Gingerbread Christmas Trees Lovingly Made To Order

If you are looking for a special centre piece for your Christmas table or something sweet to add to your festive celebrations then why not consider one of Sam’s Smart Cookies hand crafted 3D Christmas Trees?

Gingerbread Tree in green decorated with jellytots, jellybeans and white chocolate Jazzies to customer’s specifications.
Lovingly hand made to order out of mouthwatering gingerbread stars, starting from the large to small, the gingerbread trees are then carefully iced and stacked together to resemble the branches of a Christmas Tree.  There are approximately 8 different sized stars with two of each size, starting with the largest at the bottom, the smallest at the top.  Each tree comes in either a green or a white colourway and can be decorated with your favourite chocolates or sweets.  Usually customers choose traditional colourful sweets, such as jellybeans, M&M’s or Smarties, though I have also used peppermint ones for a mint lover! 
White gingerbread Christmas Tree made for a peppermint lover with  Mint Imperials,  red and  green Smarties, traditional pink and white peppermints, chewy mints and silver dragees.
These trees cost just £20 each.
Once the tree is assembled and completed on a cake board, it is carefully wrapped in clear cellophane and decorated with ribbons for easy transportation.
Tree wrapped up and shown ready for transportation.
Showing another version of my green tree with piped royal icing snow and lots of other sweets.
If you would like one of these Tree masterpieces then please contact me on 07710 775715 or email me on sam.smartcookies@btinternet.com.  I can offer delivery in a 10 mile radius of  the YO26 9TG for a small extra delivery charge or you can pick your tree up from my premises at a mutually convienient time.  Last day for ordering is December 15th, last day for picking up 23rd December if you want a tree for Christmas. If you need one before then please contact me for availability.
Although I tend to stick to traditional colours for my trees I am always open to suggestions for different colours, just message me your requirements and I will only be happy to help.
Sam xx

Sticky Maple Apple Traybake

This Sticky Maple Apple Traybake has been a firm favourite in my house since I first discovered this recipe over a year ago.  It originally comes from the second Great British Bake Off recipe book which was published last year to coincide with Series 2.  It also features on the App that you can download for your iPhone or iPad.  I have made this recipe a few times now for Sunday lunch pudding (it’s delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream) or sliced up to sell at a coffee morning or fundraiser.

The recipe is a simple one and is fantastic for using up spare Bramley apples if you fancy a change from putting them in a crumble or a pie.  You need about 2 large Bramleys for the recipe which are peeled, cored and sliced into 1 cm chunks. I liked the idea of maple syrup added to the mixture and to the topping, it gives the cake a scrumptious autumnal flavour, along with the traditional spicy aroma of cinnamon.

This morning I decided not to cook our usual Sunday roast as I had completely forgotten to buy a joint of meat.  I had some minced beef and all the ingredients to make lasagne so I thought why not do that instead? We do love our Sunday roasts in our house though, so it felt strange to be eating something that I normally cook on a Saturday night for supper!  The traybake was great in that it could be baked beforehand and then I could add the topping while the lasagne was baking.

It has been a gorgeous Autumn day today. I had been out walking my dog, came in, got changed and decided to crack on with my baking before 11.00am so that I could observe the two minutes silence for Remembrance Day.  My son had told me my mum had phoned (we always have a catch up on a Sunday morning), so I rang her back just as she was eating her breakfast.  I decided to get on with the baking and wait for her to call me back. She did, just as I had finished chopping the apples. The apples were then put in a bowl with some maple syrup and some cinnamon.

Chopped, cubed apples soaking in maple syrup and sprinkled with ground cinnamon.

After I had chatted to my mum, I got on with the baking.  The fat content in the traybake is down to sunflower oil and this was poured into a jug along with some sugar and some vanilla extract. I was also meant to add the zest of half a lemon but I realised I hadn’t got any so I had to use orange zest instead! This was whisked up for a bit, then eggs were added to the mixture.  Now this is where I changed the recipe slightly.  In the original recipe you add two whole eggs to the oil mixture, then later whisk two egg whites in.  I decided not to do this and added four whole eggs at once.  Then I sifted in flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.

