Ever since we went to How to Train Your Dragon 2 at the drive-in movie theater (just barely squeaked that summer wish list item in on Labor Day weekend! By the way we were 11.5/14 on that wish list – not bad but a far cry from my pledge of TOTAL SUMMER WISH LIST DOMINATION. Next year, baseball, camping and preserving!) As I was saying, ever since we saw HTTYD2 it has been All Dragon All the Time over here. My son especially goes really full-on with his passions, and in the past 4 years I’ve learned more about steam locomotives, creatures of the deep sea, evolution, and outer space than I ever knew in my previous 30-cough cough years on the planet. And so it is with dragons. Budding naturalist that he is, the classification system of the dragons in the HTTYD universe really appealed to him, and I’ve even heard my three-year old tell us that “Deadly Nadder isn’t his name, it’s his species.” Of course, being recovering dinosaur addicts, they enjoy all the stomping, roaring, and giant reptilian destruction as well. We’ve read the first two books in the HTTYD series by Cressida Cowell, which the movies were very loosely based on, and with 11 books and counting in the series, I think it’s fair to say there’s no end in sight to the dragon mania.
As a onetime Waldorf preschool parent, I especially think of dragons at this time of year, with the Michaelmas holiday that Waldorf schools traditionally celebrate at the end of September. So when a dark, rainy day spoiled our plans to go hiking and apple-picking, I decided to declare it Dragon Day and have an indoor adventure instead.
We started out by reading the story of Saint George and the Dragon, a retelling by Margaret Hodges with pictures by probably my all time favorite children’s book illustrator, Trina Schart Hyman. As an early subscriber of Cricket Magazine, of which she was the art editor and frequent contributor of illustrations, her pictures shaped so many of the stories of my childhood and I loved to pore over the beautiful and rich detail of her Cricket covers.
The Saint George story is pretty weak in terms of female characters, but hopefully that’s mitigated by the awesome library book we read last week, another Trina Schart Hyman beauty called “The Serpent Slayer: and Other Stories of Strong Women.” It’s a collection of folk tales from different cultures, that all happen to feature female protagonists. Not all the stories have dragons, but a bunch of them do, and they all have kickass heroines.
The Saint George story, however does have an awesome dragon and some good blood and gore in the story for those of you who go in for that. (The cover features blood spurting out of the dragon’s severed tail, which I was like, ewww, but my children apparently found deeply entertaining.)
After the book, it was time to make some dragon bread. One of my very favorite things to do with kids is when you can tell a story that goes along with an activity you’re doing, so I was so excited when I found this dragon bread story and recipe on Cypress Space. I made some adaptations to the recipe, and as it turned out, to the story as well. My version was a far cry from the original, which comes from the lovely book All Year Round, but this secular, angel-free retelling was the perfect dragon story for our family. When it comes to storytelling with children, it’s my experience that the best way to capture their attention and imagination is to adapt your story to the needs and interests of the particular children you’re telling it to, being flexible enough to improvise along the way if you need to. And regardless of your feelings about dragons, angels, or Waldorf woo woo, this bread is indisputably super delish. So if you just want some fabulous, slightly sweet, wholesome bread that’s great with a cup of tea, scroll down to the bottom for the recipe. But if you want a dragony story to tell as you make your dough, read on.
This story begins in a small but beautiful village in a valley surrounded by lovely forests, hills, mountains and rivers. [We used mixing spoons to shape the flour into the hills, valleys, mountains, and riverbeds.] The people worked very hard tending their farms and caring for their families and each other, but they were happy.
But one day, an angry dragon flew down and breathed fire upon the land, boiling the rivers up until they flooded the valley. [We poured in a foamy mixture of warm milk, yeast, sugar, and melted butter.] The heat from the dragon’s fire scorched the land and made it barren. [We stirred the flour and milk together until they created a sticky dough.] The smoke from his breath cast darkness over the land. [We sprinkled brown sugar down onto the dough]. And without the sun to warm them, the clouds froze and rained ice down upon the village. [We sprinkled the salt over the dough.] The villagers were so cold and scared and sad that they hid inside, unable to work or play outside, and worried if they could survive in this dark, desolate land.
