"Put your bracelets on and follow me into the kitchen."
The girls did so. They sat at the table while I took three ice-cream sandwiches out of the freezer.
Mallory and the Trouble with Twins, Ann M. Martin
I did a lot of babysitting as a teenager. It was something I'd spent most of childhood impatiently waiting to be old enough to do; I spent countless Saturdays reading about the adventures of Kristy, Mary-Anne, Claudia, Stacey, Dawn, Mallory, and Jessi in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, and had grand plans for a setting up a similar babysitting empire in Brisbane.
Eventually, I grew up to be just the sort of responsible, goody-two-shoes, eager-to-please fifteen year old you'd want looking after your children. I loved reading stories aloud, and playing football in the back garden, and building villages out of Lego. And once the kids were asleep, I'd curl up on the sofa, and watch a video. I could never truly believe that I was being paid to watch television; my waitressing job meant hours on my feet, furious customers who'd waited an hour for a curry, and the Friday night rush where I'd barely stop for breath. My babysitting empire never took off, but my years of looking after children had a big impact - I've spent a great deal of my professional life working with young people and children.
I haven't read a Baby-Sitters Club book in years, but the food had always made an impact: 'smores around campfires, sloppy joes, loads of sweets, and ice-cream sandwiches. The Baby-Sitters Club (alongside Goosebumps) was my gateway into suburban America, a place that sounded impossibly brilliant to a bookish nine-year-old in Australia. I loved reading about the girls' trips to the snow, summer camps, and visits to Disneyland, but I was also completely invested in their fiercely loyal friendship, and thought Claudia was perhaps the coolest person I'd ever come across.
I also remember the books showing me families that looked like mine. Having divorced parents was still relatively unusual in our small Catholic community; I was the first girl at my secondary school to request four tickets for my graduation, so that all my parents could come along. In Stoneybrook, it was normal - something the girls supported each other through. These books did what all good stories tend to do: made me feel less alone.
I hadn't really thought about them in years (though I loved them, they haven't stayed with me in the way that The Secret Garden, or Potter a year or two later did), but in my last week as a nanny, back in August, I was making plans for my final day hanging out with the kids. I was feeling nostalgic, and they came rushing back. So we made these. The chocolate biscuits here are adapted from Deb Perelman's, my absolute favourites, and ones my old nannying charges love too.
A little post-script here: if you haven't yet heard, I've written a book. It's been out for a week, and I'd love to know what you think of it. It's full of recipes from my favourite novels, and stories about my life, my family, and my time in England. You can buy a copy here, or in your local bookshop.
Makes 6 sandwiches
110g unsalted butter
220g light brown sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
220g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
Pinch table salt
220g dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
Generous pinch flaky sea salt
100g milk chocolate
1l vanilla ice-cream
Stand mixer or hand whisk and mixing bowl
1. Beat the butter until soft, then add the sugar. Continue beating until light and creamy. Add the egg, and the vanilla, and beat until combined.
2. Fold the flour, baking powder, and table salt into the butter mix. Fold in the chopped chocolate.
3. The batter will be quite sticky. Split it into twelve pieces, and roll into balls. Place on the freezer-proof plate, ensuring the balls aren't touching each other, and place in the freezer for at least four hours, or overnight.
4. Preheat the oven to 180C and transfer the frozen biscuit dough onto lined baking trays, giving them space to spread. Place in the oven for 14 minutes, until puffed and risen. Sprinkle with salt as soon as they come out of the oven. Cool on the tray for ten minutes, and then on a wire rack. The biscuits will collapse and harden as they cool, but remain chewy in the middle.
5. Once the biscuits are cool, melt the milk chocolate in a microwave (giving it short, 15 second blasts), or over a pan of simmering water. Dip six of the biscuits into the chocolate, and allow to cool.
6. Take the ice-cream out of the freezer and allow to soften for a couple of minutes. Spoon some onto the base of a biscuit without chocolate, and set a second chocolate-dipped biscuit on top. Eat immediately.