The wet ingredients: sunflower oil, caster sugar, orange zest waiting for the eggs to be added and whisked together.

Once this was done, I folded in the flour until it was combined. Finally the apple was added along with some chopped walnuts.  I have also used pecan nuts in place of walnuts in the past if I don’t have any walnuts spare.

It was ready to go into the oven.  I greased my Silverwood traybake tin with some Dr Oetker cake release and preheated the oven.  The traybake went in the oven for about 30 minutes and came out a lovely golden colour.  It smelled gorgeous, perfect autumnal cooking smells.

As the cake was coming out of the oven it was about 10.30am which meant I was in good time for the two minutes silence.  It also gave me ample time to clear up.

This is what the traybake looked like when it had just come out of the oven!

At 11.30am as I was cooking the lasagne I made up the frosting for the traybake.  This is made by mixing butter, sugar, maple syrup and cream cheese together.  I have learned that you should only use full fat cream cheese and better still to use Philadelphia as you get a better and creamier result with it.  There was only just enough cream cheese left to put in the frosting, wonder what had happened to the other bit?  I think the food fairies have been in my fridge again!

After our lasagne out came the apple traybake. It slices up into 16 good size rectangles, although the recipe says it serves 20 I like to be generous!  It keeps for about 4 days in a cool place in a tin, if the food fairies don’t get to it first!

The finished Maple Apple Traybake with a Cream cheese and Maple Frosting being cut up for Sunday lunch dessert.

Happy Baking!
Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off- Blueberry Banana Bread

After a busy week baking loads of sticky Parkin and brightly coloured Hallowe’en goodies, it was lovely to get back to other types of baking.  I am trying so hard to lose a few pounds before Christmas but it’s a constant uphill struggle at the moment.

This week I have now changed my working hours around so it was a great weight off my mind to be able to come home, eat a quick lunch, then out for a long walk with my dog and finally on to either baking or the many household chores we have to do.  Last Wednesday I chose to bake the Blueberry Banana Bread from the Great British Bake Off book- “How To Turn Everyday Bakes Into Showstoppers”.  I had all the right ingredients, or so I thought.  I liked the sound of the recipe as I read the list of ingredients, but I was a bit annoyed to find out there wasn’t a picture of the actual bake next to the recipe. Instead there was a picture of Victoria, one of the contestants in the latest series.  Not that there was anything wrong with having photos of the contestants, but I do feel every recipe should have a picture with it.  The contestants’ pictures could have been at the front or the back of the book. Anyway, rant over!  Lets hope that I could create the cake to look like it should have looked like had there been a picture there.

First of all I mixed butter, sugar and runny clear honey together in a mixing bowl and beat it until smooth with my hand held mixer.  After that I added the eggs slowly making sure that I beat them well into the honey mixture.

I mashed three medium bananas together, then added them to the first mixture along with some blueberries and some chopped walnuts.  The recipe called for dried blueberries, something I didn’t have. I substituted fresh blueberries instead, hoping and praying that they would do the same to the recipe.  Finally the flour was added along with baking powder. I also had to substitute ordinary plain flour as the recipe needed spelt flour.      Although I love spelt bread, I have never baked with spelt flour as none of my customers have ever asked for it.  Once again I hoped my prayers would be answered.

The mixture was tipped into a greased loaf tin which was lined with a loaf tin liner.  By this time I was beginning to panic as the recipe said it would take about 50 minutes to bake.  It was exactly 50 minutes before I would have to set off to Knaresborough (a journey of about 15-20 minutes) to collect my daughter to take her to her pantomime rehearsal.  The oven was already pre-heating, so fingers crossed!

While the cake was baking I did some hoovering and put away some clean clothes, then decided to sit down and answer some emails over a cup of tea. There was a gorgeous banana smell coming from the kitchen so I went to investigate thinking it must be nearly ready.  With 10 minutes to spare the cake was still only half cooked.  I was surprised and wondered if the temperature was wrong, I checked.  It was right.  I gave it another ten minutes only to find it was still runny in the middle.  As I don’t know how to work my oven timer I had to take the cake out of the oven still runny and start all over again after dinner.  So frustrating!  I didn’t throw out the whole cake though, as it was only the middle that wasn’t cooked.  I cut the runny bit out and thought we could have that bit ourselves!

