Let Them Eat Cake

We'll explore children's literature and food, starting with these tempting seed cupcakes, inspired by The Hobbit.

Early in Peter Jackson’s new film adaptation of The Hobbit, I heard my son howling with laughter as Bilbo Baggins strove to fend off an assault on his pantry by a hungry bearded throng.

Hefting enormous wheels of cheese and tossing dishes like frisbees, the singing band of dwarves gleefully decimated Bilbo’s larder without breaking a plate.

Though the scene on the page is somewhat less boffo, J.R.R. Tolkien’s book also conveys a deep concern with foodstuffs. The dwarves call for “raspberry jam and apple tart,” “mince-pies and cheese,” “pork-pie and salad,” “And more cakes --— and ale — and coffee, if you don’t mind,” with Gandalf throwing in a request to “Put on a few eggs, there’s a good fellow… And just bring out the cold chicken and pickles!”

The Hobbit is not alone among children’s books. Kid lit brims with tempting delicacies: (remember the Turkish delight in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?), foods that are healthy yet repulsive (“slippery, slithery” soft-boiled eggs in Ramona Quimby, Age 8), and the threat of starvation (think of Oliver Twist’s thin gruel or Charley Bucket longing for admittance to Wonka’s factory). Could this be because kids are always hungry? Or is it that food is one way that children’s writers talk about love, temptation, and identity?

No matter. I’m glad to find a fun way to share my two favorite things with you and your kids: books and food. So for the next several months, I’ll be providing recipes drawn from books I’ve read — some I’ve read myself or with my kids, and some I’ve discovered as a teacher or librarian. Very few of these books actually include recipes, but most of them have either made me want what their characters are enjoying so lustily, or have made me feel their characters’ hunger pangs.

And here’s the bonus: if you read the book that goes with the recipe, it takes care of the dinner conversation. Just make sure the kids understand that the dwarves of Middle Earth don’t necessarily model the table manners you’re hoping they’ll adopt. Though you can point out that Bilbo’s guests do an exemplary job on the after-dinner cleanup.




Seed Cakes

This is a variation of a recipe for Glazed Lemon Poppy-Seed Cake from Gourmet magazine. I suggest baking it up as mini-muffins, or even in those nifty little muffin-top bakers, to make them more like hobbit food.


1 ¼ cups all-purpose or white whole-wheat flour, or a combo of the two
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 ½ cups confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F.

Line or grease muffin tins, either a dozen regular sized muffins or 24 minis.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt in a bowl.

Cream butter and granulated sugar in another bowl or with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in eggs until combined. Gently add flour mixture and poppy seeds; mix till just combined.

Fill muffin tins no more than half full and bake until a wooden pick inserted in center of a cake comes out clean and top is golden brown, about 15 minutes for minis or 20 for regular muffins. Cool cakes in pan on a rack 5 minutes, then remove onto rack.

Whisk together confectioners sugar and lemon juice in a bowl until smooth. Drizzle glaze over warm cakes with a spoon. Let stand until glaze is set, about 15 minutes.
Serve with tea or milk.

Add your comment: