easy to mix is important. You can also let your little one mix the frosting to practice motor and tactile skills.

Step 3 - Assembly
Now, it’s time to assemble! Place 4 slices of bread on a plate, tray or baking sheet to form a square and spread the ham and cheese filling on top. Follow with another layer of 4 slices of bread to cover the ham and cheese filling and top that with the veggie and egg filling. Cover with another four slices of bread and cover that with the chicken filling. Spread the roasted bell pepper filling on top of the chicken and top it all with a final layer of bread.

Learning moment: Count out the slices as you arrange them.

Step 4 - Decorate
Spread your “frosting” on the top and sides of the sandwichón.

Finally, decorate to your heart’s content! Make flowers by placing the sliced olives on top of the frosting and add petals or leaves using the parsley. The parsley stems make perfect stems for your flowers too! Top the centers of the olives with the cubed tomato. To make a happy sun, use a glass to cut a circle in the cheddar cheese slice and cut squares or diamond shapes out of the remaining cheese to form the rays of sunshine. To make your sun smile, top it with an olive smile and sunflower seed eyes. Enjoy!

Learning moment: Inspire your little one to develop their creative thinking skills by drawing other kinds of sandwhichón in a journal. How else can you decorate the top? What shapes make a flower? What about a sun? Or a bird? Get more ideas on decorating here.

IMG_7402.1
A top-view showing a sandwichón decorated with flowers and a smiling sun.

Inspired by and supported with info from the Autism Awareness Centre Inc. and the Escuela Internacional de Chefs in Mérida, Yucatán, México.

Special thanks to Angie, the author’s mom.

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