It began with a simple question: “Hey Mom, have you ever put together a list of your favorite children’s books?”
As a matter of fact, I hadn’t… which seems odd, because I have been obsessed with children’s books since I was a child myself. When I find myself in a bookstore, I must explore the new titles in this order: Cookbooks, Children's, Fiction. So my daughter and I spent an entire evening this week compiling a crazy-long list of some of our favorite children’s chapter books. It got a little out of control. We spent a lot of time reading. We still do. I thought it would be fun to share it, so in no particular order, here we go:
- Journey To The River Sea By Eva Ibbotson
- George's Marvelous Medicine Or Matilda By Roald Dahl (Really anything by Roald Dahl)
- Half Magic By Edward Eager
- Anne Of Green Gables By L.M. Montgomery
- The Betsy Tacy Books (Especially Betsy, Tacy And Tib) By Maud Hart Lovelace
- A Little Princess By Frances Hodgsen Burnett
- Kensuke's Kingdom Or Alone On A Wide, Wide Sea By Michael Morpurgo (Really, anything by Michael Morpurgo)
- A Wrinkle In Time By Madeline L’Engle
- The Little Prince By Antoine De Saint-Exupery
- When You Reach Me By Rebecca Stead
- From The Mixed Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler – By E.L. Koningsburg
- Charlotte's Web By E. B. White
- Hitty Her First 100 Years By Rosemary Wells
- A Series Of Unfortunate Events By Lemony Snicket
- Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library By Chris Gaberstein
- Ballet Shoes (Any Of The Shoes Books) By Noel Streatfield
- The Penderwicks: A Summer Of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits And A Very Interesting Boy By Jeanne Birdsall
- Flora And Ulysses By Kate DiCamillo
- The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate By Jacqueline Kelly
- Bridge To Terabithia By Katherine Patterson
- Wonder By R.J. Palacio
- Tuck Everlasting By Natalie Babbitt
- Under The Egg By Laura Marx Fitzgerald
- Navigating Early By Clare VanderPool
- The Harry Potter Books By J.K. Rowling
- The Phantom Tollbooth By Norton Juster
- A Mango Shaped Space By Wendy Mass
- Number The Stars By Lois Lowry
- When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit By Judith Kerr
- Chasing Vermeer Or Hold Fast By Blue Balliett
- The City Of Ember By Jeanne DuPrau
- The Chronicles Of Narnia By C.S. Lewis
- The Little House Books (Especially Farmer Boy) By Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Little Women By Louisa May Alcott
Orphans and magic and history and friendships and adventures and baddies… what wonderful memories these books bring. In You’ve Got Mail (one of my favorite movies of all time), I love the moment when Kathleen Kelly (played by Meg Ryan) reminisces about her mom in the small bookshop they owned. “I started helping my mother after school here when I was six years old. And I used to watch her. And it wasn’t that she was just selling books, it was that she was helping people become whoever it was that they were going to turn out to be. Because when you read a book as a child it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does…” So true. I’m a person who is forever asking kids what they’ve been reading, and encouraging them to read as many of my favorites as possible.
The only thing better than curling up with a great book is curling up with a great book and a nice slice of cake. As so, since very many of the books on our list are British, I’ve baked the British classic… a warm, comforting Sticky Toffee Pudding.
I find the traditional sticky toffee pudding can err on the edge of cloyingly sweet… so years ago, I started tinkering with a gingerbready version. It has evolved to the recipe you see below made with brown sugar, spices, and finely diced crystallized ginger. If you love ginger, you’ll love this version.
I suppose if I had created the cake when my children were still… children… I wouldn’t have laced the warm caramel sauce with quite so much bourbon. But they’re all nearly grown now. Not to worry, I’ve made the cake dozens of times over the years, and it’s scrumptious without bourbon in the caramel sauce.
And while you’re enjoying a slice of cake, might I suggest you curl up with one of your favorite children’s books?
Ginger Sticky Toffee Pudding
For the Cake:
- 1 pound dates, pitted and chopped
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 cup butter, softened
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoons baking powder
- ¼ cup finely chopped crystalized ginger
For the Caramel Sauce:
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons bourbon (you can substitute vanilla)
- Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.
- Place the dates in large saucepan with 3½ cups cold water. Bring to boil, stirring a little to break up the dates. Then leave to simmer for 1 minute before removing from the heat. Stir in the baking soda (which will cause the mixture to bubble up).
- Cream the butter and sugar together in a standing mixer until pale and creamy, 4-5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, occasionally scraping down mixing bowl. Add the vanilla extract and then the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt and mix briefly. The dough will still be lumpy at this point.
- Next, add the warm date mixture in two batches. Scrape down the sides of bowl in between mixing. The dough will now be quite watery— not to worry, this is as it should be. Add the baking powder (this will bubble up also). Finally, add the crystallized ginger.
- Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake for about an hour to an hour and 10 minutes. Test with a small knife or toothpick, it should come out clean when cake is done. Let it rest on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before un-molding.
- Meanwhile, to make the sauce, combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream and bourbon in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer gently for a minute or two until thickened and well blended.
- Prick the cake all over with a toothpick — this will enable the sauce to be absorbed more easily. Pour the caramel sauce over cakes while both are still warm and leave to soak for about 10 minutes. I like to pour lots into the space in the middle of the cake, and spoon a bit of extra sauce onto the cake as I serve it.
- Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.