About a year ago, a few months before she turned five, EldestGirl started to prefer chapter books to picture books. She was still reading picture books by herself, but at bedtime when we read to her, she liked to be read chapter books. Over the last twelve months we have raced through so many I can’t hope to remember them all, but the highlights have been:
- Faraway Tree series – Enid Blyton
- Most of Roald Dahl’s children’s books (special shout outs to Matilda, The Witches and the BFG)
- The Ramona books – Beverley Cleary
- A Series of Unfortunate Events – Lemony Snicket
- The Story of Tracy Beaker – Jacqueline Wilson
- A selection of David Walliams books (Gangsta Granny and Awful Auntie are firm favourites)
We have recently introduced an additional 15 minutes of reading time that EldestGirl is allowed after YoungestGirl has gone to bed. Instead of turning to her hundreds of picture books, she tends to prefer to re-read chapter books that we have already read to her; no longer daunting with unfathomable vocabulary or plots, she’s braver about giving them a go.
We noticed that in a lot of her favourite books, food was a big theme. As we both love cooking, we decided to launch a new Nunn the Wiser/EldestGirl monthly activity called…
Let’s Cook the Books
Each month we will choose one of the books we have read together and recreate food from within the book. It seemed fitting that our first book was the chapter book that started her love of chapter books: The Cat and the King by Nick Sharratt.
I was already familiar with Nick Sharratt’s illustration style from You Choose! (a picture book we already owned) and from Tracy Beaker. Yes I was in my 20s when Tracy Beaker came out. Yes I read it anyway. Shut up.
If you haven’t come across The Cat and the King, I highly recommend it as a stepping stone between picture books and chapter books. Each page has lovely, humorous illustrations, and each chapter is just about perfect for ten minutes of storytime before bed. There are also some nice moments in it for grown-ups, who are more likely than younger children to realise that the king’s servants/subjects/ band/chefs are in fact the same people over and over, just trying to make the king feel better about himself. The cat, of course, is the brains behind everything.
The recipe we chose to make from The Cat and the King is actually detailed at the back of the book, which made our job so much easier.
So this month’s Let’s Cook the Books is… Royal Shortbread from Nick Sharratt’s The Cat and the King.
I have to admit to having previous history with shortbread, and not in a good way. Firstly, I hate rubbing fat into flour, so usually get the stand mixer to do this, which of course overworks the dough. And then I can never get the bastard stuff to stick together. But this time, any failings could be blamed on EldestGirl. Hoorah!
She helped me weigh out the butter and sugar by reading the numbers on the electronic scale, and then after we had used the stand mixer to whip the butter, she added the sugar herself, bit by bit. Approximately 10% ended up on our kitchen counter, which I think is not bad going. I like the added gritty crunch our floor now has. And the way my feet stick very slightly to the tiles. I’m not complaining.
After this, I decided that EldestGirl could – literally – roll her sleeves up and rub the flour and cornflour into the butter and sugar herself. She loves doing this because she is a child, and a child’s natural state is to be grubby and revolting at any given opportunity. Hands duly scrubbed clean, she got to work.
I would estimate we lost another 10-15% of the mixture at this stage. I think I said, “EldestGirl, keep your hands inside the bowl,” at least thirteen times. Also she may have learned a new swear word at this point.
Next we had to try and bring it all together, and actually – for once – it wasn’t too bad, though it did stick to the rolling pin when we tried to roll it out. We gave up and just sort of flattened it with our hands into an approximate rectangular shape. (NB if you are reading this for culinary tips, I think you might be sorely disappointed.)
Then we had to cut them into rectangles, as per the picture here. Look at the dreadful job EldestGirl has done here. Dreadful. Not really. I did that. I am nothing if not crap and slapdash at presentation.
Anyway, into the oven they went until they looked like this. (They didn’t get any less crap-looking in the oven. Spoilers.) They did expand more than I expected though, considering there was no egg or raising agent – I guess the sheer ratio of butter to other ingredients meant there was some spreading. I would leave bigger gaps between them if I made them again. And if I wanted neat edges, I would probably trim them as soon as they came out of the oven, whilst the shortbread was still hardening.
After this, we had to have a little break – EldestGirl because she declared summer had come back and therefore she urgently needed an outfit change, and me to allow the shortbread to cool down, and also to attempt, with increasing futility, removal of an acceptable percentage of shortbread crumbs, caster sugar and butter smears from our kitchen surfaces. And to wash up the rolling pin, which despite being made entirely from silicone a) sticks to everything and b) just collects water in the dishwasher. It makes me angry every time I use it.
Finally the shortbread was cool enough to do the fun part. Chocolate. The chocolate is what sets normal boring shortbread apart from The Cat and the King‘s Royal Shortbread. We melted chocolate and then let the dipping commence. We enjoyed this part especially. YoungestGirl particularly enjoyed it because she timed a spectacular face-plant onto our cat-scratching post at the exact moment that we had finished melting the chocolate, and was therefore fed a whole teaspoon of neat melted chocolate, just to calm her down. I suspect shenanigans. (She maintains the cat-scratching post stubble rash was totally worth it.)
The Royal Shortbread was ready in time for pudding for the children’s tea, and was announced a success by all. Especially YoungestGirl, whose verbatim review was, “My biscuit all gone now. I have more biscuit?”