Cranberry, White Chocolate and Coconut Magic Bars. 

I’d had a manic few days at work so to come into the kitchen and bake was a great tonic for me.  I feel guilty every time I bake at the moment though.  I shouldn’t be doing it as eating the sugary stuff is not good for my health. But at the same time I love the process of making it. Why does baking always feel so much more exciting to me than cooking a casserole or a roast dinner?

It was a cold, damp and foggy Thursday morning last week and I was very tired.  I’d taken my son to the bus stop three miles away and gone out and walked the dog.  My warm, cosy and inviting kitchen beckoned. As I was walking across the muddy field with my dog, all I could think about was getting back home and into my kitchen.  I was thinking about some ingredients I had in the cupboard left over from Christmas. These included two bars of white chocolate and some dried cranberries.  It was a miracle that the chocolate hadn’t been nicked by the kids but then one of them is away at uni! My son has been trying to eat sensibly too.

Looking through one of my favourite cookbooks The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days, I found the perfect recipe on page 49 for Cranberry Magic Bars.  There wasn’t a picture to accompany the recipe so I had to guess what they might look like. From looking at the ingredient list it said what I needed for the base and for the topping. So that meant it was baked in two parts. Nothing explaining it in the recipe introduction either.  I had to go on my own instincts here and worked out that the bars were made up of a shortbread type base and topped with a condensed milk, chocolate, dessicated coconut and dried  fruit concoction. Sounded scrumptious to me.

Luckily I had a tin of condensed milk in my baking stash from Christmas. Bought with the intent of using it to make fudge with, it never got used.  I also needed white chocolate, cranberries and pecans.  I didn’t have any pecans. The only nuts I had left was some flaked almonds so I put those in the recipe instead of the pecans.

I lined and greased my well loved Alan Silverwood Traybake pan and then put the made up base into the bottom of it.  This was quite a challenge.  The base had to be extremely thin and I ended up pressing it down with the back of a spoon to make it even.  It only just covered the bottom of the tin.  Into the oven it went at 150oC (fan oven) for about 15-20 minutes. I wanted the base to be a gentle golden brown.

While the base was being baked I made the topping.  This was simple enough. The condensed milk, white chocolate, cranberries, desiccated coconut and the nuts were mixed together.  I used a whole 100g bar of white chocolate chopped up instead of a bag of  white chocolate chips. I had two bars but I thought I’d save the other one for another time. The mixture was spread onto the base and back into the oven it went for about 20 minutes.

Being as I wasn’t sure what the bars were meant to look like, it was confusing. When they came out of the oven they looked a bit boring. So, to make them more enticing to eat I melted my other bar of white chocolate and piped on a lattice pattern onto the cooled bars. They smelled absolutely gorgeous and I was tempted to grab at one and eat it there and then.

img_1404img_1405

I will definitely be making these again.  I usually have a stall at my village’s Open Gardens event every May selling my cookies and cupcakes so these might end up on the stall. You never know!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Hilton Doubletree Cookies

img_1354
My version of Hilton Doubletree Cookies. Soft and chewy and deliciously moreish.

A couple of weeks ago I was in one of those I want to bake moods.  This happens quite a lot as baking takes my mind off everyday worries and is pure escapism from my busy job.  When I have times like these I love to bake cookies. They are quick and simple to make and taste fab too. Not that I’m allowed at the moment. I’m doing Slimming World and I can’t even begin to think about how many Syns are in some of my baking creations.

I was in one of those moods where I wanted to try out something new so I went online and came across these stunners.  Hilton Doubletree Cookies.  Now, if you have ever stayed in a Hilton Doubletree Hotel they give you a fresh and warm cookie when you check in.  I stayed at one in London near Tower Bridge about five years ago with my family and my son for one thought this was amazing to get a cookie.  We had set off early down to London from Yorkshire and were just checking in late in the morning so the cookie staved off the hunger pangs until we could stop for lunch later.

From what I remember of my Hilton Doubletree Cookie, it was soft and chewy inside, just how I like a cookie.  So when I saw the recipe online, I wrote it down and attempted to have a go at making some.  The recipe was in American measurements so I got out my set of baking cups.  I’m always nervous of adapting American recipes as I’m worried they won’t be as accurate because I’m not used to them.  Especially as this recipe called for a cup of butter.  I had to scoop up the butter and put it into the cup which was quite messy.  Usually when I bake cookies you just weigh out the butter!