In the traditional Waldorf telling of this story, it is at this point that the Archangel Michael (or, the knight Michael, depending on how secular the storyteller is attempting to make it) comes and gives cheer to the villagers and encourages them to be brave and work together to defeat the dragon. Just as I was about to get to that part, my daughter piped up said “They just need to train that dragon.” In the movie version of How to Train Your Dragon (unlike in the book), the vikings are so terrorized by the dragons that they strive to kill any dragon on sight, until Hiccup, the young hero, teaches them they can tame the dragons with nothing more than kindness and understanding. This is an especially powerful message to children who themselves struggle with aggressive impulses when they’re feeling threatened or ill at ease. So at that moment I realized that instead of telling these dragon-loving kids yet another story about slaying a dragon, I should give the dragon a chance to redeem himself. So our story continued like this:
From his home in the cliffs above the village, the dragon looked down upon the land and the unhappy people, and his heart was filled with remorse. He felt such compassion for the poor frightened villagers that with his next breath, he sent golden sparks down into their skies. The sparks turned into a thousand stars, and the people marveled at the magical light in the dark night. [We scattered golden raisins over the dough.]
With another breath, he gently blew away all the smoke and icy clouds so the sun could shine down upon the land once again. [We dropped in the egg yolk and mixed it and the raisins into the dough.] The people were warmed by the sun and began to venture out of their houses to begin repairing and restoring their farms. The dragon came down and brought them new seeds to plant. [We scattered the pumpkin seeds over the dough.] He told them how sorry he was for what he had done. The warmth of his words softened the icy cold ground and the plants soon grew into tall wheat fields. [We mixed the seeds into the dough with our hands.]
When the crop was ready to harvest, the dragon helped the villagers thresh the wheat and grind it into flour. They mixed the flour into dough and the dragon baked the dough with his fiery breath until there was enough bread for all the villagers to share. They gave the biggest slice to the dragon, and their generosity and friendship warmed his heart. From that day on, the dragon was a friend to all the people in the land, giving them courage to face even the biggest of challenges.
And with that, we placed a cloth over the bowl of dough and set it to rise.
While we waited for the dough to be ready, we made some dragon paintings with crayons and watercolors.
When the dough had risen, we turned it out onto a board and began to shape it into a dragon. I followed a method of shaping that I learned from a post on Waldorf (Inspired) Moms. By the way I pre-emptively apologize for the unattractive photos in this post – it was such a dark dreary day that it was a difficult lighting situation for photography. But a dark dreary day is pretty much the perfect day to stay indoors baking bread and telling stories.
So basically, you chop off about 1/3 of your dough and divide that piece into a chunk for the head, four short legs, and a long skinny log to make the dragon’s crest and spines. The remaining 2/3 piece gets stretched and rolled to a point at one end to create its body and tail.
It’s easiest to assemble the dragon on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, so you can just slip this bad boy into the oven when you’re finished. Once you’ve got the head and body shaped and attached, lay the crest/spine piece along them and add some almond slivers or other flattish nuts or seeds for his teeth
We used prunes for his eyes and sliced almonds for his scales. Attach the four leg pieces and use a knife to divide each foot into three toes, which can then be embellished with seed or nut claws. Brush some egg white wash over the whole beast and snip along the crest/spine piece at 1-inch intervals to create the spikes. Bake until toasty and golden brown.
Our dragon turned out more like a Gila monster than a Monstrous nightmare, but he’s still cute and terrifying in his own pastry reptile way.
And most importantly, he’s totaly scrumptious, especially when spread with honey butter and served with a mug of hot apple cider.
Here’s the full recipe for our dragon bread, even more fun when baked with a story. Feel free to adapt mine as you wish or make up your own!
Rainy Day Dragon Bread
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 ½ cups warm milk
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup golden raisins
1 egg, separated
¼ cup of pumpkin seeds
¼ cup of sliced almonds
1) Add 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar and the yeast to the warm milk. Stir and set aside.
2) Stir together the flour, creating a valley in the center.
3) When the milk/yeast/sugar mixture has bloomed and you see a foamy top, add the melted butter to it, stir, and pour into the valley in the flour bowl.
4) Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar, the salt, the raisins, the egg yolk, and the pumpkin seeds over the dough and mix well.
5) Cover with a dishcloth and let rise for one hour.
6) Preheat the oven to 375.
7) Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Cut off about 2/3 of it and shape it into the body and tail of the dragon.
8) Divide the remaining piece into a head, four small legs, and a long, skinny piece the slightly longer than the body and tail, which will become the dragon’s crest/spines.
9) Place the body and tail piece on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Shape the head and attach it to the body, adding the prunes for eyes and almond slices for teeth.
10) Lay the long skinny piece along the head and back of the dragon. Attach the legs and use a knife to cut each one into three toes. Stick pumpkin seeds or almond slices on for claws.
11) Add almond slices along the back for scales.
12) With a pair of kitchen scissors, snip the crest piece at 1-inch intervals all the way down to the tail.
13) Mix the egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and brush over the entire dragon.
14) Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.
May every slice bring you warmth, strength, and courage! Huzzah! Dragons!