Check out these tasty recipes based on some of your children's favourite books

Caroline Hennessy cooking in the kitchen with her girls Hannah and Maya. Picture: Denis Scannell

Looking for inspiration when cooking summer treats for the kids? Where better to look than in their storybooks, says Caroline Hennessy

Long summer holidays are all very well when the sun shines and we can be outdoors in the garden chasing kittens and picking raspberries. But, when the wind changes, Mary Poppins style, bringing rain and a general air of grumpiness, it’s worthwhile having a few tricks up your (warm jumper) sleeves for occupying smallies.

I was a voracious reader as a child. Back in the 1980s, with limited exposure to the world outside the small country town where I grew up, I was fascinated with the different foods mentioned in books and enjoyed vicariously joining in Enid Blyton’s midnight feasts (condensed milk! Sardines! Ginger beer!), Milly-Molly-Mandy’s jam tart making activities and having kaffee und kuchen with the Chalet School girls.

It wasn’t always vicarious. After encountering a spiced apple cake in one of Alf Prøysen’s Mrs Pepperpot stories, I landed most of the contents of the spice rack - dried cloves, cinnamon, ginger and mixed spice - into the next Saturday morning tart, much to my mother’s surprise. I’ve never forgotten that fun of experimentation, of taking an idea from a book and turning it into something that we all could eat.

Now, with two small girls of my own – seven-year-old Hannah and Maya, who’s four – I love the time we spend time reading and rediscovering new and old favourite storybooks. I read them with one eye on the kitchen, always looking for ideas that can inspire a bake or a meal. After reading Helen Cooper’s Pumpkin Soup, we made vats of the stuff,

Alfie Weather by Shirley Hughes is full of keeping-smallies-entertained ideas and his pastry star-making has inspired several wet-afternoon cooking events.

I’ve also been known to quote Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham at young ladies who need encouragement to taste and try new things (although I have to admit that they were not huge fans of my “green eggs”, aka spinach pancakes).

From chocolate éclairs to finish off a splendid meal (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), sticky molasses pies for a What Katy Did picnic or even Mog’s hard-won boiled eggs, there’s endless kitchen inspiration and fun in children’s books.

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

Check out these tasty recipes based on some of your children's favourite books

“So he skipped from the oven & into bread dough all ready to rise in the night kitchen.

“He kneaded and punched it and pounded and pulled till it looked ok.

“Then Mickey in dough was just on his way.”

Best known for Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak is also the author and illustrator of the dream-like In the Night Kitchen.

There’s a brilliant read-aloud rhythm to the story of Mickey, a little boy who falls out of bed, and his clothes, through the dark and into a kitchen where three cooks are busily baking.

Your own little cooks will love the opportunity to shape their own plane, Mickey-style, from a simple bread dough.

Mickey’s bread rolls This is a basic, good-natured dough that will take a good deal of punishment and lots of variations.

You can also take it in a Frances Hodgson Burnett direction by kneading in some dried fruit for Sara’s currant buns (A Little Princess) or bake it in a loaf tin to make Dickon’s bacon sandwiches (The Secret Garden).

Makes 12 rolls

  • 450g strong white flour
  • 1 x 7g sachet fast-action yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 300ml water 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little extra.
  • Put the flour, yeast and salt into a large mixing bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon. Make a well in the centre, pour in the water and oil and, using your hands, mix to a dough. Use a little more water if the dough is very dry. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until satiny smooth.

Place into a clean, oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size – about two hours at room temperature.

Knock back the dough by tipping it on to a floured surface and gently pushing the air out. Divide into 12 pieces and let the children at them while you lightly flour two baking trays.

When they’re finished shaping, put the rolls on a baking tray, cover with a clean tea towel and set aside for 30-40 minutes, until almost doubled in size. If the dough has been particularly well worked, it may take a little longer.

Heat oven to 200C and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and well risen.

Possum Magic by Mem Fox

“In Hobart, late one night, in the kitchens of the casino, they saw a lamington on a plate. Hush closed her eyes and nibbled. Grandma Poss held her breath — and waited.”

A gift from Irish cousins in Sydney, Possum Magic is a 30-year-old, bona fide Aussie classic. We were charmed by this picture book story of two possums, Hush and Grandma Poss, who leave their bush home to find a cure for Hush’s invisibility by eating famous Australian foods.

After Hush became visible again, there was a wondering question from the small, sleepy listeners: “what is a lamington?” “Strewth!” said our semi- resident Aussie the next night when we put a plateful in front of him. Aussie classics.

