The Book CookThe French Did It Better, The French Did It ‘Babar’Ellen Clifford

Chocolate on Chocolate

Laurent de Brunhoff’s Babar Learns to Cook reminds of why I am a Francophile. The Babar books were originally published in French, and Babar is King of Elephants. He lives with his wife, Queen Celeste, his children Flora, Alexander and Pom, plus their cousin Arthur. And then there is the Old Lady. She is the only human hanging with them and always has a polite, close-lipped smile. She’s pretty chill.

I nabbed a stack of old children’s books from my parents’ house when I was back home for the holidays. I’d completely forgotten I grew up with Babar. Between him, Clifford the Big Red Dog (and yes, this is how I remind people what my last name is) and the Berenstein Bears, it’s no wonder I was an animal lover who couldn’t help but become vegetarian. Anthropomorphized animals abounded in my childhood.

Babar Learns to Cook was published in 1978. It confirms my suspicions that the French are hoarding all the coolness that doesn’t get to us over in the United States until years later. Need proof?

Exhibit A:

This story begins with Babar and the fam watching television, where they spy “Truffles, the most famous chef in Celesteville” teaching cooking. See? They knew chefs were celebrities long before Top Chef. Being king, Babar rings up Chef Truffles for a private lesson.

Exhibit B:

These elephants are très chic. Check out Chef Truffles:

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I mean, come on. I just love the skinny striped pants. Well, as skinny as elephants go anyway. And then the plaid coat and hat-can we say hip?

There is the Queen and her muumuu:

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Okay, muumuus have yet to have their day but I’m hopeful.

Exhibit C:

They were juicing even track then. When the chef finishes his cooking lesson (he makes stuffed mushrooms), he takes off his chef’s hat and goes to take a little nap. The kid elephants steal his hat and sneak into the kitchen to play chef. While Cousin Arthur makes chocolate sauce, the others chop cucumbers, some of which they turn into soup, the others they turn into juice. Forward thinking, right there.

And that is enough exhibits, because I said chocolate. Cousin Arthur’s sauce is what wins Chef Truffles over and makes him forgive the children when he wakes up and discovers his chef’s hat stained with cucumber. Cousin Arthur is quite the little cooking prodigy. Earlier on, during the cooking lesson, he offers to add more butter to Chef Truffles’ recipe. Anyone who adds more butter is a winner in my book.

Chef Truffles is so into the sauce that he makes a chocolate cake to put it on. So I made y’all a cake and a sauce. Happy Valentine’s Day to you! In honor of the children elephants I made recipes from my childhood. They were super-duper easy to make when I was little, but so tasty that I still make them now. If you’ve not had any chocolate for Valentine’s Day yet, you probably have everything you’ll need for these already in your kitchen.

The chocolate sauce is my father’s. He always kept a jar of it in the fridge. This is the second time I have plied you with one of my father’s recipes. The first time was with my papa’s pancakes. This sauce recipe takes very little time and would be hard to screw up. Yes, I realize it has corn syrup in it, but at least it is not high fructose corn syrup-did you know there’s a difference? Also, it still beats store-bought chocolate sauce by about a million because it is not all doctored up with preservatives and additives and any other harmful -tives you could dream up.

The cake has a similar list of ingredients to the sauce, but no corn syrup. It is one of those gems you find in an old community cookbook. In this case it is an old church cookbook. It is quite quaint. It refers to margarine as oleo. Don’t worry, I used butter. It calls this a cake yet it is baked in a pie pan, and comes out rather brownie-like. Whatever it is, throw on some sauce and you are good to go. Oh, and ice cream is a wise, wise addition. Those French elephants didn’t add it, but perhaps they weren’t as forward thinking as we thought.

Child’s Play Fudge Cake With Chocolate Sauce adapted from Favorite Recipes compiled by the members of Grace United Methodist and my dad

Fudge Cake

  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten together
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter or spray with nonstick spray a pie pan. Beat the butter and sugar together until nice and fluffy. Add everything else and beat until well-blended. Spread into the pie pan. Bake approximately 20 minutes, until you can stick a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean. Don’t over bake! You’ll lose the fudgey factor.

Chocolate Sauce

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tb. corn syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract (or mix it up with almond extract or peppermint extract for a different flavor)

Mix sugar, corn syrup, water, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium saucepan over low heat until well-combined. Bring to a boil. Stir and boil for three minutes-do not walk away or it will boil over! Take off heat and stir in vanilla. Allow to cool a bit, then store in fridge. An empty jam jar is perfect for storing this. It will keep for quite a while. It will get thicker, and may need a bit of stirring each time you open up the jar.

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