See In The Dark Cake from Frances Quinn’s Quinntessential Baking.

Last Wednesday I had the chance to go and watch Frances Quinn (Great British Bake Off Winner from 2013) doing a demo and a booksigning as part of the hugely popular York Food and Drink Festival. I have always been amazed by Frances’ cake designs and artistic skill so when I found out that a few members of the York Clandestine Cake Club were going to watch her before their cake club event, I jumped at the chance.

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My version of Frances Quinn’s See In The Dark Cake- a gorgeously spiced and moist carrot cake with a cream cheese filling and a chocolate icing.

The demo was absolutely brilliant and I thought Frances was very witty and entertaining, telling us about her experiences on the Bake Off.  She showed us how to make homemade flavoured marzipan which she then turned into cute bees with chocolate stripes and flaked almond wings.  She also showed us how she adapted a basic brownie recipe and turned them into owls with Oreo biscuits split apart to make eyes and chocolate button feathers.

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A sneaky picture of Frances getting everything ready for her demo.
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Frances in action with Julia Lewis from BBC Radio York.
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A bowlful of leftover (but absolutely delicious) orange marzipan and the cutest ever brownie Owls!

Afterwards Frances was doing a book signing of her brand new book Quinntessential Baking.  I had already bought a copy and she very kindly signed it for me. I have been very impressed with the book and how there is a chapter devoted to a base recipe, such as Shortbread and then you can use that basic recipe to adapt it and create lots of different recipes.  I thought I would attempt one of the large cakes to take along to the cake club event which was going to be held at Walmgate Ale House and Bistro later that evening.  The theme was Words and Pictures and we were asked to bake a cake using the York Food and Drink Festival as our inspiration. As I had just seen Frances’ demo at the festival and her cakes are truly artistic works like pictures I had to recreate one of her recipes.

I chose to bake Frances’ See In The Dark Cake which is part of the Carrot Cake chapter on page 70.  You adapt a basic carrot cake recipe and add a twist to it.  I loved the play on words for the title of the cake, they say you can see in the dark if you eat carrots and the decoration for the cake was with dark chocolate and with moon and stars on the top.

The day before the demo and cake club on the Tuesday was a day off work for me.  I’m getting back into my supply teaching work after the summer holidays but on that day I was free. So it was me in a relaxed mode enjoying some baking therapy while catching up on what I hadn’t seen on Iplayer over the past few days.

The carrot cake itself was simple to bake.  I had to prep some chopped nuts first. Frances’ recipe suggests pistachios.  I didn’t have any but used walnuts in my cake instead. After I chopped up the walnuts it was the turn of grating carrots.  I managed this ok but I do find grating carrots boring!

Then on with the actual cake itself. First I beat butter and sugar together until it became really light and creamy. After this stage beaten eggs were added with a spoonful of the flour needed to prevent any curdling happening.  The remainder of the flour was also added along with some ground cinnamon which made the mixture smell heavenly.  Finally, in went the carrots and walnuts.  Frances says you can bake the cake in a round deep bottomed tin or in two sandwich tins.  I chose the latter as I’m not good at cutting cakes to make layers. They end up looking like a crispbread at one side and a doorstep at the other!

While the cakes were baking I made up the filling.  This was softened butter, cream cheese, milk and vanilla extract to make that classic filling and topping on top of a carrot cake.  Frances’ cake was more unusual in that it had a chocolate ganache for it’s decoration. I’ve never put chocolate with a carrot cake before but it does work.

I totally mucked up the ganache though and ended up with my ganache looking more like chocolate buttercream.  It still looked good though and I wanted to decorate the cake like Frances had done with a moon and stars on the top.  I chose to cheat though and found some gold shimmer sugar and some mini gold stars in my local Booths which worked perfectly on the top.  Keeping it neat though with a moon stencil cut out of baking parchment to me was fiddly as I am a bit clumsy.

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My cake all ready to take along to Cake Club after the demo.
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Lots of delicious cakes at the York Clandestine Cake Club event in the function room at the Walmgate Ale House.

After the demo we all met back at Cake Club and tried little pieces of each other’s cakes.  I was all caked out after trying about three little pieces, what a good job I hadn’t eaten any tea before!

Happy Baking.

Love Sam xx

Coconut and Mojito Tres Leches Cake- my own recipe featured in The Clandestine Cake Club A Year Of Cake Book.

As mentioned in my previous blog post I’ve got two recipes published in the latest Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook “A Year of Cake”. Along with my Welsh Honey and Camomile Bara Brith I also had my Coconut and Mojito Tres Leches Cake featured in the May chapter of the book.

I am a regular member of the Pudsey and West Leeds branch of the CCC.  Each event along with other cake club branches has really great themes which inspires you to get your baking thinking caps on.  Last year back in June 2014 Pudsey cake club had an event with an Around The World Theme.  I’m a huge Mojito cocktail fan (though I’m trying to steer clear due to going to Weightwatchers at the moment) and also love the way it works well with coconut and cream. So this is where the inspiration for my Tres Leches cake came from.  It was one of those cakes I’d tried baking before and although hugely calorific, it was one I enjoyed tasting the most.  So I tried baking my own version of a tres leches cake and hoped it would go down well at cake club.

I originally baked my cake as a triple layer cake but the recipe testers felt it worked better as a two layer one.  I’ve since baked it with 2 layers and I’m happy to agree with them. It holds up better, from looking at my original picture it looks like it could topple over at any time!

My original triple layered Coconut and Mojito Tres Leches cake.  I added a sugarpaste cactus to the top of it as a tres leches cake is traditionally from Mexico.
My original triple layered Coconut and Mojito Tres Leches cake. I added a sugarpaste cactus to the top of it as a tres leches cake is traditionally from Mexico. 

The recipe introduction says: “Cocktail and Mocktail themed events are very popular with Cake Club members who shake and stir all manner of ingredients to turn their favourite tipple into a cake.”  (well Mojito is one of my favourites apart from gin!) “Sam has created a South American-inspired tres leches cake- sponge soaked in three milks: condensed milk, evaporated milk and double cream- which is infused with the punchy flavours of the traditional Cuban rum cocktail, the mojito.  It’s perfect for sharing on World Cocktail Day which celebrates the day in 1806 when the word “cocktail” was first put into print, thereby officially recognising the alchemy of mixing spirits”.  

Here is the top part of my recipe as featured in the new Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook A Year Of Cake. It's on page 82.
Here is the top part of my recipe as featured in the new Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook A Year Of Cake. It’s on page 82. There isn’t a picture to accompany this recipe due to cost.

The Tres Leches cake is ideally best to be made and soaked the night before you need to bake it as you need to give time for the flavours to develop in the cake.

To bake the cake itself you need to first sift plain flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.  In another bowl you need to beat softened butter and sugar together until it gets light and fluffy.  Then one by one you add in eggs and a little bit of the flour mixture to stop any curdling.  When the remaining flour is added in, you then add in some natural coconut extract and some lime zest.  The natural coconut extract I swear by is one that comes from a range in Lakeland Ltd.  It comes in a small bottle and a few drops transform the flavours of your bakes.

Once all the mixture is combined well, it is divided into two loose bottomed sandwich tins and then baked in the oven for about 20-25 minutes.

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These are the original photos I took last year before I submitted the recipe, hence there being 3 cake layers instead of two. Here they are just out of the oven and cooling.
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This is the tres leches glaze all mixed up and ready for soaking. Evaporated milk, condensed milk, double cream and some ready made up Mojito cocktail are mixed together. I use the Bacardi one found in most big supermarkets.
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Now this is a bit of a messy job and I learned the hard way that it’s best to keep the cakes in the tin when you are pouring the tres leches glaze on top of the cake. Then put the tins in the fridge overnight and remove them the next day. I didn’t and ended up with baking parchment catching the drips.