The cookies also asked for chopped walnuts in the mixture. I added pecans to mine as I didn’t have any walnuts in at home. Of course due to nut allergies, etc. you can omit the nuts.  I used chopped chocolate chunks as well.

It was torture not being able to eat a cookie. Why do I do this to myself? I don’t like cooking Slimming World friendly cookies.  The one time I did this I was not impressed at having to use artificial sweetener and low fat spread in my baking. All those chemicals and the bake felt wrong. So it’s better to abstain and give the baking to someone else who can indulge. And this is exactly what happened here…. until the following day when I’d been so busy I’d not had time for lunch and got home from work. Who wanted a banana or an apple then? Oh no, not me! I ate one and very gorgeous it was too. Now a few months back I would have eaten another and another but guilt stopped me. So I stuck at one!

Now if you want to try baking the DoubleTree Hilton Cookies yourself,  then this is where I found the recipe. Head over to  fabulous The Little Kitchen blog and you will find it there:

http://www.thelittlekitchen.net/doubletree-hotel-copycat-chocolate-chip-cookies-recipe/

img_1355
With the addition of chocolate chunks and pecan nuts, these cookies are heaven on a plate.
img_1356
These cookies didn’t last long in our house.

 

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

 

Dust Off The Old Cookbooks- Coffee Cake. 

img_1369

As my regular SmartCookieSam readers will know, I’m a member of the internationally renowned Clandestine Cake Club. Although there are plenty of events held all over the world and some very local to me in North Yorkshire, there are also virtual or VCake events for those who can’t get to an event.  Or you can join them if you want an excuse to bake!

At the end of January, Lynn Hill the founder of the Clandestine Cake Club held a virtual event where you were invited to “dust off your old cookbooks” and bake something from a recipe book you had not used for a while.

I have loads of recipe books like that and my family are sick of all the books I have all over the house.  Some are more used than others and Lynn’s event gave me the perfect excuse to search through my stash and bake something.  When my Nana Mary (my Mum’s mum) died I inherited her cookbooks.  Nana and I were so alike in lots of ways, we both loved cooking and baking, knitting and sewing and also reading books.  Sadly Nana died in 1994, just after I’d sat my teaching degree finals.  She used to collect recipes from everywhere and wrote them down from TV cookery programmes or from the radio as well as cutting recipes out of magazines.

One of Nana’s baking books was a Sainsbury’s one.  It dates from the late 1980’s and I loved looking through the recipes in it.  As I decided what to bake I came across a mouthwatering recipe for a coffee sponge. I never remember Nana baking a coffee sponge, she tended to make fruit cakes and I do remember her lemon drizzle cake.

Mr SmartCookieSam’s birthday is at the end of January so it was a perfect opportunity to bake the coffee cake for then. My husband doesn’t have a sweet tooth but he loves coffee cake.  I had a couple of goodies to make this cake even extra special: some Sugar and Crumbs Coffee flavour Natural icing sugar, some cocoa covered coffee beans bought in Costa coffee and some glittery gold and silver star candles thrown in the trolley when I was shopping in Tesco.

img_1366
My Nana Mary’s old cookery book with some special extras to turn the coffee sponge into a Birthday Cake for Mr SmartCookieSam.   

The coffee sponge was made using the whisking method.  I whisked eggs and sugar together until they became light and fluffy. Then in went some flour and baking powder, followed by a spoonful of vegetable oil and some semi skimmed milk. Also added to the mixture to give it a coffee flavour was a teaspoonful of Monin Tiramisu sugar syrup.

The cake baked for about 20-25 minutes and rose beautifully in the oven.  It smelled delicious.  When it was cooling I made up the coffee buttercream.  I also crushed up some pecan nuts to go in the middle of the cake and to sprinkle on the top of it.

img_1368

The cake was layered together with the coffee buttercream and sprinkled with chopped pecan nuts in the middle and on the top of the cake. I used a packet of cocoa covered coffee beans to decorate the top as well.

img_1369

We had a slice of birthday cake and it was delicious. What a treat to celebrate Mr SmartCookieSam’s birthday and he really enjoyed it.

img_1371

img_1370
Ooops! Back on the diet tomorrow!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Chocolate Chequerboard Cake.

img_1310Well, I can’t believe I started the New Year with good intentions.  I thought this year I would get myself back on track with my blog and update it more regularly.  All very well until I went back to work.  In the supply teaching world the Spring term is often the busiest for me. Each night I think I’m going to get that blog post written and it has just stayed in draft form for yet another night.  And now we’re nearly halfway through February. How did that happen?

