Pistachio Sablés 

 

As I type it’s now a very wet and rainy September morning.  Most of the country’s children have gone back to school. I’m a supply teacher in my day job, which I love but as there’s no work around at the beginning of term I’m finally managing to catch up on my very neglected blog.

It seems ages ago now we’re back into school mode. Well in our house I have my older one back off to uni today.  She’s driving down in her car for the first time and my younger one doesn’t start back at college until next week. Time flies and before we know it we’ll be mentioning the dreaded “C” word!!  But for now I’ll still think about summer and our holiday.

When we were on holiday in the south of France a couple of weeks back we did a lot of our food shopping in the local Carrefour.  I always feel stressed and wound up in supermarkets at home.  I reckon it’s because I’m always in a hurry, they move things around and you end up forgetting half the things you came in for in the first place.  But in this Carrefour, even though it was a massive “grandes surfaces” it felt like a pleasure to shop there.

Of course wherever I go on holiday I have to search out their baking aisle.  I don’t always buy things from the baking aisle but I couldn’t help myself here.  The selection of nuts, dried fruits, flavoured baking powders, extracts and the usual cake decorations were amazing.  Seeing different flavoured baking powders was a new one on me.  I love pistachios so I bought a packet of ground pistachio nuts hoping to use them in a recipe somewhere.  Of course when I buy goodies to take home, my family make snide comments about how I’m going to make us go over the baggage allowance.  I think we had about 500g spare this time, thank God!

Two days after we got back from France I had invited my lovely Clandestine Cake Club friends over to my house for afternoon tea.  It was a great excuse to bake for them so I thought about how I could use my pistachio nuts in a recipe.  In the end I plumped for a biscuit recipe which I adapted from a recipe in The Great British Bake Off Everyday”  The original recipe was for Coconut Sables.

Pistachio Sables

Makes 20-24 biscuits

160g plain flour

a pinch of salt

75g icing sugar

160g unsalted, cold and diced butter

2 medium free range egg yolks

100g ground or crushed Pistachio nuts (I used Vahine Eclats de Pistaches Torrifiees)

First, put the pistachios, flour, icing sugar and a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl and combine them evenly.

Then add in the cubes of butter, rubbing them in until you get fine bread crumbs.

Next you add the egg yolks to the bowl until the mixture becomes like a ball of dough.  I then take the ball of dough out of the bowl and roll it into a disc that’s about 2.5cm thick.

 Wrap your dough in some cling film and leave it to chill in the fridge for about half an hour  until you are ready to use it.  Or if you are like me, you run out of time, leave it longer and then you find it is too hard to manipulate!

When you have the dough out of the fridge, sprinkle a little flour onto your work top and then roll out your dough to the thickness of a pound coin.  Cut out circles with a cutter (either plain or fluted) which is 7.5cm in diameter.

Put the biscuits onto greased baking trays and pop in the oven for about 10-15 minutes.  Oven temperature: 180oC/ 350oF/ Gas Mark 4. In the original recipe the biscuits should have been pricked with a fork before being baked but I forgot!

I found that once you ate one of these cookies, you didn’t want to stop.  So I had to hide them away until my friends came over. I could just imagine eating a massive bowl of pistachio ice cream with one of these little treats.

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Afternoon tea at SmartCookieSam’s. It’s also the perfect excuse to use my late mother in law’s china.
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Afternoon Tea at SmartCookieSam’s. Don’t look at the creased tablecloth!!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Pineapple Upside Down Bundt.

Who remembers having Pineapple Upside Down Cake as a child?  Did you have it for school dinners? I did, although when I was little I didn’t like the pineapple and left it. I remember a very strict teacher at our Infant School telling me off for not eating it and making me sit there at the table until I’d eaten every last mouthful! I’m surprised it hasn’t put me off pineapple for life!

I’ve had the NordicWare Pineapple Upside Down Bundt pan for a couple of years now.  I spotted it on Ebay from the US and just HAD TO HAVE IT! I love how you already have the shape of where to stick the pineapple rings and the cherries in. Alternatively as with other bundt pans, you could bake a pineapple flavoured cake and the pretty pattern will come out on top of the cake when you take it out of the tin. Personally, I’ve not got round to trying this out yet, but maybe one day?

To be honest I’ve not had much chance for blogging recently so this cake was baked over a month ago.  It was my 19 year old daughter’s last day at home before going back to uni for her second year. She was moving into a new house and would be going back early to work on a film shoot.  As with the last year before she left for uni we had a family meal at our house.  My Dad and step mum came over and I cooked a roast  chicken dinner followed by either Pistachio and White Chocolate Blondies and the Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  What would you serve with it? I went for a choice of double cream or vanilla ice cream.