Don’t be alarmed when soaking a tres leches cake.  It looks like you have loads of soaking syrup and you do wonder how all of that will go into a cake and not fall to pieces in a big soggy mess.  I felt like that the very first time I baked one and I panicked. But I was reassured not to worry and it was fine. I took my time carefully with it, spooning the glaze carefully onto the cakes, letting it do the soaking then adding more.

Then, leave your cake overnight in the fridge to let the flavours develop.  The next morning or whenever you need to assemble it, make up the topping and filling.  This is made with double cream and icing sugar whipped up together. Sometimes I choose to decorate the sides of the cake with the topping as well, depends on what I feel like doing at the time!

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Here is the version of the Tres Leches cake I baked for the A Year Of Cake Launch party in Leeds last weekend. I tried to decorate the side of the cake with it but I am such a messy decorator.

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The first slice ready to be cut at the launch party.

 Since first creating the recipe I have discovered Sugar and Crumbs Natural flavoured icing sugars  and I am a huge fan of their products.  I’m always thinking of good excuses to use them. I used some of their Key Lime flavoured icing sugar in the topping instead of plain icing sugar to give it an extra kick.  I think it worked extremely well and will be doing that again when I bake the cake in the future.

I’m sorry that I can’t give you the whole recipe here but I am not allowed to by the publishers of the book.

Welsh Honey and Camomile Bara Brith- My Own Recipe Featured in The Clandestine Cake Club A Year Of Cake.

Last year myself and the other Clandestine Cake Club members were invited to submit recipes to be included in a brand new cookbook due to be published in September 2015. It was to be called “A Year Of Cake” and members were asked to contribute recipes which celebrated both festivals and famous people’s birthdays from all over the world.  I had joined the Clandestine Cake Club just after all the recipes had been submitted and shortlisted for the hugely popular first book The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook which came out in February 2013. It is one of my ambitions to write a recipe book so I was tempted to have a go but wasn’t sure if it was what they were looking for. I was a bit nervous about sending in my own recipes but I chose three that I had tried out and worked well enough for me. Lynn Hill, founder of the Clandestine Cake Club was to have some recipes in the book herself and the rest of the book would be made up of members’ own recipes.

A few months later I was absolutely thrilled when Lynn emailed and told me that I was to have not one but two out of the three recipes included in the book!  All the recipes are scrupulously tested out so I’m glad the testing team thought they would work ok! I was so excited when the email came through on my phone I shot through to where my hubby was sat watching telly in the lounge and upstairs to tell my two teenage children. They couldn’t see why I was so excited though, which dampened it down a bit.

We had to keep the nature of our recipes secret until the book was published but as soon as we got our copies of the books my cakey friends and I were looking excitedly at each other’s recipes and wondering what we’d bake first out of the book.

The first recipe I submitted was my Welsh Honey and Camomile Bara Brith.

This is the recipe introduction in the A Year Of Cake book: Bara Brith means speckled bread in Welsh and is a delicately spiced fruity tea bread. It is sometimes made with yeast to make it more like a bread but this version is firmly anchored in the cake category with the use of self-raising flour which keeps it wonderfully sticky and moist. As a tea bread, soaking the fruit in a brew is obligatory and Sam has chosen to steep hers in a camomile and honey tea giving it a unique aromatic flavour.  It’s an easy recipe to bake with children and the perfect cake to celebrate the feast of St David, the patron saint of Wales who died on this day in 569AD.  Mwynhewch eich bara brith! (Enjoy your bara brith!)

The inspiration for this recipe came from lots of happy memories of childhood holidays, my time at uni in Bangor in the early 1990s and more recently holidaying in Ceredigion where my husband lived as a child. On one holiday we visited NewQuay Honey Farm and ate delicious honey bara brith made with the honey from the farm.  I always stock up on the honey to take back home with me so I was really keen to replicate the recipe myself at home.

The idea is with a bara brith or other fruit bread is that you soak the fruit in the liquid the night before so that the fruit absorbs the flavours.  I wanted to choose a tea which complimented the honey flavour in the bara brith and inspiration came to me when looking in my cupboard.  I often drink camomile tea to relax me at night and found some Twinings Camomile and Honey teabags. So i tried it out with my recipe in place of the usual builder’s tea.  The result tasted gorgeous.

After you have soaked the fruit overnight (and again I am not one of those who sticks to a certain type of dried fruit in my bara brith, I just go with what’s left in my cupboard!)

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The dried fruit is soaking in a large bowl with the camomile and honey tea, stirred in with runny local Welsh honey and boiling water. This was left to soak overnight though I took the teabag out after 10 minutes.
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The following day I strained the liquid out of the dried fruit mixture but kept it just in case I needed moisture in the cake mix.

After straining the liquid I added beaten egg to the dried fruit and then afterwards added the remaining ingredients.  These were soft light brown sugar, a grated zest of a lemon, some self raising flour and some ground mixed spice.

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Here is the mixture about to go into the oven. You can line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with baking parchment or you can buy special loaf tin liners in specialist bakeware shops.

The loaf is baked in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours but if it looks like it is going brown well before the end of cooking time then you need to cover the top of it with a bit of foil.

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The finished Bara Brith. all ready and waiting to be boxed up and taken to the Cake Club Launch party so other members could taste it for themselves.

I hope lots of people will try to bake the Bara Brith for themselves as it is such a delicious tea loaf.  It freezes well too! I baked it again as I was invited to a book launch party last weekend and took along both bakes from the book. It was also easy to carry in a tin- no cake wrecks here with it being a loaf cake and easy to transport!  It’s also a fab recipe to bake with kids, as a teacher in my “day” job I have baked this with children and they adored it.

The excitement about A Year Of Cake being published was amazing amongst our community of cake clubbers and we couldn’t wait for our own special copies of the book to arrive just prior to the official publication date. On Saturday 5th September my own copy arrived and I was so emotional at seeing my own name in print.  Though sharing the same name as a famous singer who also happens to be singing the new James Bond theme means I do see my name a lot now, but this was to do with me and not Sam Smith the singer!

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Not every recipe in the book has an accompanying picture. This can be annoying to some who would like to see how the recipe is meant to turn out but usually it is down to the sheer cost of printing. My Bara Brith recipe did have a picture to go with it. Picture courtesy of Quercus Books.
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Here it is! My very own recipe in print!
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My Bara Brith on display at the launch party along with just some of the other mouthwatering cakes we all got to taste.

Please note I have not given out my recipe on the blog- you will have to buy the book to be able to see the full recipe. Not my rules, I’m afraid.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Pear and Ginger Upside Down Cake from The Clandestine Cake Club’s A Year Of Cake.

The second Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook was published last Thursday and is already proving very popular both with members and non-members.  I have been a member of the Clandestine Cake Club for nearly three years now and I can honestly say it has changed my life.  I have made some wonderful friends over cake and regularly meet up with a few of them for afternoon tea or lunch and a girly gossip at the same time.

The recipe I baked for our Sunday lunch dessert yesterday was created as a homage to the seventh Duchess of Bedford who is believed to have created the idea of the English Afternoon Tea. She needed something to keep her hunger at bay until she ate dinner but then as time progressed friends began to share tea with her.  The recipe in the book is called Pear and Ginger Upside Down cake and was created by member Jean Lacey who is from the Loire Valley Clandestine Cake Club.  I can just picture this delectable cake being served at an afternoon tea.  Pears and ginger are a winning combination to me, although my two children weren’t impressed.  Neither my daughter or son like pears though I was convinced they’d eat them in a cake.  They said the same about ginger but I’ve seen them eating gingerbread men!

So yesterday was going to be a very busy one.  Loads of jobs to do on top of trying to cook a roast beef dinner and to try out the pear and ginger cake recipe. But the ironing could wait!

I got out my well used 8″ sandwich tins, greased and lined them and put on the oven.  While it was heating up I made the cake batter and prepared the pears.

In one bowl I sifted together self raising flour, baking powder and some ground ginger. To this I then added softened unsalted butter, eggs and some caster sugar.  All the ingredients were mixed together and then I got the pears ready.

On the base of one of the greased tins I sprinkled some light brown soft sugar and then topped them with sliced pears.  The recipe said to peel two pears, halve and core them, then cut each half into three wedges. My pears were quite small so I used three but still cut each of the halves into three pieces. There was just enough fruit to cover the bottom of the tin.

After that I divided the cake mixture equally between the two tins but had to take care to make sure the pears stayed intact on the bottom of the tin.  Once this had been done, into the oven they went and were baked for about 20-25 minutes.

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The Pear and Ginger Upside Down Cake was baked in two separate 8″ sandwich tins. There was a layer of brown sugar topped with sliced pears in the bottom of one of the cakes.

The cakes cooked beautifully in the oven and rose well.  I put them on a wire rack to cool down and left them for a while when I went out for a dog walk.  When I came back I turned the cakes out onto the wire rack. I had to use my Nordicware Cake Lifter to help me move the pear layer as it seemed more fragile.

To finish the cake there was a delectable filling to make up.  It consisted of a layer of ginger preserve or jam with some sweetened whipped cream on top.  I found some delicious Tiptree Ginger Jam from Ocado the other day.  I was meant to spread a layer of the jam on top of one of the cake layers, then add the whipped cream. Only I didn’t read the recipe properly and I added the jam into the whipped cream mixture. It still looked okay though.

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The cake was layered with a divine tasting ginger infused whipped cream filling.
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To finish I dusted the cake with some icing sugar and put it on my cake stand ready for dinner.
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I was very impressed by the flavour of this cake. It was very enjoyable to make and I felt it was one I could bake over and over again.

 In the end I scoffed a piece at 4 pm. We weren’t eating our roast dinner til about 6.30pm when my daughter had got in from work and I was ravenous.  It’s fatal having cake in the house when you are hungry, especially one that you know you’ll enjoy the flavours of. My husband had a small slice after his roast but my kids turned their nose up at it: “What have you put fruit in it for?” So the rest got cut up and is now in a plastic box in the fridge. I’m trying to forget about the rest of the cake but then I’ve started back at Weightwatchers….

To find out more about the Clandestine Cake Club and the fun we have at all our events all around the world then please go to www.clandestinecakeclub.co.uk

Happy Baking.

Love Sam xx

Honey and Apple Cake from The Clandestine Cake Club (A Year Of Cake)

  A Year Of Cake is the eagerly awaited second book by Clandestine Cake Club founder Lynn Hill with contributions of lots of delicious recipes from Cake Club members from around the world.  The book was published on 10th September but being as I was lucky to have two recipes included in the book, I got my hands on my very own free copy a few days before.  As with the first Clandestine Cake Club book which is well used and cake splattered, I know that this one will be the same. The book is arranged into recipes to fit suitable special occasions, birthdays and anniversaries throughout the year.  So it was apt that I started to bake a couple of recipes from the September chapter.

I will be writing a couple of posts about my own featured recipes in the next few days. So watch this space!

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I was really excited when my very own copy of A Year Of Cake arrived at my house the other day!
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Lynn Hill very kindly autographed all the recipe contributor’s books for us. This is just a small sample of the beautiful photography featured in the book.

Last Sunday was one of those days where hubby said to me “Don’t bake anything, we don’t need cake in the house!” Though funnily enough when I don’t bake anything he always says “Have you got any cake? It’ll put me on ’til teatime?” I can’t win!  Anyway we had got back off holiday a couple of weeks before and due to the miserable weather and me feeling tired after a long week at work, I succumbed to temptation!