Last month I didn’t bake much at all.  I’m trying my hardest not to have sweet stuff in at home as I’m doing Slimming World.  With 16lbs lost to date and another 16lbs to my target weight, I don’t want to undo all my hard work. Then again I’ve got to live, too.  That includes meeting up with my friends and also going to my much loved Clandestine Cake Club events.  About three weeks ago my friend Linda, who is the organiser for the Headingley and Meanwood branch of cake club, organised an event at East of Arcadia in Meanwood.  A lovely, welcoming venue and the event’s theme was “New Year, New Cake”.

I thought January is the perfect opportunity to try out something new, whether it is a new flavour, a new recipe or even a new way of decorating a cake. Fot me it had to be a new recipe combined with decorating a cake.  For once I was going to bake something that wasn’t a bundt but would still look and taste amazing.  While looking through a Green and Blacks Organic chocolate recipe book which my sister in law gave me one Christmas, I stumbled upon the perfect cake. A chocolate chequerboard cake which looked really impressive.

 

Chequerboard cakes don’t look as complicated and as fiddly as you might think.  I thought you needed a special tin or fancy cutting skills but it can all be done with a large plain piping nozzle and two large piping bags. One filled with chocolate cake mix, the other with vanilla.  You pipe concentric circles in contrasting colours by alternating them on each layer. This is so when the cake is assembled the contrasting colour and flavour is directly on top of the other one. Looks very effective when finished and if the cake is completely covered in icing nobody can tell what it looks like inside!

The Green and Blacks Chocolate Recipe Book which my sister in law gave me a couple of years back.  

It was a Monday morning, the day before the cake club.  I hadn’t got any supply work booked in until later that week and was feeling like January had got off to a slow and boring start.  The weather was foul and miserable with a damp, low fog that hung in the air.  I didn’t want to go out so the warmth of the kitchen appealed to me.  I thought as the phone hadn’t rung, I was safe.  I greased the three sandwich  tins I would need for my cake and began to get out the ingredients.  Just as I reached into the cupboard to get out my scales my phone rings. It’s one of the agencies I work through offering me work for that afternoon.  I say yes, quickly put everything away and go off to get showered and changed.

So my cake ended up being baked on the very same day of the cake club.  Fast forward to Tuesday morning.  The weather is still cold, wet and lousy but after walking the dog and dropping my son off at the bus stop I was ready to try again. As my photos show, there were a lot of interesting parts in making the cake but it was worth it for the impressive results.

img_1296
The cake needed a sugar soaking syrup to add to the cake when it was baked. So the first step was to make up the syrup using caster sugar and water.  This was then flavoured with a tiny bit of rum!
Two separate cake mixes were made up to make the chequerboard cake.  The chocolate one was flavoured with Green and Blacks Organic cocoa powder and the plain one with vanilla extract.
A bit of a messy job but made much easier with Lakeland’s Get A Grip Piping bags and their large piping nozzles which I swear by.  To help fill the bags I steadied the bags in a glass jug and this also kept them upright.
I started off by piping a chocolate ring round the edge of two of the cake tins and a vanilla ring around the edge of another one.  Doesn’t look very appealing at the moment, does it?
The piping is all finished in each cake tin and ready to bake.  I’m not the neatest at piping skills but it’s not the Great British Bake Off!
The layer with the vanilla ring round the edge was going to be the middle layer of the cake.
img_1304
All ready and waiting to come out of the tin.  When you have baked a cake like this for the first time, you never know what to expect.
img_1305
While the cakes were still warm I brushed the rum sugar syrup onto the top of the cakes. It soaked through but thankfully didn’t make the cakes soggy!
img_1306
Each tier was assembled with a generous layer of apricot jam.
img_1307
The middle layer goes on top of the bottom one…
img_1308
And now for the top layer.