Four hours later. After dinner, I repeated the whole process.  This made for a very late evening at a time when I wanted to be vegging in front of the TV.

At least I knew I could do a bit of vegging while the cake was baking, but I brought the timer into the lounge and put it next to me.  This time I kept checking and lo and behold after 55 minutes it was perfectly ready.

After it had cooled down I could decorate it either of two ways.  I chose to decorate the Blueberry Banana Bread with a Greek Yoghurt and Honey Frosting, just those two ingredients mixed together in a bowl and spread lavishly on the top of the cake with a large pallette knife. To finish off I scattered fresh blueberries on top of the icing.

The photo below shows the bit of cake that was left over from the first attempt. I decorated it up and cut it into slices so that we could enjoy some. It was delicious and moist. You would definitely need to eat this with a fork or a spoon!

Happy Baking!

Sam xx

Blueberry Banana Bread- recipe taken from the latest Great British Bake Off book.

Hallowe’en Cupcakes and Cookies at The Yorkshire Bakery

You can tell I’m a bit behind with my blogging at the moment. It’s taken me well over a week to catch up and as I write I’m panicking that I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be dusting!  Or so my husband tells me!  Instead I am going to type this, walk the dog, have a cup of tea and up yours to the dusting!  A few hours late won’t do any harm but if I don’t get this written soon it will be Hallowe’en 2013!

Every year at Sam’s Smart Cookies and Cupcakes, my Yorkshire Bakery I am always busy in my kitchen seeing what new ideas I can come up with for Hallowe’en.  This year I did not take on as many orders as I have been working longer hours in my day job, but I still found time to do a couple over the half term week fitting it in and around my daughter’s rehearsal schedule for the pantomime she is appearing in soon.  I also like to make a batch of my cupcakes and cookies for the Trick or Treaters that come knocking on my front door. Along with all the Parkin I make I also offer cupcakes and cookies, although due to time constraints this year I had to buy in some Hallowe’en themed sugar decoration toppers from Imaginative Icing in York. I did try and make some sugarpaste bats as well though the pictures I took of those cupcakes came out very poorly!

A rubbish photo due to it being taken on my phone in poor light- a chocolate cupcake baked in a black cupcake case, surrounded with graveyard cupcake wrappers, topped with two tone grey and white buttercream and finished with a 3D hand made sugarpaste bat.

A batch of vanilla cupcakes decorated with either orange buttercream or two tone buttercream and finished with ready made sugarpaste skulls, witches, bats and pumpkins.

Horrendously bad picture which should have been edited but shows another batch of vanilla cupcakes, this time are decorated with grey and white two tone icing and ready made sugar pumpkin shapes.

For my cupcakes I am afraid to say they all came out rather garish. I am not a huge fan of bright coloured icing on cupcakes, preferring the more delicate pastel colours or even plain colours.  But Hallowe’en is a time when you go garish- bright greens, purples, reds, oranges and even black coloured icing.  That doesn’t stop children tucking into them though.  I made some of the icing in my new two-tone double icing bags which I bought from Lakeland about a month back and was desperate to use them.  Once I got the hang of using them I was impressed although the star icing nozzle is much smaller than the one I use regularly.

I really enjoy baking cookies and this is what it is all about for me, where Sam’s Smart Cookies and Cupcakes started from, baking cookies like this for local parties and on stalls.  I got the inspiration for the cookies from the Wilton website (who manufacture a lot of the cookie cutters I use for my baking)  Last year I bought a load of new Hallowe’en themed cutters in the sale at Hobbycraft (they were reduced as I bought them in November!) and was keen to try them out.  In previous years at Hallowe’en I have made various cookies for parties and Trick or Treaters but this year I wanted to try something different.

Thankyou for looking at these pictures and Happy Baking!
Love Sam xx

Chocolate Gingerbread Skulls. My son wanted to help me out, he put the funny facial expressions on the  skulls for me!