I had some eating apples in my fruit bowl and some gorgeous Welsh runny honey in my baking cupboard.  So it had to be Lynn Hill’s own recipe for Honey and Apple Cake to try out first.

The Honey and Apple cake was included in the September chapter of the book to mark the Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah which falls in September and is the start of the 10 day celebration for Jews.  Sweet foods are popular at Rosh Hashanah, especially honey.  This can be with apples dipped in honey or in the form of a honey cake.  Lynn’s cake is moist but also has an aromatic flavour from cinnamon and mixed spice as well as from fresh coffee in the mix.

I was keen to try out this recipe as I tried out a similar Jewish honey cake recipe a few months back.  My recipe was a disaster.  I had planned to bake it, along with some Challah to take into a school where I was teaching on supply and we were learning about Judaism.  Unfortunately both the Challah (which didn’t rise and came out like a heavy doorstop) and the honey cake (which fell apart when it came out of the tin) ended up staying at home.  I was too embarrassed to take them to work!

Fortunately, I needn’t have worried with Lynn’s recipe.  Here’s how I baked it:

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In a large mixing bowl I sifted self raising flour, cinnamon, mixed spice, baking powder and salt together.
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In another bowl I beat eggs and both dark brown and light brown sugar together.
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In a third bowl I measured out oil, runny honey and some freshly brewed warm and very strong black coffee.
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To another bowl I added grated apple, flaked almonds and some raisins.
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Finally I carefully folded the flour mixture into the wet mixture and then added in the fruit and nuts to create this batter. It was very runny.
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Lynn’s recipe calls for the cake to be baked in a 23cm springform cake tin. I wondered if it would work in a bundt pan. I thought I’d try it out as my springform tin is too small. I would watch the cake carefully as it cooked though.
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Lynn’s cake needs to be baked for 40-45 minutes but being as mine was in a bundt pan I had to keep it in about 10 minutes longer. I was a bit worried as it was beginning to burn round the edge but it was fine. Now all I had to to was to give it time to cool down and then hope and pray it came out of the tin in one piece!
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I decided to go off for a run and to do a couple of jobs so I wasn’t tempted to take the cake out of it’s pan too early. Luckily it slid out really easily apart from in one place round the middle of the pan. It began to come apart but I managed to save it before it slid on the floor!
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I’m sorry to say I’m such a greedy pig that I couldn’t wait til pudding to eat it. We were having roast chicken at tea time and the Honey cake was meant to be the pudding. Did that stop me nicking a big slice? No way!

The honey cake was delicious, just as i imagined it. Moist and sweet with juicy plump raisins. It was perfect with a dollop of creme fraiche on the side.  My family were too full up after the roast dinner to eat any though, including me who had eaten my fair share before.  So it got cut up into sections and is now in the freezer! Now I have baked this recipe successfully I will have a go at baking it with a class when we learn about Judaism although I will omit the almonds and use de-caff coffee!

if you love the sound of this recipe and lots more like it, then A Year Of Cake is available through Amazon and through lots of other book retailers.

Happy Baking

Love Sam xx

Pistachio, White Chocolate, Cranberry and Lemon Biscotti inspired by the Great British Bake Off.

This is a blogpost I’ve been meaning to write for ages now. Before I went away on holiday for a week I enjoyed watching the second week of The Great British Bake Off, which was biscuit week.  For the contestants’ Signature Bake they were asked to bake biscotti.  This is not easy, to get delicious flavours, the right amount of crunch and to make sure that each biscotti was exactly the same size.. well all I can say is I’m glad I wasn’t trying it out in the Bake Off tent.

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My take on biscotti adapted from the Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti recipe adapted from the latest Great British Bake Off book.