Hush’s lamingtons. Normally, these are made with a lighter sponge cake but I prefer this variation as they’re less likely to fall apart when you’re doing the chocolate dipping and coconut rolling, especially when you have small hands helping.

Makes 20

  • 225g plain flour
  • Half teaspoon baking powder
  • 175g butter, at room temperature
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs Icing
  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 100g coconut oil
  • 100g desiccated coconut
  • A pinch of salt Heat the oven to 180C. Butter and line a 20cm square tin. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Set aside. Using an electric whisk, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and airy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Stir in the dry ingredients. Place the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire tray and cool. Cut into 20 squares.

In a bowl over simmering water or the microwave, melt the dark chocolate and oil together.

Add the salt and mix until smooth. Spread the coconut on a plate. Using a fork or skewer, dip the cake squares into the liquid chocolate and then roll in coconut. This may involve a certain level of small people stickiness. Devour with a well-earned cup of tea.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Check out these tasty recipes based on some of your children's favourite books

“And raspberry jam and apple-tart,” said Bifur. “And mince-pies and cheese,” said Bofur. “And pork-pie and salad,” said Bombur. “And more cakes-and ale-and coffee, if you don’t mind,” called the other dwarves through the door.”

If you were brought up on the best of children’s books, pork pies were a constant feature, whether it was at a midnight feast with the twins at St Clare’s: “If you will feast on pork-pies and sardines, chocolate and ginger-beer in the middle of the night, you can expect a dose of medicine from me the next day,” or as a handy one-hand-on-the-tiller kind of meal in Arthur Ransom’s We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea and Coot Club. While we’re not exactly at The Hobbit reading stage just yet, Bilbo Baggins’s larder has always struck me as a thing of beauty — just look at what he could pull out of it at a moment’s notice for an unexpected party.

Bilbo’s Pork Pies

These, in their defence, are not classic pork pies but I’ve always thought of Bilbo as being a dab hand at shortcrust pastry and they are nicely hobbit- (or child-) sized.

Makes 12

  • 450g pork mince
  • 100g chorizo, diced
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 eating apple, cored and finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato chutney
  • 100ml crème fraîche
  • 600g shortcrust pastry, homemade or bought
  • 1 egg, beaten, to glaze
  • A little butter Heat the oven to 220°C. Butter the cups of a 12-hole muffin tin.

Heat a dry frying pan over a medium heat. Fry the pork, chorizo and onion for about five minutes, until brown. Remove from the heat and add the thyme, apple, chutney and crème fraîche. Season and cool.

Roll out two-thirds of the pastry on a lightly floured surface. Stamp out 12cm x 10cm circles; you may need to re-roll the trimmings. Line each cup of the muffin tin with a circle. Roll out the rest of the pastry and stamp out 12 x 7cm circles for the lids.

Pack the pork tightly into the pastry cases. Brush the lids with beaten egg and place on top, egg side down. Press pastry edges together to seal. Brush the tops with more eggs and cut a steam hole in the middle of each pie.

Bake for 22-25 minutes until the tops of the pies are golden and the base, when carefully eased out of the tin, is also brown.

Loosen the pies while they are warm, remove from the tin and allow to cool fully on a wire tray.

Serve with a green salad, Bombor-style.

Bruce Bogtrotter’s Chocolate Cake

Check out these tasty recipes based on some of your children's favourite books

It’s not quite 18in wide but this cake is still tempting enough to make any wannabe Bruces want to snaffle a slice.

Serves 8-10

  • Cake
  • 25g cocoa
  • 100g dark chocolate 50ml boiling water
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 and a half teaspoons baking powder
  • Half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 175g butter, at room temperature
  • 175g dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 100ml plain yoghurt icing
  • 50g dark chocolate
  • 50g milk chocolate
  • 100ml cream
  • A handful of raspberries, to decorate Heat the oven to 160C. Butter and line a 23cm springform tin.

Place the cocoa and dark chocolate into a small bowl. Carefully pour over the boiling water, allow to stand for a few moments, then stir together until smooth. Small children are particularly good at this.

Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together. Set aside. Using an electric whisk or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and airy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add the chocolate-cocoa mixture and mix again.

Tip in the yoghurt and dry ingredients. Gently mix everything together then scrape the cake batter into the tin. Bake in the heated oven for 50-55 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack then remove the tin. Allow to cool fully, while you make the icing.

Heat the cream in a saucepan until it is scalding hot. Off the heat, add the dark and milk chocolate.

Allow to stand for two minutes, then stir until smooth. Allow to cool and thicken.

Put the cake on a serving plate or china cake stand. Pour and spread the icing over the entire cake. Scatter raspberries on top. Try not to eat it all at once.


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