As for the recipe used, I tried googling for a recipe specifically for the Nordicware pan but could I find one? No such luck, so I tried adapting a recipe I’ve used before. Nigella Lawson has a lovely recipe in her Express book, but the cake comes out a lot smaller. I doubled the quantities of the cake mixture itself and that seemed to work. I had to keep an eye on the time in the oven though. As it was over a month ago I can’t remember the exact time but my guess is it took me about an hour to bake.

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The bundt pan has been greased in the usual way. I put the cherries and the pineapples in the right places and then sprinkled sugar on the top of them to help make them caramelise.
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The finished Pineapple Upside Down Cake. It was perfect for a Sunday lunch dessert.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Spaghetti Carbonara- Midweek Meal. 

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I’m all on for a quick mid week meal. As with any working parent, the last thing you want is to have to make something complicated and time consuming when you’re exhausted after a long day.  I’m very lucky in that when I have full time work placements in my role as a supply teacher, Mr SmartCookieSam is great at cooking and having dinner on the table.  But even then there are times when he’s late himself or away working. Or there are days when I’m not working myself. On working days I love meals like Spaghetti Carbonara as it’s quick to make and everyone in our house likes it.  I know it’s one of my son’s girlfriend’s favourites as well.

I’ve tried lots of different carbonara recipes but it was the first time I tried Mary Berry’s version in her “Cooks The Perfect Step By Step” book. Her “My New Spaghetti Carbonara” had added mushrooms and bacon to it, as well as garlic. So it wasn’t an authentic Carbonara, but it still tasted amazing.

While my spaghetti was cooking in my large saucepan, I fried a packet of bacon lardons in their own fat.  Once these had started to cook and crisp up, I removed the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and added a tablespoonful of olive oil to the pan.  Then I fried two crushed cloves of garlic and some quartered closed cup mushrooms.  (Mary suggested chestnut mushrooms, but I don’t like them!) These were then cooked for about 3-4 minutes.

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When the pasta was nearly ready, I combined  2 large beaten eggs and some parmesan cheese, along with  4 tablespoonfuls of double cream in a measuring jug. The pasta was then drained and added to the frying pan with the mushrooms, garlic and the bacon all at once. At the last minute I tipped in the egg mixture, taking the pan away from the heat so that the eggs didn’t become scrambled.

The result was delicious and made four very generous servings of Carbonara.  The whole thing only took about 20 minutes to make from preparation to putting on the table.  Quicker than ordering a takeaway around where I live!

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Love Sam xx

Leek and Potato Soup

I love a good bowl of soup. I don’t make it often enough and I should do.  It’s cheap to make, filling and keeps you warm on a cold day.

One of my favourite soups is Leek and Potato and thankfully it’s one that the rest of my family will eat, too.  Though in the past I didn’t tell my son it had leeks in it, I just used to say it was vegetable soup to him in case he turned his nose up at it.

About  three weeks back I made this delicious, comforting soup. (see, I’m really behind with the blogging at the moment). Anyone fancy buying me a new laptop? No, I thought not. My laptop is slow and keeps disconnecting from the Internet. Not a serious problem in the scheme of things but it does slow work down somewhat.

I adapted the recipe from Mary Berry’s Cookery Course, which is a well used book on my shelf.  First the leeks and onions were chopped up and fried gently in butter. After that, in went some thinly sliced potatoes.  To this I then added some hot chicken stock.  Unfortunately it wasn’t home made, sorry Mary! The soup was then seasoned and left to simmer.  Mary Berry’s recipe also suggests a few gratings of nutmeg. I didn’t have any nutmeg but I sprinkled on some parsley instead.

After about 20-30 minutes simmering I took the pan off the heat and allowed the soup to cool down for a couple of minutes. Out came the stick blender to puree up the soup. Finally. I added in a swirl of half fat creme fraiche. Mary’s recipe uses single cream but I didn’t have any so, creme fraiche had to do.

A perfect lunchtime bowl of soup for myself and Mr SmartCookieSam with a chunk of crusty bread.  There was enough left for me to have for lunch on two days during the week either at home or at work.

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Pecan and Maple Bundt Cake- Nigella’s Kitchen.

Once again I’ve lost my way a bit with my blogging.  I have all these posts in draft on my laptop but that’s as far as they’ve gone during the last month. A lot has happened in the past month. I’ve been on a trip to visit my brother, sister in law and their gorgeous family including my four month old niece who completely stole my heart. Auntie Sam was in her element and as my niece is very similar in temperament to my own daughter, it really did take me back to twenty years ago when my brother became an Uncle to my daughter. What special times. With all this in my mind I chose to bake a Canadian inspired cake for the last Clandestine Cake Club event I went to. This was a few days before I was due to jet off over to Alberta but the theme was Around The World In 80 Cakes Although there weren’t 80 cakes there, there were definitely a delicious array of cakes representing lots of different countries.

