Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cooking the Books with K: Secret Garden Currant-Peach Buns

“The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place. The few books she had read and liked had been fairy-story books, and she had read of secret gardens in some of the stories. Sometimes people went to sleep in them for a hundred years, which she had thought must be rather stupid. She had no intention of going to sleep, and, in fact, she was becoming wider awake every day which passed at Misselthwaite."

Sitting in the bookstore window with my Mom and a giant Curious George
I've always had a theory that all of us have one thing we are really great at. A super power so to say. My super power is reading. I read a lot as a child. My parents originally met when they both worked for the Brooklyn Public Library system. They moved to Connecticut before I was born for my dad to become the director of a public library. When I was three, they opened a bookstore. At one point in my childhood they had three, but post-divorce, ended up with a store each. On sick days or holidays, I would sit in the backroom of my mother's store and read. Later, as a pre-teen, I packed boxes of books to go to school bookfairs in the dingy basement of my dad's store. By the time I had my driver's license and could drive myself there, I was working two nights a week and Saturdays at my Dad's store. 
It would not be an exaggeration to say that because of this background, I read more children's books than many kids. When I came up with the idea of this Cooking the Books with K series, I realized it would be a chance both to revisit some old favorites and to read some newer books that K adores. I did not have a firm list of books, rather, I figured we would come up with them along the way. 
There was one book though, that I knew we had to include: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My original paperback copy has traveled with me from my childhood home, to college, and into every apartment I have rented. I can list a lot of books that I adored as a child, but it would be fair to say that The Secret Garden was my favorite at K's age. Rereading it last week, I was delighted to still love it. The story is that of the orphaned Mary Lennox who comes to live with her uncle in a large house on the Yorkshire moors. She is described as "the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true too . . . she was as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived." The house is full of secrets including a locked garden, which Mary becomes intensely curious about.  She sets out to find the garden, along the way meeting the magical Dickon, a boy who charms animals, and Colin, a hidden cousin who may be even more disagreeable than Mary herself. I'll stop there to avoid spoilers for anyone who may not have read the book. If you haven't, do so. If you have, read it again. 

To my delight there exists a Secret Garden Cookbook. As we usually do, K and I took turns marking the recipes we liked before deciding upon Currant Buns. The buns are yeast-risen, with spice and some sweetness. Because we like to experiment, we made a few changes. We added whole wheat flour, upped the spices, and because K wanted to, added chopped dried white peaches to the currants and upped the fruit amount a bit. We also added vanilla to the glaze, also because K wanted to. Luckily, we have a garden of our own to eat them in.

"The morning that Dickon--after they had been enjoying themselves in the garden for about two hours--went behind a big rosebush and brought forth two tin pails and revealed that one was full of rich new milk with cream on the top of it, and that the other held cottage-made currant buns folded in a clean blue and white napkin, buns so carefully tucked in that they were still hot, there was a riot of surprised joyfulness. What a wonderful thing for Mrs. Sowerby to think of! What a kind, clever woman she must be! How good the buns were! And what delicious fresh milk!
"Magic is in her just as it is in Dickon," said Colin. "It makes her think of ways to do things--nice things. She is a Magic person. . . ."

More kneading practice for K.

Currant-Peach Buns

1 1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing the baking pan
3 cups white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 package yeast
1 large egg
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup dried peaches chopped

Optional glaze (You will have extra. K had the leftovers with her bun.)
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
Sugar (We used pearl sugar leftover from Blue Bottle recipe testing.)

Warm the milk, sugar and butter in a small pan until the butter is melted and the mixture is the temperature of warm bathwater. Do not let boil.
Meanwhile, combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a bowl. 
Put the yeast in a small bowl.
When the milk mixture is heated, add 1/4 cup to the yeast and stir well to combine. Let sit to dissolve the yeast, about 3-5 minutes and then add to the flour. 
Break the egg into the remaining milk mixture and stir well. Immediately pour into the flour bowl. Add the dried fruit and mix well. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is rubbery, about 5 minutes.
Cover with plastic wrap  and let sit in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1.5 to 3 hours.
Cut the dough in half, then quarters, and then into quarters again. Shape into 16 rounds. Place on one or two greased baking sheets, buns almost touching. Let rise again until doubled in size, 30-60 minutes. 
Preheat the oven to 400.
Combine milk and vanilla and brush over the tops of each bun. Sprinkle with sugar.
Bake until browned and cooked all the way through, 15-25 minutes.


  1. So lovely! (and I very much relate to a childhood spent in books).

    I've tried to get my nieces interested in The Secret Garden, but they're not quite there yet. How old is K?

  2. K is nine. I read it aloud to her a few years back, but she was relatively uninterested. It took being able to read it on her own for her to enjoy it.

  3. Thanks for the reply, Amy. I guess we've got two or three years to go. This summer was Pippi Longstocking (instead of TSG), and I'm hoping they get into the Betsy Tacy books. Will wait and try again!

  4. Found you through DALS - I love your idea! The Secret Garden was/is one of my favorites.

  5. It is a great book. I wish we had started this project earlier, there are so many great foods in picture books. We made need to go back and do a few.