Baking is the raising agent of my life. It lifts my spirits, my mood and my appetite. The mere thought of baking a tray of rock buns, or kneading a loaf of bread, or slicing a buttery lemon cake is enough to restore me to good humour, and actually doing these things is the best therapy I can imagine. So I am incredibly fortunate to have three children (Tom and Alice, 15, and Phoebe, 12) because they have given me one of the greatest pleasures in life: that of baking for, and with, them.
I've always baked - ever since I was able to stand on a stool and help my Nana by wielding a huge wooden spoon and licking the bowl clean - but there is nothing to beat the appreciative audience of your own offspring. There's no holding-back, no "oh, go on then, but just the thinnest slice", or "I'll have half of one if someone will share with me." No, children eat baked goods the way they should be eaten: with gusto, relish, and calls for more.
The question I am most often asked is: when do I fit in the baking? Well, for me, baking offers a perfect moment of transition in the day from work (I work at home) to mum-mode. I started when the children were little, and most days I found myself making something quick and easy in the afternoon or just before school finished so that they could come in, fling their bags, books, coats, shoes over the kitchen floor, ask what I'd made, then sit down and talk about the day over a flapjack/brownie/cake/biscuit and a drink before they returned pell-mell, helter-skelter, into home life.
And how do I choose what to make? If time is of the essence, I go for something speedy and convenient such as chewy flapjacks which take less than five minutes to put together and can be made for teatime at any point in a busy day. Or if I'm feeling indulgent, we have scones with masses of cream and jam. Sometimes I feel inspired to create something more splendid such as a comically jammy and squishy Victoria sponge cake or a ladylike, afternoon-tea-style cake such as a large, walnut-encrusted coffee and walnut cake. Or if we're all craving chocolate, I'll make a batch of decadently rich brownies.
These days, though, as the children come in from different directions and in varying numbers, I find I am baking less often in the week, and more at weekends. And with a delightfully pleasing twist, I now bake with them as much as for them.
I began our joint baking sessions as soon as they were old enough to sit on the work-surface without falling off (tricky at times with twins, but somehow they both stayed put - maybe the stickiness of the sugar held their bottoms fast). We do it when we feel like it, and I think this is the key to our enjoyment. There should always be an element of pleasure to baking - there simply is no point to it if it's done under duress or pressure or as a performance.
When it comes to choosing what to bake, we have a discussion before starting. Are we making muffins or pancakes for breakfast? An afternoon treat or an evening pudding? Do we want quick and easy, or spectacular and indulgent? Fruity or spicy? Chocolatey or crunchy? Chewy or soft, big or small? Or has Phoebe, who reads baking and cake-decorating books in bed, been inspired to try a new recipe? To make the decision as easy as possible, I always stock the staples: sugar (caster, soft brown), plain, self-raising and bread flour, butter, eggs, icing sugar, lemons, dried fruits and glace cherries , nutmeg and ground ginger, food colouring, almonds. In fact, it's possible to make an enormous number of things from this small larder.
Sometimes we plump for extravagant colour, creativity and experimentation. That's when we bake fairy cakes and lavish them with neon-colour icing, jelly beans, sprinkles and sweets. Or we might branch out, take a risk, and experiment with a full-on sugar fest. This way we've made teeth-destroying toffee, vanilla fudge, ludicrously gloopy Turkish delight and, the one that never fails, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's mad-scientist marshmallow recipe which everyone adores and which encapsulates perfectly the sheer fun of shared baking (you can find it in his Family Cookbook).
Each child has his or her speciality and I encourage them to be brave enough to bake for others (it does require a degree of confidence, but you will be amazed how well that is repaid when people express their delight when someone bakes something for them). Alice and Phoebe have both done several one-day cookery courses that gave them an extra boost and expanded their repertoire to include amazingly easy and utterly delicious chocolate eclairs, light but chewy meringues and wild gingerbread houses, while Tom sticks doggedly to Nigel Slater's chocolate cornflake cakes, a whole tray of which can be rustled up, cooled and eaten within an hour.
The real reason why baking is an easy and manageable thing to do with children is that it's a set piece. With pre-determined quantities, ingredients and instructions, it's a peaceful, non-negotiable activity. Although I love having my cake and eating it, it tastes even better when we've made it ourselves.
• Jane Brocket is the author of The Gentle Art of Domesticity (Hodder & Stoughton, 2007) and Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer (Hodder & Stoughton, 2008)