Bookish Bites : Six Little Chicks [an Easter special!]
Okay, I absolutely promise that this is the last time (at least for a little while), that I construct another building out of food. It’s just really good fun and when Random House sent us Six Little Chicks by Jez Alborough for review. Well, what’s a person to do!
This Bookish Bites would make a fabulous Easter treat if you’re having a get together with kids involved. It’s also a great alternative to the usual Easter cakes and chocolate goodies that are normally doing the rounds this time of year (unless you want to add chocolate eggs that is, which we did to be fair! And next week’s Bookish Bites is a chocolate extravaganza!).
We started with the book.
Like I mentioned above, this was sent to us by Random House for review and I was delighted to see it arrive. We don’t own any books by Jez Alborough but I am very familiar with his work having worked at Walker Books who publish several of his titles including Hug and also because whenever we go to the library, Milo hurtles straight in the direction of where Duck in a Truck is kept. One day it won’t be there and I’ll have a very depressed toddler on my hands.
This is a great read. It has the feel of a traditional cautionary tale but with a happy ending where the five chicks protect themselves and, with the help of the other farmyard animals, overcome the hairy, scary bad fox who is trying to eat them. They do all of this just in time to see the sixth chick hatch out of his egg. What fascinates me when reading it to Milo is that he is both scared and enthralled by it. There is one particular page in this book that gets him, when the fox is first revealed.
Milo always looks away before I turn the page and I asked “Why are you looking away Milo?” and with a big grin on his face “Because of the foxes green eyes, they scare me. I don’t want to look, but I do look and they are green. Keep reading though mummy.” “Okay, are you sure?” “Yes, get on with it!” Such a polite child. But it does go to show that a little fear doesn’t necessarily put a child off reading something but can actually enhance the reading experience (perhaps also see my post on The Fearsome Beastie!). We just snuggle closer, keep reading and Milo always looks back at the page.
Anyway, onto this week’s Bookish Bites. I’ve always wanted to keep chickens but, alas, our garden is a little small and so we can’t really at the moment. So instead, Milo and I decided it would be fun to make a chicken coop with six little chicks to keep inside, just like the one in the book (well, sort of!)
And here’s our baked version.
So let’s get started. A basic step-by-step for how we did this:
1. Cover your cake board
2. Make your biscuit dough and put in the fridge for approximately an hour
3. Using templates, cut out your dough into the shapes for the chicken coop structure
4. Put the cut out shapes back into the fridge for another half hour
5. Bake your biscuit templates
6. While they are baking, make up two piping bags of royal icing (one with a number 2 nozzle and another that’s a bit bigger)
7. Stick the pieces of your coop together, leaving good time for the icing to set and the structure to harden
8. At anytime, start making your little chicks from marzipan
9. Create the corregated sugarpaste roof for the top of the chicken coop and let it harden
10. Once your structure is stable, decorate with sugarpaste flowers and add the sugarpaste corregated roof to the roof portion of your baked coop
11. Scrunch up Shredded Wheat to create a nest inside the coop.
12. Add your chicks to the coop.
Begin by covering your cake board. We covered ours in white sugarpaste. It would have been better to colour it brown first, we just didn’t have any brown food colouring in the house. Simply roll out your icing, then roll it up onto your rolling pin, drape over your board and trim the edges.
Next we made the dough. We needed a bit of a change from gingerbread (!) and it also doesn’t feel particularly like Easter in flavour so we went for an orange biscuit using a recipe from Peggy Porschen. I’ve made this recipe many times before and it’s really buttery, fresh and moreish. What I would suggest though is that you make the full recipe and then half again to ensure that you can roll out your panels quite thickly. We used just the full recipe and ended up with a couple of thin panels which makes it a touch harder to “glue” them together when constructing your coop (we also had to make some motorcycles and a star too!).
Don’t forget to feed your bus with a little orange once you’ve grated the rind into the dough. When you’ve left your dough in the fridge for an hour, you can then roll it out to make the panels.
This was a little more complex than the Monkey and Robot tool shed as you will need a raised floor for the chickens to sit on and the ladder to rest on. I achieved this by making the side panels an inch longer than the front, back and floor panels. The roof also had to be a touch larger to ensure that it didn’t fall into the coop! Here are the PDF templates should you wish to make your own chicken coop.
Pop your cut out panels and pop them in the fridge for another half hour or longer. This helps the dough not to spread too much in baking. Then bake in batches. In the meantime, make up your piping bags of royal icing ready for sticking everything together.
Place one of the sides flat down on your kitchen surface. Pipe three lines of royal icing, one at the bottom (this will be for the back panel), one line across the bottom but about half an inch above the bottom edge (this will be your floor) and then your final line across the top edge (this will stick your front door panel). Once you’ve held these panels in place until they feel secure, then add your final side. Wait until the royal icing is set before turning your coop upright. I rolled a little green icing for grass to put under the front. You can place the roof panel on but don’t stick it down.
To make the ladder simply pipe (with your number 2 nozel) thin lines of icing onto the ladder strips and then stick down into their places on your ladder strip. Keep one aside and once the icing is set turn the ladder over and stick this final strip at the top (as you can see in the middle picture above). This is so you can “hook” your ladder to the inside of the door.
At any point during the make you can get on with the corregated roof and the chicks. To make the corregated roof roll out a square of blue sugarpaste just a little bigger than the roof panel. Create the rise and fall with whatever you feel fits. I used muji pens and a pencil, my knitting needle was too thin and I only had one spare and you’ll need to leave these in until the sugarpaste hardens. Once it has, glue your corregated iron to the roof panel with either icing or warmed apricot jam.
The chicks were made out of marzipan. I made five of them sat in front of a movie the night before leaving one for Milo and his dad to make while I was constructing the coop.
They made three chicks in the end. One, sadly, did not make it. Not eaten by a fox but by a Milo.
I wanted to achieve the slightly startled look in Jez’s illustrations but I think they look a bit more Pingu than I was aiming for!
I added a few flowers to cover up some blobby icing on the front of the coop, then Milo crumpled up some shredded wheat for the nest. We also added a few Mini eggs in there too.
And then it was finished.
We played and then we ate it!
And oh, the fun it was to make!
Milo’s verdict: “I like eating chicken coops. Can I have another chicken please. They’re all mine aren’t they? Where’s Mother Hen?” I did not make a Mother Hen. Good grief.