I chose to bake a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s book “Kitchen” which is a maple and pecan nut bundt cake.  Although I’m a huge Nigella fan and I bake lots of her recipes, it’s been a while since I baked from Kitchen. It’s such a huge book too, wouldn’t like to drop that on my feet or I’d be in agony.  It was also a great excuse to get out one of my bundt pans off the shelf and to use it again.  My Crown Bundt pan also has a Canadian connection as I bought it last year on my first visit to Canada.  We went shopping and I got carried away in Williams Sonoma.  But it was worth it.  The pan was half the cost of UK prices!  Nigella uses the Fleur de Lys Bundt pan in her recipe and says: ” The reason I chose this particular shape for this cake was that it seemed to show it’s nutty, gooey stuffing off to maximum effect once sliced,”

The bundt cake has a separate maple pecan filling which is swirled into the vanilla batter once in the cake tin and looks really pretty when the cake is cut into.  So, as Nigella says you really need a tin which looks great when it’s cut up into slices.

I baked the cake the night before Cake Club as I was working a full week.  It had to be done in the evening once we’d had tea.  I normally love baking but it had been the first day back at work after the summer holidays.  I’d had a lot of running around and standing on my feet to do so the last thing I wanted to do was to stand up in my kitchen baking. But at least it was the first episode of the latest series of The Great British Bake Off!  So I set up my Ipad in the kitchen and watched it as I was weighing out, mixing and chopping nuts up.  I soon forgot my legs and feet ached and immersed myself in my hobby.

I always grease my bundt pans with Wilton Cake Release.  Once this was done, I pre-heated my fan oven and set myself going with the filling part to the cake.  For this I mixed flour, soft unsalted butter, ground cinnamon, chopped pecan nuts and some maple syrup. This formed a slightly more fudgy version than a crumble topping.  When this was done I put it aside and made up the rest of the cake mix.

In another mixing bowl I weighed out plain flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Though it took  me 5 minutes to find my pot of bicarb as it had somehow managed to hide itself behind everything else in the cupboard.

In yet another bowl (lots of washing up tonight!) I creamed together butter and caster sugar using my hand held mixer.  Following this I put in 2 eggs and then in went the flour mixture.  Finally, I folded in some sour cream before putting about half the mixture into the bundt pan.  The pecan mixture went in next followed by the remaining cake mixture.

The cake baked for about 40 minutes or so. I kept on checking it through the oven door and it seemed to be fine after the allotted 40 minutes.  I always panic that the bundts are going to fall apart or not come out of the tin.

Sheer relief!  A few crumbs had stuck inside the tin but not enough to worry about and the cake slid out effortlessly.  I let it cool down on the rack in the kitchen while I cleared up.  When it was cool, I dusted it with icing sugar and hoped that the cake would be ok in it’s box in my car boot while I was at work the following day.  Thankfully, even though I drove over loads of speed humps going to the venue in Leeds, the cake was intact!

I really love going to cake club events. I’ve made loads of friends through cake club and we regularly meet up for a chin wag and a catch up over cake and coffee. I can’t wait for the next one in October which is to be a Hallowe’en themed one. Better get my thinking cap on!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Bothy Threads Cross Stitch Kit “Love Baby Girl Tree” Birth Sampler.

I really love the range of cross stitch kits which Bothy Threads have produced from Kim Anderson’s beautiful and quirky designs.  Last year I saw the Love Tree kit in a local craft shop and I just had to have it.  I knew it would be perfect made into a cushion to sit on the chair in my bedroom.  When this was finished I saw that there were more designs added to the collection. There were four more trees, one for each season and once again I was determined to have them.  For Christmas 2015 I ended up with the Winter and Spring Trees followed by the Summer and Autumn ones for my birthday.  Although the metallic silver thread was a nightmare to work with, the rest of each design was a pleasure to do.  The designs came together really quickly and the additional embellishments added at the end gave them a special touch.

When my brother and sister in law announced that they were having a baby and I was going to become an auntie, I was over the moon!  A new baby in the family or among my friends is always a great excuse for me to get creative.  I knew that there was a Love Baby Tree sampler design but I had to wait until Christmas Day 2016 for my brother and sister in law to announce whether they were having a boy or a girl! They were having a girl so off I sent for the Love Baby Girl sampler.  I couldn’t wait to get started but I was also knitting their baby girl a blanket and a cardigan too.