Bright green witches’ hats topped with sugarpaste stars.  These were the most popular this year, followed by the skulls!

For the trick or treaters I was keen to make these fangs from my new cutters.  I ran out of time to outline the edges of the cookies with royal icing piped on so in the end I made the teeth marks with a mini icing wheel instead.

The Trick or Treaters also loved this year’s version of my Pumpkin cookies,  made from chocolate gingerbread.

The cute bats were my personal favourite, I used giant pearl dragees for the bats’ eyes as I did not have time to make up the royal icing.

A Passion For Baking- Chocolate Malteser Cake

In case you didn’t know I am just a teeny weeny bit obsessed by Maltesers. I don’t know why but all I do know is that a funsize bag is never enough.  But why call it fun size as there’s no fun in something that is so small you hardly get anything to eat in it?  Neither to me are those seal-able ones any good to me!  Do they seal up? Only if you are virtuous, unlike me who just tips them down her neck as fast as you can.

A week or so ago I was asked to make a chocolate celebration cake and once again turned to one of my favourite recipe books “A Passion For Baking” by Jo Wheatley.  I noticed the rather decadent but easily decorated chocolate cake with Maltesers on top which was ideal as a birthday cake or for other celebrations.  The picture which accompanied it was rather mouthwatering and I thought that it would go down exceptionally well.  What I was panicking about was that I had had an extremely busy week , the terrible chocolate cravings had kicked in and I would be stuffing the Maltesers in my mouth and not on top of the cake!

So, after a busy Thursday at school, the children arrived home on the school bus, I had walked my dog and I thought I would set to in the kitchen.  It was cold and damp outside and my kitchen was warm and inviting.  I had 300g of delicious Green and Blacks organic chocolate and two standard bags of Maltesers.  All I had to do was to conjure up some cake magic.

The cake recipe itself was simple enough, everything was mixed together in my Kitchen Aid using a creaming method and then the melted chocolate was folded in.  The gorgeous smelling mixture baked in my oven for about 25 minutes in two 8″ diameter sandwich tins. All this took about 3/4 hour, while the cakes were baking I managed to prep the veg and the meat for our casserole for dinner.

After dinner the cakes had cooled down sufficiently for me to assemble the cake.  I sandwiched the two cakes together with a chocolate ganache. Jo suggested piping the ganache onto the middle and top, this I didn’t do, I just used my large pallette knife.  There was enough to provide a thick layer in the middle and the top, so I did not have to skimp on portions.  The Maltesers were placed around the edge of the cake and in a pattern, then I found some leftover chocolate strands from when I had used them on top of chocolate cupcakes.

I am pleased to say I did not touch a single Malteser. I was so surprised but then I only had two bags to decorate the top, if I had had more would that have been the case? Probably not.

When I handed the cake to it’s recipient she was delighted and said it was the best chocolate cake she had ever tasted. I was so pleased but it was thanks to Jo Wheatley’s recipe.  I think sometimes when you get compliments like that, it really makes your day, especially if you have moments when you don’t feel so confident.

Happy Baking!
Love Sam xx

Chocolate Malteser Celebration Cake as baked from Jo Wheatley’s  “A Passion For Baking” recipe book.

Yorkshire Parkin

As soon as the clocks go back at the end of October is when I begin to think about my baking for Hallowe’en and for Bonfire Night.  I grew up in a village just outside Nottingham and enjoyed Bonfire Night celebrations at the Junior School where the giant bonfire would have the Guy on it.  One year my old rickety pushchair was used to wheel the Guy around for a competition before it got chucked on the fire.  The firework display was always phenomenal, great care and planning had gone into it and it was a real highlight of the village year. I would love to know now what sort of Bonfire Night celebrations go on now or whether they have been banned due to Health and Safety or Insurance regulations.

Being obsessed with food, I can also remember the food stalls set up on the Junior school playground.  One of my favourites was mushy peas with mint sauce, there was also jacket potatoes and loads of crunchy but sticky toffee apples as well as Bonfire Toffee.  I can’t remember if there were cakes or biscuits, but I do remember hot dogs!