I do love having a go at baking biscotti though.  I hadn’t baked any for ages although it tends to be something I make for foodie presents at Christmas.  I had to use ingredients in my baking cupboard rather than relying on one of the recipes for biscotti in the latest Great British Bake Off book “The Great British Bake Off Celebrations”.  There is a delicious sounding recipe for Orange and Hazelnut Biscotti in the book. Now as I didn’t have any oranges or hazelnuts in, that was going to die a death.  Instead I went for pistachio and cranberries and because I always think white chocolate goes well with cranberries, I used some white chocolate chunks as well.

This was the first thing I’d baked in a couple of weeks, what with our holiday and getting back into the swing of things.  Hubby had gone away overnight and I was at home doing jobs with the kids.  I knew that biscotti wouldn’t take me that long to bake but then realised that I should have waited to start baking. We were meant to be staying in catching up on jobs but I ended up having to nip out.  So, as usual my baking session ended up being rushed.

Plain flour, caster sugar and baking powder was first put together into a big mixing bowl and combined. After this was done I added beaten eggs and finally the dried fruit, chcoolate, pistachios and grated lemon zest were mixed in.  All formed into a huge ball of dough which was then split into two and rolled into two long logs.  These logs were then baked on a greased baking sheet.  They really expanded in the oven and thankfully didn’t stick together in one huge lump! Unfortunately I started to cut the biscotti up a bit too early, still a bit too soft  and warm and this made them a bit difficult to cut up.  Eventually I managed to get the separate biscotti pieces, I lost count of how many I cut up but they they did end up more or less the right size.  Back into the oven they went to bake separately and to crisp up.

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These biscotti didn’t last very long in our house.

It took all of my willpower not to scoff one but when my husband got in from work, I caved in.  My husband said he would have one with a cup of tea as it was going to be a while before our tea was ready.  That was it, he was eating one so I had to join in. In fact he had two!  They were delicious and I loved the flavour combination.

I enjoyed baking biscotti again and hope it won’t be too long before I can bake some more.  I put all the leftover ones into a tin but because they were so moreish they didn’t last very long!

Happy Baking.

Love Sam xx

Forever Summer with Nigella Lawson

Forever Summer? Now wouldn’t that just be the ticket? As I look out of my kitchen window at a cold, wet and rainy landscape I can’t help thinking we have been just a little bit short-changed here in the UK when it comes to summer.  I was lucky enough to escape to Ibiza for a week in August which was wonderful, even though we were blessed with rain and thunderstorms when we were there. But it wouldn’t be a British Bank Holiday if it wasn’t raining would it?

When I came back from Ibiza I was determined to hold on to the concept of summer.  I am definitely a Spring and Summer person. I have much more energy and get up and go when the sun is out. To me, summer is a time when I can open up the patio doors, sit out with a drink and my cross stitch and to relax.  Being a teacher in my day, this relaxation is very important to me in the school holidays when I’m not rushing around after my teenagers.  To me, summer is also a time when you can eat simple but delicious food or even get the BBQ out. Though to be honest we have only had about 3 BBQs this year. The last one was nearly cancelled as the heavens opened when my husband pulled the BBQ out and got it set up!

Another thing I tend to do when I have more time is to cook from recipe books I’ve bought but not had time to do anything with. I love Nigella and use her recipes a lot but there’s one book on my shelf of hers that I’ve hardly used.  To be honest it’s my brother’s book which I’m borrowing off him. He lives in Canada but he’d left two of his Nigella books at my mum’s house! So Paul if you’re reading this I hope you don’t mind, I’m looking after them for you and making good use of them!  One of the books is Nigella’s “Forever Summer” and upon reading it you are immediately transported into a world of dinners and BBQs on a terrace, with the blazing sun pouring down as you chat and sip on a delicious cocktail.  Instead I’m thinking it’s more like bangers and mash weather than bangers on the BBQ here.

But it is a shame that the UK climate and all our wishes of a gorgeous hot summer were dampened down this year. I’m determined to still enjoy some yummy food though.  Over the last few days I have enjoyed testing out a couple of the recipes from Forever Summer in the vain hope that we might get some better weather to take us into September.