In the Green and Blacks recipe book the cake was decorated with a simple Green and Blacks dark chocolate ganache and finished with chocolate curls and pieces of Green and Blacks chocolate.  This to me needed me to do something else which was a bit more fun.  I’d got some chocolate moulds I’d not used before as well as a packet of crispy M&M’s and a tub of mini chocolate jazzies.  I poured melted chocolate into a mini chocolate bar mould and then into a dog mould.  They didn’t come out in a perfect finish but then I’m no chocolatier. Once they were set and I’d got them out of the mould I started to make the chocolate ganache.  This ended up being flavoured with another spoonful of rum.  Luckily for me today the ganache was playing the game that day and let me spread it on the cake without it dripping all over the board and the wire rack underneath.

img_1310
It was hard to get a smooth finish on the side of the cake with the ganache but at least it tasted ok.
img_1311
My chequerboard cake as decorated from the top.  I didn’t have a plan of how I wanted it to look, I just threw everything on and hoped it looked ok.
img_1322
At Headingley and Meanwood Cake Club. Having a giggle with Amy over the cake and her trying to cut a piece of it. She said “That’s my piece!” and pretended to take the whole lot!
img_1325
I brought the last slice home for Mr SmartCookieSam and my teenage son to share.

I was so delighted when the cake turned out well and that it nearly all got eaten at Cake Club. That makes me feel really happy.  I’ll definitely be having a go at another chequerboard cake as it looked and tasted divine.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Christmas Cross Stitch Project 2016- “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

My special Christmas project for 2016, a sampler designed by Nia Cross Stitch,
My special Christmas project for 2016, a sampler designed by Nia Cross Stitch.

Along with baking and cooking, cross stitch is another great hobby.  I love to sit down on an evening and stitch, especially on a cold winter’s evening with the fire on and something decent to watch on the TV. I can’t just sit down with empty hands, I have to be busy doing something.  Cross stitch helped me relax in my down time doing exams,  during school holidays as a teacher and also throughout my two pregnancies.

Christmas is always a special time for showing off your cross stitch projects and over the years I’ve made a few decorations.  Each year I try to do something new but as work gets busier it ends up that the project doesn’t get finished til after Christmas. Last year I stitched a nativity scene which was so detailed it took me til well into January.  I still haven’t stitched the gold star sequins on it either.  This year was no exception, except I managed to finish my Christmas project on New Years’ Day! Well at least I’m organised for this Christmas!

Back in November I was looking on Amazon and came across a gorgeous wall hanging kit.  It was from a range by Nia Cross Stitch, a Welsh designer who produces beautiful, high quality kits in both Welsh and English.  I have stitched a few of Nia’s designs before: two wedding samplers, a Pearl anniversary sampler, an 18th birthday sampler and finally a teacher themed one last summer.  I love Nia’s quirky lettering, the vibrant colours she uses in her thread palette and also the cheerful motifs on her samplers.  This “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” sampler was no exception and I just had to order it.  Though it took me a couple of weeks to get round to starting it as I was in the middle of another project at the time.

Fast forward to 8th December and I finally got to start on the project.

Starting at the centre  with the “s” and “t” of  Christmas and one of the two candy canes in the design.

Not much stitching gor done in the next few days.

It’s Christmas Day and it’s nowhere near ready! At least I have time to finish it over the Christmas holidays.
My sister in law’s gorgeous dog wanted me to stop stitching and play ball with him!
Slowly but surely the design begins to appear on the canvas.  I’m really enjoying the various threads apart from the standard DMC stranded cotton.  I get to use gold Marlitt and a bluey white Light effect thread to stitch the snowflakes and the outline around the snowman, Santa’s hat and around the icing on the Christmas pudding!

fullsizerender-3

fullsizerender-2Finally after lots of time spent glued to the sofa over the Christmas holidays I finally got my sampler finished on New Year’s Day in the afternoon.  The air was blue trying to thread my beading needle to add the red and white seed beads to the sampler. I just couldn’t thread it so I gave up and did very messy French knots instead.  Now a couple of days later as I type I’m thinking of what I could do with the sampler. I think I’ll make it into a wall hanging once I find the perfect backing fabric.

Happy Stitching.

Love Sam xx

Christmas Leftovers- Mincemeat Loaf Cake.

I know it’s New Year now but I can’t bear throwing things out or wasting things.  As I’ve been doing Slimming World up to Christmas and hoping to start back at my local group on 4th January, I can’t really be baking things or eating leftover cake and mince pies.