The very first motif of the Love Baby Girl Tree- a pink dummy!
The Love Tree samplers always feature a tree trunk and branches stitched in metallic silver thread. The rest of the design is made up of individual baby themed motifs.
The baby motifs hanging on the tree are beginning to take shape…
It was a pleasure to stitch the sampler and I took it everywhere with me.  I even stitched it while waiting for my car to be fixed in the showroom.  I ended up chatting to another lady who said how much she liked cross stitch too!
I love the gorgeous colour pallette on the Love Tree designs. Here I have started to add the metallic silver thread.  The air was blue in my house when I was doing this as the thread kept snapping on me!

Beginning to add the details at the bottom of the tree.
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It’s always exciting when you begin to add the backstitch to a design.  This is when the design begins to come to life for me!
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The finished design.  I was half way through the back stitch when my niece was born. So I rushed to get the sampler finished with all her details on it.
A close up of all the details on the Love Baby Girl sampler. 

My brother and sister in law live in Canada so I had to send the sampler to them in the post. I told them it could either be framed as a picture or made into a cushion and I would sort it out for them when I see them in September. They were really impressed by it.  Now all I need is a good excuse to stitch the boy version of the sampler!

Love Sam xx

White Chocolate and Pistachio Blondies.

I found these white chocolate, pistachio and nougatine bars in the local Carrefour supermarket when I was on holiday in France

A couple of weeks back I was on holiday in France and spotted these scrumptious sounding bars of chocolate in the local supermarket.  I love anything with pistachios in them and slipped two of these 100g bars in my trolley.  Once back at the villa I had to put them in a cool place as it was so hot.  Then when I was packing my case to go home I was wondering if the chocolate would last the flight home!  Thankfully it did. Both bars were intact and nothing had melted!

I was wondering what to do with the bars and then last week I chose to bake Blondies with them.  I bake brownies a lot but have only ever tried peanut butter and white chocolate ones before.  They were delicious and didn’t last long in our house. I adapted My Favourite Brownie Recipe by substituting the two bars of white chocolate for the dark chocolate and the nuts/ chocolate chips.  Instead of cocoa powder I made up another 15g of plain flour instead.

I have to tell you but these Blondies were heavenly.  As soon as they came out of the oven I was tempted to get chomping on one.  Thank heavens I had to wait until they had cooled down.  They were devilishly gooey inside, just as Brownies and Blondies should be.  With treats like this they get snaffled up in no time and I was worried they would go before they were meant to be eaten at Sunday lunch when we had family round. Luckily we had enough!

These Blondies are perfect as a pudding with ice cream or on their own with a cup of tea or coffee.  I’ll definitely be making them again if I can find white chocolate with pistachios like this in the UK.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx.

White Chocolate Percy Pig Cake.

This cake was an almalgamation of two recipes which I’ve used plenty of times before.  The cake part came from John Whaite’s first book John Whaite Bakes which contains a delicious recipe for a White Chocolate and Raspberry Cake.  The decoration idea came from the second Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook A Year Of Cake which has a fantastic recipe for a Cadbury’s Chocolate Finger and Smartie Cake in it.  This opened up lots of ideas to adapt a design to suit flavours and themes.

I was off to a Clandestine Cake Club event in Leeds which was held in the historic Tetley building. I remember the days of the brewery being open in my childhood when I used to see the shire horses delivering the beer to the local Leeds pubs.  I was very impressed with the bar and restaurant at The Tetley and hope to go back to look around the exhibition soon.

 The theme for this cake club was Childhood Sweets and I chose to incorporate Percy Pigs on my cake.  Incidentally Percy Pigs just celebrated 25 years which gave me the idea.  I was definitely not a child when Percy Pigs came out but my own two children love them and we always buy a bag if we go on a long train journey. I can’t stop eating them!

To assemble the cake together I made up some white chocolate buttercream with Lindt White Chocolate and some Sugar and Crumbs White Chocolate and Raspberry natural flavour icing sugar.  I was so excited to use the icing sugar as it is one of Sugar and Crumbs’ new flavours brought out for this summer.  It smelled wonderful and definitely tasted of white chocolate and raspberries, just heavenly.

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My White Chocolate and Raspberry Percy Pig Cake for The Clandestine Cake Club event I went to a couple of weeks back. The theme was Childhood Sweets.
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All ready for baking and decorating the cake. I used two different recipes for inspiration. In the end I didn’t put any marshmallows on the cake as there wasn’t room for them.
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Percy and Penny Pigs. Funny how these favourite sweets have family names. My grandad was called Percy and my mum is called Penny!
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I used to love Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers but not now. I hate to say it but the white chocolate ones tasted rank.

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We had our own special room reserved for us at Cake Club.
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My friend Amy’s beautiful Sweet Shop Neapolitan cake. It tasted and looked beautiful.

Here are just a few of the photos of my cake and also of some of the other cakes at the event.  It was a wonderful evening and I enjoyed far too much cake! I still had a sugar high the day after!

Happy Baking.

Love Sam xx