A book that fosters a love of Shakespeare, explores political issues and family dynamics, sympathizes with the common struggles of pre-teens, and extols the joys of cream puffs? No wonder kids love it.
The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt won the Newberry Award in 2008. It's been on my TBR list for quite a while, but when my son's class was reading it aloud, I quickly moved it to the top of the stack.
I have to admit, it took me a while to get into it - like, 150 pages. I usually would give up on a book before that, but I'm really glad I stuck with it! The story is told from the perspective of middle-schooler Holling Hoodhood. He's convinced his teacher hates him, which is affirmed when she turns his Wednesday afternoons (when the other students are at Hebrew or Catholic school) into work periods - banging erasers and cleaning the coat room. Within a short period, his teacher challenges him by requiring him to read several Shakespeare plays, which they discuss at length.
For months, he's sure she hates him. When spring comes, events at home, at school, and in the world (Vietnam war-era) collide to create serious stress in Holling's life. His teacher's wisdom and concern for him help him to see life in new ways, coping with those stressors in healthy and meaningful ways.
Because of the slow beginning, I recommend this book for mature independent readers (12+) or as a family read-aloud. I've had several excellent conversations with my son as we each read the book independently. It raised issues of family dynamics, integrity, and dealing with disappointment.
Throughout the book, deep golden-brown cream puffs make so many appearances that they become symbolic. You simply can't read the book without enjoying a cream puff. Just make sure it's topped with powdered sugar, not chalk dust!
Here's the recipe I used. It's a multi-step process, but nothing about it is difficult. If you don't have a piping bag, it works fine to use a tablespoon both for the shells and filling.
Ingredients for Pastry:
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. milk
1 cube butter
1 t. granulated sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 c. all-purpose flour, measured carefully
4 eggs, room temperature
Ingredients for Cream Filling and Garnish:
1 c. milk
1 small package instant vanilla pudding (3 oz.)
2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
1/4 c. powdered sugar, plus more to garnish
1 t. vanilla extract
To make Cream Puffs:
Preheat oven to 425˚F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a Medium saucepan, combine water, milk, butter, sugar and salt. Bring just to a boil over medium heat, then remove from heat and stir in flour all at once with a wooden spoon.
Once flour is incorporated, place back over medium heat, stirring constantly for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes to release extra moisture and partially cook flour. A thin film will form on the bottom of the pan and dough will come together into a smooth ball.
Transfer dough to a large mixing bowl and beat using an electric mixer on medium speed for 1 minute to cool slightly. Add 4 eggs, 1 at a time, allowing to fully incorporate between additions. Beat another minute until dough is smooth and forms a thick ribbon when pulled up.
Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a 1/2" round tip. Pipe 28 puffs, each 1 1/2” diameter and 1/2” tall rounds. Keep them 1" apart on baking sheet.
Bake at 425˚F for 10 minutes in the center of the oven. Without opening oven, reduce temp to 325˚F and, bake 20-22 min longer or until deep golden brown on top. Do not underbake! Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
To make Cream Filling:
Whisk pudding with 1 c. milk. Allow to chill 30 minutes or more.
In a large mixing bowl, combine heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Beat on high speed until fluffy with stiff peaks.
Gently whip the pudding mixture, then fold it into the whipped cream. Transfer to a large piping bag fitted with a large open star tip.
Once cream puffs are completely cooled, cut off tops of puffs and pipe cream inside using a pastry bag, then cover with the tops. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.