Last weekend we had a quiet Bank Holiday weekend at home and when it is like this you want to enjoy good food and great company of family and friends.  For Sunday I attempted some Mint Chocolate Mousse which is one of the delicious dessert recipes in Forever Summer.  Nigella says it “tastes best when made with the best quality mint chocolate”. I tend to use Lindt Mint Chocolate Intense bars as they have mint pieces and oil in it rather than a soft fondant. But when I was out meeting my friend for coffee we went to a local farm shop which didn’t sell any mint chocolate bars. There were some other gorgeous ones to choose from but I had my heart set on a mint mousse.  In the end I bought good quality chocolate buttons and added some peppermint extract that I already had at home.

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I bought two large packets of Montzenuma organic dark chocolate buttons from a local farm shop. They were absolutely gorgeous. To make them minty flavour I added a couple of drops of natural peppermint extract bought from Lakeland.

I was a bit nervous about making chocolate mousse as it involves separating eggs which I always muck up. Then I had to whisk egg whites.  I managed though and the mousse turned out much better than expected.  Shared out equally and spooned into rather retro looking sundae dishes, this pudding turned out to be a lovely decadent treat.

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The chocolate mousse made five large dishes full. Served in my late mother-in-law’s sundae dishes which was a great excuse to get them out of the cupboard! The mousse was filling, creamy and rich.

For Bank Holiday Monday I wanted to create a Strawberry Meringue Layer Cake.  The picture in the book showed a mouthwatering sandwich cake.  Each layer had the sponge cake and was then topped with a layer of chewy meringue and finished off with a sprinkling of flaked almonds.  Well, it serves me right for not reading the recipe right.  I did separate the eggs and whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl.  But that’s where it ended.  Instead of keeping the meringue separate, I wasn’t concentrating and threw the egg whites in with the rest of the sponge.  That wasn’t meant to happen! So in the end I was left with a flatter version of a Victoria Sponge!  I didn’t have any flaked almonds in either, so I sprinkled on some icing sugar hoping that it might make the cake half decent!  We were far too full up after our gammon. and pineapple so the cake went in the fridge to eat during the week.  It tasted ok and a small slice was very welcome when I got in from work absolutely exhausted after a long day.

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Here is my bungled attempt at the Strawberry Meringue and Cream Cake in Nigella’s Forever Summer book. As you can see it looks as flat as a biscuit and no sight of any meringues!

For our Bank Holiday dinner I cooked a gammon joint.  I usually boil gammon in a large pot on my hob so it takes all the salt out of it.  This time I tried it in my slow cooker which didn’t turn out too well.  It was still very salty and the meat instead of coming out in slices, fell apart like pulled pork!  I attempted to make the accompanying pineapple salsa.  None of my family liked it though, which was disappointing.

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We tried some Gammon with Pineapple last weekend for the Monday Bank Holiday. It didn’t turn out how it should have done as I tried cooking it in my slow cooker. The pineapple salsa wasn’t my cup of tea either!

For me, summer conjures up beautiful coloured and tasty salads.  One of my favourite salads is a well made Greek Salad so I was keen to try the version in Nigella’s book.  Her version includes fennel though which I can’t stand as I don’t like anything with an aniseed flavour.  I left it out.  This version also includes some finely sliced red onion which was marinated in olive oil, red wine vinegar and sprinkled with black pepper.  The salad was absolutely delicious, the feta cheese and olives were just delicious, a mixture of creaminess and saltiness in the same dish.

Nigella's Ultimate Greek Salad, was delicious as a side with roast chicken and roasted Mediterranean vegetables.
Nigella’s Ultimate Greek Salad, was delicious as a side with roast chicken and roasted Mediterranean vegetables.

I have really enjoyed cooking from Forever Summer over the past few days. There are a lot of recipes in the book which my family won’t touch with a bargepole but I’m keen to dip in and out of it.  Let’s hope we have a decent summer next year!

Love Sam xx