Books That Cook: The Bake Shop Ghost

[A very occasional feature in which the Books Together Test Kitchen (that would be me and my kids) prepares a recipe from the back of a picture book. This one makes a moist delicious chocolate cake.]

We seem to check out The Bake Shop Ghost by Jacqueline K. Ogburn (illustrated by Marjorie Priceman; Houghton Mifflin, 2005) several times a year: on Valentine's Day, for Milly's birthday, at Halloween (although it's not really that kind of ghost).

It's a lovely, longer picture book about the ghost of Cora Lee Merriweather, who haunts her bake shop, scaring away an international assortment of bakers, until pastry chef and new proprietess Annie Washington promises to "Make [her] a cake so rich and so sweet, it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes. A cake like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me." Annie has to bake a lot of cakes before the sweet and satisfying conclusion, but thankfully the one at the back of the book comes out perfect every time.

The Bake Shop Ghost was featured on NPR way back when and even made into a short film (starring Academy-Award nominated Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Annie); it doesn't seem to be available on DVD or streaming, but the trailer at least is true to the book. Which, I am happy to say, I finally bought.

Notes from the Test Kitchen

  • The recipe calls for 4 tablespoons of buttermilk powder (look for it in a tin in the grocery store baking aisle, or order a bag from King Arthur Flour). If you don't have buttermilk powder, substitute one cup buttermilk for the water. And if you don't have buttermilk, use a scant cup of milk + one tablespoon fresh lemon juice (let sit for ten minutes first). Just don't let the buttermilk powder (or lack thereof) stop you from baking the cake.
  • Use a bar or two of your favorite dark (bittersweet) chocolate rather than baking chocolate. We like Callebault.
  • No need for frosting (although you certainly could). Try it with raspberries and whipped cream instead. It's nice for Valentine's Day, too, baked in a heart-shaped pan.

[Sadly, the hardcover copy I bought has an inane blurb embazoned on the cover ("This book is yummy!"). At least it looks sort of like the little owl is saying it.]

Books that Cook: The Runaway Wok

[Books that Cook: A very occasional feature in which the Books Together Test Kitchen (that would be me and my kids) prepares a recipe from the back of a picture book.]

The Runaway Wok: A Chinese New Year Tale by Ying Chang Compestine (illustrated by Sebastia Serra; Dutton, 2011) doesn't overflow with rice (more's the pity, because the Festive Stir-Fried Rice recipe we tried was really good)--it's based on a traditional Danish folktale, The Talking Pot, instead. I found the economics (not to mention the ethics) of The Runaway Wok a little problematic, actually: the wok steals from the selfish, rich Li family to give to the poor, generous Zhang family. The Zhangs share the wealth with all the poor people of Beijing at a New Year's feast. And then they open up a wok shop!

Ying Chang Compestine, who has written a number of cookbooks as well as children's books, includes an informative Author's Note about the Chinese New Year. She says, "The most significant dish for children is the festive stir-fried rice, cooked in a wok. The various ingredients in this dish represent harmony and happiness. Parents urge their children to eat it so they will get along in the coming year." We'll see.

Notes from the Test Kitchen

  • This recipe works best with day-old rice. We used brown rice to make it extra-healthy. 
  • Feel free to make substitutions, like cubed fresh mango (instead of dried cranberries) and cashews. Delicious! I just hope it doesn't void the "harmony and happiness" clause.

Nonfiction Monday: Laura's Lunch

We've been reading the Little House books together for the first time, and I don't know who loves them more: me or the kids.  Milly in particular.  I think she wants to be Laura.  Today she wanted to eat a Laura Ingalls lunch.  I was out of Jiffy cornbread mix, but we decided that ham, baked beans, apple slices, and milk were all pioneer-approved foods.

A trip to the library later, and now I'm reading The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories by Barbara Walker, with illustrations (from the original Little House books) by Garth Williams (Harper and Row, 1979).  I think it's fascinating:  organized into chapters such as "Staples from the Country Store" and "Foods from the Woods, Wilds, and Waters", each recipe gets an excerpt from the text of one of the books, a well-researched essay, and detailed directions.  Unfortunately, it's not particularly appetizing, but I've marked a few recipes to try; look for them in an upcoming special edition of Books that Cook.

In the meantime, you might want to try Laura's gingerbread recipe, which appeared in the Horn Book.  We would have made some after lunch, but I was all out of lard.  Milly was so disappointed!

[Nonfiction Monday is at Picture Book of the Day.]

Books that Cook: Tallulah in the Kitchen

[Books that Cook:  An occasional feature in which the Books Together Test Kitchen (that would be me and my kids) prepares a recipe from the back of a picture book.  In this case, the recipe is actually in the middle of the picture book, which is a little inconvenient but still delicious.] 

We had our traditional first-day-of-school pancake breakfast this morning.  If you're a regular reader of bookstogether, you may remember that we like our pancakes!  I usually use Trader Joe's Multigrain Baking Mix, which makes something resembling pancakes only healthier, on weekday mornings; but this morning we tested the recipe for Tallulah's Amazing Blueberryalicious Pancakes from Tallulah in the Kitchen by Nancy Wolff (Henry Holt, 2005).

Notes from the Test Kitchen

  • Mark the illustrated list of ingredients with a paper clip.  Exact amounts aren't specified later in the text as Tallulah and her friends measure and add the ingredients to the bowl.
  • These pancakes are fluffy!  Don't overmix.
  • Roxy (Tallulah's pig friend) adds the berries to the batter in the bowl; I prefer to add the berries directly to the pancakes on the griddle (see also:  Don't overmix).  And, you can make them into a smiley face that way.