05 November 2018

Review & Extract: Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater

Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia
RRP AU$24.99
Photography © Lauren Chater
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Lauren Chater is an Australian author who loves to read and bake and has been blogging about her love of baking and decorating cookies at The Well Read Cookie for the last three years. In her latest book, Lauren brings her love of books and cookies together in Well Read Cookies - Beautiful Biscuits Inspired by Great Literature.

This scrumptious hardback is full of Lauren's favourite reads paired with cookies iced and decorated to reflect the theme or focus of the book. There are a variety of books represented, with children's books, classics and contemporary novels included and the decorated cookies are mouth-wateringly delicious.

Lauren includes the reasons she loves each of the 60 books chosen and also talks a little about each of the cookie designs. I thoroughly enjoyed the unique pairing of literature with creative and whimsical cookie designs and it made me hungry for biscuits and books all at the same time.

I'm lucky enough to be able to share with you three of my favourite cookie/book combinations, so please enjoy them below.

Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia 
RRP AU$24.99
Photography © Lauren Chater

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Why are children so obsessed with books about food? From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Possum Magic, food and literature continues to be an utterly magical combination. What is it that makes us go gaga for Suessian green eggs and ham and dreamy Sendak-style aeroplane doughnuts? Psychologists suggest food is associated with memory, so perhaps when parents read to children from picture books which feature fantastical feasts and pleasant picnics, a love of food is absorbed along with the language.

Nowhere is this combination of edibles and idioms more apparent than in Eric Carle’s classic tale of gluttony and greed, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Brimful of fruit, condiments and sweets, it’s the ultimate guide to a week’s worth of overeating, but it’s also a lesson in growth and transformation.

The compulsion of the caterpillar to consume everything in sight is an instantly recognisable childish trait. The mere whiff of a pickle takes me straight back to my school days, and whenever the words ‘chocolate’ and ‘cake’ are mentioned together, I find myself reaching for the fridge – because, as everyone knows, the perfect accompaniment to a Matilda-style Bruce Bogtrotter chocolate cake (thank you Roald Dahl) is a slice of Swiss cheese.

When I was making these hungry caterpillar cookies, my children offered very helpfully to cut the holes out of the ‘fruits’ instead of what they usually do, which is squirt the icing straight into their mouths. I recommend using the bottom of an icing tip to get a good-sized hole and piping an outline around the hole first before you flood so that the icing doesn’t drip down inside. You’ll need a 1.5 mm tip for the caterpillar’s details.

The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia 
RRP AU$24.99
Photography © Lauren Chater
Many people see passenger liners as places of transit, a bridge between the old world and the new. This unique experience takes a tragic twist in Armando Lucas Correa’s novel, which chronicles the ill-fated journey of the transatlantic liner St Louis through the eyes of a young Jewish girl, Hannah Rosenthal. 

Fleeing the persecution of the Nazi regime in 1939, Hannah and her parents join others on board the ship, expecting to disembark in Cuba, but their excitement quickly sours as the ship is turned away from that port, and every other, and the liner soon becomes a floating crypt. Correa pays tribute to those poor souls in this sobering story about war, hope and the human condition.

Of all the passenger liner tragedies in popular culture, the best known is of course the White Star’s Titanic but the success of Correa’s book has recently thrown light on the forgotten passenger ship St Louis. A German ocean liner, she set out in May 1939 and soon became embroiled in a political and humanitarian crisis when Jewish passengers fleeing the Holocaust were denied entry at every port.

With an eye to the recent horrors in Syria, Correa’s book seems more relevant than ever and, cute cookies aside, it’s one that everyone should read to prevent such a tragedy ever occurring again. These liner cookies were made using a custom cutter but any steamship cutter will do.
Outline and flood the bottom section first in black icing.
Outline and flood the top half in bright white icing once the bottom has dried.
Use grey icing in a piping bag fitted with a 1.5 mm tip to add the decorative stripes and the windows.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia RRP AU$24.99
Photography © Lauren Chater
Not many people have much sympathy for Jay Gatsby, the brooding anti-hero of Fitzgerald’s moody commentary on America’s loss of innocence. He’s the kind of guy we love to read about but would find intolerable if he rolled up outside in his Merc. He’s the ultimate creepy ex-boyfriend, hanging around to remind you what you missed out on. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the whole Gatsby aesthetic: the flappers, the prohibition booze, the vacuous parties on Long Island paid for by Daddy’s trust-fund. There’s a delicious opulence and decadence in the book (especially the party scenes) that makes me want to cut my hair into a bob and Charleston ’til dawn. But then Fitzgerald throws in the contrast of the slum areas outside Rhode Island and exposes how one-sided the whole business is; desperate depression on the one hand, filthy opulence on the other. Both Nick Carraway (useless enabler) and Jay Gatsby (hopeless dreamer) really rub me up the wrong way.

Daisy, on the other hand, is a girl after my own heart. Unlike Gatsby, who tries to mould himself into some kind of unreachable ideal, Daisy goes straight for the Cartier and doesn’t feel a bit bad about it. She never apologises for who she is or what she wants. Is it her fault Gatsby puts her on an impossibly high pedestal? Not at all! It might be unfashionable, but make like a mint julep and be a Daisy; throw your troubles to the wind and let some man do the worrying for you.

I think Daisy would appreciate these flapper girl cookies with their oh-so-chic wink and stylish cloche hats. Don’t forget to add a dash of edible gold to embellish your decorations!

Recipe for Vanilla Sugar Cookies (Makes around 16)
250g unsalted butter, softened                            1 egg
1/2 tsp salt                                                           1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence                                           6 cups flour, plus extra for rolling out
1/2 tsp baking powder

STEP 1 
Place softened butter and caster sugar in a large bowl and mix until smooth and light in colour (about four minutes).
STEP 2 Add in vanilla essence and beat in egg, until combined.
STEP 3 Slowly beat in the baking powder and flour, one cup at a time. After two minutes or so of beating the dough should start pulling away from the edge of the bowl and form a lump. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it on a lightly floured surface.
STEP 4 Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least four hours.
STEP 5 Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F). Roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut out desired shapes. Place them on flat baking trays and put in freezer or the fridge for at least 20 minutes before baking to preserve shape.
STEP 6 Bake each tray for 18 minutes, turning halfway to ensure consistency.
STEP 7 Allow to cool completely before decorating.

You'll definitely need a cup of tea and a biscuit when devouring Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater. If you want more, feel free to turn the oven on, whip up a batch of sugar cookies and check out my interview with Lauren about her debut novel The Lace Weaver.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

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