It wasn’t until I moved up to Yorkshire that I discovered Parkin.  I have lived in Yorkshire for 20 years now, but it wasn’t until about 17 years ago when I taught in the Castleford and Pontefract area when I found out about Parkin.  I was talking with my then work colleague about Bonfire Night activities we could do with the children (we both taught Reception and Y1 classes and did our planning together). My colleague knew that I loved baking and hands -on activities and said to me “Why don’t you make Parkin?”  I didn’t know what she meant, it sounded so funny, like parking the car!  She had to explain to me that it was a traditional type of gingerbread served in Yorkshire around Bonfire night.  I borrowed a recipe from her and my love affair with Parkin started there with the group of six five year olds baking it for the whole class to share.

Since then I have baked Parkin regularly for customers, to enjoy at home and also with children.  I ran an After School Cookery Club for three years in my current school where I work and we made Parkin near Bonfire Night.  Several of the children mentioned to me that Parkin was one of their favourite recipes that they had baked.

My version of Parkin is adapted from a Farmhouse Cookery book that my Nana gave to me, she had ordered it from Reader’s Digest for herself.  I add chopped stem ginger to the recipe to give it an extra something and always bake it about 5-7 days before required to allow the flavours to develop.  I also keep the Parkin wrapped in baking parchment inside the tin.  It tastes so much stickier as well, which is what I love about it.

Happy Baking!
Love Sam xx

Yorkshire Parkin- spicy, sticky and just so delicious, you can’t stop at  one piece!
Well I can’t anyway, because I’m so greedy!

Mary Berry’s Anzac Biscuits

I enjoy baking from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible and trying out recipes I have not made before.  My husband is Australian (though he has lived in the UK since he was a child)  and we were interested to try Anzac biscuits as we knew the history behind them. I had made the version of Anzac biscuits from one of Annabel Karmel’s books a few years back and remembered that they contained oats and desiccated coconut.  I had baked an Apricot Loaf on one day before we broke up for half term and thought that a full tin of biscuits were what was needed on these cold, dark and depressing October evenings.  I craved some sugar and sweetness along with a steaming cuppa of Yorkshire tea when I got in from work.  I also thought if I made them with coconut then I would be able to leave them in the tin without the other members of the family nicking them.

Mary Berry’s Baking Bible is one of those recipe books I dip in and out of to try different things.  I do find her recipes clear to understand and I get great results from what I bake.  
I found that the recipe was simple to understand, it only contains six ingredients and I did find it turned out rather like a flapjack mixture.  It didn’t need as much golden syrup as a flapjack mixture needs, thankfully.  I was glad about that as I realised I would have to open another tin of golden syrup!  Being in a lazy mood I wanted some shortcuts.
The biscuits were made a bit like a flapjack to start with as a melting method with the butter, sugar and golden syrup together in a small saucepan. I then added the flour, desiccated coconut and some porridge oats to the mixture.  The smell was delicious and I was tempted to lick out the bowl.
I had greased three baking trays and lined them with my baking parchment.  Mary Berry says this recipe makes 45 biscuits, I definitely didn’t get 45 out of mine, more like 28!  Well to be fair, I do like a big biscuit, not one that is only one mouthful.  I was glad I baked them in batches with 6 to a baking tray as they do spread out a lot on the tray and would otherwise merge together.  It took ages to get them all baked off but it was worth it.

When I told my children I had made some biscuits they came rushing in into the kitchen. I did not tell my daughter they had coconut in (she doesn’t have an allergy, she just doesn’t like coconut) but she ate a biscuit and said they were lovely!  My son and hubby who love Bounty bars really enjoyed them. As for me, I couldn’t keep my hand out of the biscuit tin!

In a way I shouldn’t have made the biscuits as they were a mega diet fail for me but I couldn’t help it. The diet starts again tomorrow!

Happy Baking!
Love Sam xx

Mary Berry’s Anzac Biscuits- they don’t look exciting but I can assure you they taste gorgeous and that, to me is what matters the most!