As an English major, mother, and food blogger, I love all things children’s literature and food. I remember as a child wanting to eat some of the food described in my favorite books. I still feel that children’s books have some of the most sumptuous descriptions of food in literature. Think of the feasts in the dining room at Hogwarts or the picnic shared by Rat and Mole in The Wind in the Willows; these are scenes that I think most of us would like to climb right into and share a meal with the characters.
With this blog, I hope to share some of my favorite children’s books about food, or at least books that have memorable food scenes. Along with each book, I’ll include a recipe that was inspired by that book. As a mother of two, I can assure you that all these recipes will be double tested by my two smallest taste-testers, and most of the time they will have helped with the cooking too! These will be recipes that are fun, comforting, and delicious and that remind us of some of the happiest moments in life – sharing a beloved book with a beloved child.
To kick things off, I went back to one of my earliest and most comforting memories, the memory of my mother reading poetry to me. Both of my parents were (and still are, with their grandchildren) big believers in sharing poetry with children. We had many collections of children’s poetry in my house growing up and read them often. One of my mom’s favorite poems to read to us was “Animal Crackers” by Christopher Morley, and it is now one of my children’s favorites too. I chose a line from this poem as the name of this blog, so I thought it was appropriate to base my first post on a recipe for animal crackers. The poem goes like this:
By: Christopher Morley
Animal crackers, and cocoa to drink,
That is the finest of suppers, I think;
When I’m grown up and can have what I please
I think I shall always insist upon these.
What do you choose when you’re offered a treat?
When Mother says, “What would you like best to eat?”
Is it waffles and syrup, or cinnamon toast?
It’s cocoa and animals that I love the most!
This recipe for animal crackers is really more of a cracker than the cookie-like ones you buy at the store. They are lightly sweetened with honey, but not too sweet, with a hint of vanilla and cinnamon. You could cut these into any shapes (we often just cut them into squares) but the animal cookie cutters are easily available on Amazon and aren’t too terribly expensive. I use a food processor to mix up the cracker dough, but a mixer with a blade attachment would work too, it just takes a little more scraping and mixing. This is a great recipe to get kids helping in the kitchen. They can help measure, push the button on the mixer or food processor, and help with cutting out the animals. The dough is very easy to work with and can be re-rolled a few times to use up all the scraps.
The cocoa pictured here is my super-easy homemade mix. Just mix together 1 part cocoa powder with 1 part sugar and store in a jar until needed. I add 2 Tablespoons of this mixture to 1 cup hot milk in a pan and whisk until the sugar dissolves. I never buy store bought cocoa mix anymore because this is so super easy to whip up. But, of course, animal crackers are perfect with any kind of cocoa you happen to have on hand!
Homemade Animal Crackers
Makes about 3 dozen
1 cup all-purpose flour
1cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 Tablespoons softened butter
2 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup whole milk
- Preheat the oven to 350º. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until well-mixed. Add the butter, honey, and vanilla down the funnel and pulse until the dry ingredients are moistened.
- Slowly add the milk to the food processor, a few tablespoons at a time, until the dough forms a ball. You may not need all the milk, or you may need a little more, it depends on the type of flour you are using, the climate where you live, etc.
- Divide the dough into two equal sized balls. Wrap one in plastic wrap and set aside. Roll the other ball of dough out into a 9-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Cut out the dough into your desired shapes and place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet. If you don’t have parchment paper, grease the pan with a thin layer of butter. You can re-roll the dough a couple of times to use up the scraps, but after that it will probably be too stiff to roll out. Repeat with the remaining ball of dough.
- Bake the animal crackers in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and puffed up. Cool on the cookie sheets for 10 minutes before eating. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to a week.