But what to do with the two spare jars of homemade mincemeat which were sat taking up space in my cupboard? Mr SmartCookieSam said it would last until next Christmas but I’m not always so sure.  So I had a look through my recipe books and spotted an ideal way of using up a whole jar of mincemeat without taking too much time and effort up.

This Mincemeat Loaf Cake recipe comes from Mary Berry’s Christmas Collection. The recipe actually makes two small loaves.

As Mary says in the recipe notes: ” These are great to have on hand at Christmas time. They freeze superbly and make a nice present…. the mincemeat adds spice and moisture to the cakes,”

img_2029


The idea that the cakes freeze well was a real winner for me.  I don’t want to be eating cakes right now but there is room in my freezer to put the loaves away and bring out for another time.  They’re always useful if one of my friends pops round for a cuppa or for taking into work to share with colleagues.

The recipe was simple to make.  I mixed mincemeat, softened butter, light muscovado sugar, 2 beaten eggs, self raising flour, currants and raisins together in a large mixing bowl.  To this I also added an extra teaspoonful of ground mixed spice. This was all mixed together and put into two loaf tins lined with special loaf tin liners.

 To finish off I needed to stud whole almonds into the top of the loaves.  I realised I didn’t have any whole almonds left, only flaked ones.  I sprinkled some flaked almonds on and also added some whole glace cherries before sticking the loaves in the oven.  They baked for about 1 1 /4 hours while I got on with the ironing.  As I was doing the ironing there was a lovely smell wafting about the kitchen, very tempting but not helpful when trying to lose weight!

The loaves didn’t look that big compared to what I was expecting, I would have preferred to have baked one big loaf instead of two tiny ones.  It smelled wonderful though and once it had cooled down I was tempted to cut one of the loaves open and see what the inside looked like.  I didn’t eat any, honest!

Wrapped up in cling film they’re now in the freezer.  Let’s hope I don’t forget I’ve made them!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Our New Years’ Day Tradition- Steak and Mushroom Pie.

Happy New Year!  I hope that 2017 brings you luck, health and happiness. 2016 was a mixed year for a lot of people and I just hope this year doesn’t continue in the same way.  I feel a different person to the one I was at the beginning of 2016 and now I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I will be going back to Slimming World after not being able to make recent group meetings as well as trying to breathe life into this blog. It’s been a bit neglected recently.  This I would love to change.

Every New Year’s Day in the past we have usually eaten a big lunch at home and then gone out for a walk afterwards.  I tend to bake a pie and serve it with lots of vegetables and gravy.  This year things were different.  My son had been out at a party and got back in the afternoon from his friends’ house.  My daughter was working from lunchtime until the evening.  Our family New Years’ Day lunch ended up being a quiet tea time instead.

I chose to bake a Steak and Mushroom Pie this time as I had some braising steak in the freezer.  It was a cinch to make as I made a cheat’s shortcut. Not with the shortcrust pastry- that was homemade but with the pie filling.  I love Gordon Rhodes’ Gourmet Sauce Mixes and buy them regularly from my local farm shop.  I used their Slow Comfortable Stew mix with braising steak, a large onion, a tin of chopped tomatoes and a little water. Cooked for about 6 hours on a low heat in my slow cooker, it made the beef melt in the mouth and taste deliciously tender. I can’t bear tough beef. The sauce mix also suggests adding in chopped potato and carrot but I didn’t do this seeing as I wanted to serve these with the pie. Instead, nearer the end of the cooking time I put 250g of halved mushrooms into the slow cooker to soften for the last half hour.

The shortcrust pastry was made with 175g cold butter cut into cubes, 350g of plain flout and ice cold water to mix.  There was plenty of pastry dough left over so I gathered it into a ball, wrapped it in cling film and put it in the freezer for another time.  I bet I’ll forget about it, go to the freezer in a few week’s time and think “What the hell is this?”

As it was New Year’s Day I found my large number cookie cutters and cut out 2017 to stick on the top.  Mr SmartCookieSam said it looked too nice to cut up.

Not a scrap left of the pie. I’m beginning to feel like who ate all the pies here after all I’ve eaten.  But I won’t give up baking, I’ll just have to keep myself away from it!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx