Heritage Crafts USA Cross Stitch Map.

Here’s a project I just started before Christmas and I know it won’t be a quick one.  I love the cross stitch map kits which Susan Ryder of Heritage Crafts designs and have stitched several of them over the past twenty five years.  Starting with a map of the traditional West Riding of Yorkshire where my grandparents were both brought up.  This was a gift for them which I stitched while I was at uni in the early 1990s between assignments.  The map took pride of place on my grandparent’s sitting room wall of their holiday flat in Scarborough and eventually was joined by a North Riding map and another one of Kent where they lived.  The map stitching became a bit addictive. I had to stitch one for myself. Now in my own sitting room at home I have a Yorkshire map for where I live and Nottinghamshire for where I grew up. For Mr SmartCookieSam we have a map of Australia, Cardiganshire (Ceredigion) and Norfolk.

Now you may wonder why I am stitching a map of the USA.  I have never lived there but have visited twice, once to Boston and another time to New York.  It’s just that when you see a beautiful kit with so much fabulous detail, you just get itchy fingers and you have to stitch it. Also these maps to me are educational.  You learn about the Geography of a country and where all the places are as you stitch them as well as stitching landmarks and rivers and state borders.  It also gives me an incentive to get on a USA road trip in the future.

I’ll post pics of my progress and I’m aiming to have the picture stitched by the end of 2017.  Being a primary school teacher I have the summer holidays and often take my cross stitch away on holiday with me. Here’s what I have achieved so far:

December 2016:

Starting in the middle of the map.  Don’t look too close at the name places. My reading glasses broke and stitching the names over one strand of even weave is really tricky when you can’t see a blessed thing!

January 2017.

Getting some State borders added.  Can you see one of the Great Lakes appearing?
We have some of the border with Canada and the East Coast is beginning to take shape, as with a bit more of The Great Lakes.

February 2017

As I type it’s the last week in February and I’ve not stitched any more on the map. I’ve been knitting this month.  All will be revealed later.  Hope to get some more done soon! I’ll keep you updated.

Love Sam  xx

Cross Stitcher Magazine’s 2017 Stitchalong. 

January 2017

Now as you all know, my SmartCookieSam blog is meant to be about my love of baking and cooking.  But baking up until last summer wasn’t doing my health any good. I’m too busy in my day job to make a living from baking (though I would love to do this in an ideal world) but when I did bake I’d find I’d be the champion quality controller! Cue a two stone weight gain!

Cross stitch is also a great passion of mine.  I started cross stitching when I was in sixth form to help relax me when I wasn’t revising for exams.  I’d been lucky that my Nana Margaret (my Dad’s mum) was a keen stitcher and she had showed me how to cross stitch when I was about 8. I never forget the wonderful parcel of red Binca she sent me with lots of beautiful cottons.  She taught me a skill for life and has been so therapeutic for me. Definitely mindfulness at its best. Cross stitch helped me relax when my kids were babies and toddlers once they had gone to bed.  An hour to concentrate on something which I had an end result to was a joy to me.  All at a time when I had given up work to look after my children and my confidence had taken a nose dive. Cross stitch, although wasn’t bringing in the pennies was something I could take a pride in.

Fast forward to January of this year and I saw a fantastic project I wanted to do.  It’s in Cross Stitcher Magazine and is their 2017 StitchAlong.  I’ve never done a StitchAlong before and the idea of stitching a small part every month really appealed to me.  The magazine release a small part of the chart every month so by the end of the year you have a complete project.  You don’t know what the finished project looks like, either! This StitchAlong is going to be a months of the year wall hanging and the design has been created by Susan Penny. In the January 2017 issue of Cross Stitcher Magazine we were given the January chart and a list of the threads and the fabric needed.  The fabric suggested was a pale, delicate dove grey even weave. This looked absolutely gorgeous but I already had some cream even weave in my stash. So rather than forking out for more fabric I stuck with what I already had.  The same went for the threads. I used a close match of DMC threads.

January 2017- making a start on the Stitchalong. Forgive the messy stitches. My reading glasses had broken and I was stitching in poor light.
It took me about three evenings to stitch the January part of the StitchAlong.
In early January the February 2017 issue came out with the new part of the chart.  Love the reds and pinks we get to stitch to coincide with Valentine’s Day.

February 2017.

I had a great idea about stitching the next part in time for 1st February and saving it as a cover picture on my Facebook profile.  Didn’t quite happen that way.  I can’t remember what I was doing but it didn’t get finished until the weekend after.  Must have been a very busy work week I think. The colours aren’t an exact match to the chart ones as I wanted to use up what I had got in my stash.  I think it’s a good likeness though.  The February one took about three nights to do which I was happy with.

Part two of the StitchAlong is this gorgeous Valentine’s Day tree complete with hearts and bird.
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It’s always a treat to get the next issue of CrossStitcher magazine! Here is March 2017 bought in early February with the next instalment.  Hope this isn’t a premonition of the weather we are going to have in this March!

Keep following my progress as I stitch my wall hanging.  At the time of typing I’m about to start stitching March’s picture.  I’ll add the photos as soon as it’s done.

Love Sam xx

Black Cherry Cupcakes. 

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Black Cherry Cupcakes- seriously indulgent and rich.

It seems like ages since I’ve baked cupcakes.  A couple of years ago they were everywhere and I was always being asked to make them.  I love making cupcakes, especially when you can put gorgeous decorations on them.  The only trouble is that I find the icing far too sickly sweet.  Doesn’t stop me baking for other people though.

Two weeks ago I had a much needed day off to catch up at home.  Of course baking always takes over my mind and all I can think of while I’m hoovering or dusting is baking. Why is baking seen of as fun but hoovering is not? At least it was an incentive to get me through the tedious bits.

I’m a huge fan of Sugar and Crumbs’ Natural Flavoured Icing Sugars and had a packet of their black cherry icing sugar to try out.  With this in mind a few weeks previously I had bought a tin of black cherries in syrup.  I had to de-stone all the cherries first. Can you imagine what a nasty surprise that would have been if I hadn’t have taken the stones out? I then thoroughly rinsed the cherries and patted them dry on some kitchen roll so that they weren’t covered in the sticky syrup.  I kept a dozen whole for decorating the top of the cupcakes and chopped the remaining ones up into quarters to go inside the mix.

It was a perfect excuse to use some pretty black and white patterned cupcake cases I had bought last year in TKMaxx and never used.  Thankfully they were great quality ones. Sometimes you buy pretty cupcake cases only to find they fade in the oven or feel greasy afterwards.  These didn’t and still looked perfect when they came out of the oven.

The recipe for these delicious cupcakes is from The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book.  They were baked by creaming butter and sugar together, then adding eggs, plain flour and baking powder to the mix.  After this I folded in the stoned, rinsed and quartered cherries.

Not before long the cupcakes were in the oven and I was greeted with a delicious smell wafting throughout the kitchen.  Time for a cup of tea before starting on the icing.

If you read my blog regularly you will notice I use Sugar and Crumbs’ icing sugars and cocoa powders a lot.  I’m not working for them or connected to them in any way but I just love their products.  Every time they bring out a new flavour I’m always desperate to try it. The Black Cherry one isn’t a new flavour in their range but it was one I’d not seen before. As with their other flavours you could smell the aroma of the black cherries when you opened the packet.

Once the cupcakes had cooled down and I’d finished my cuppa, I made up the buttercream.  I find buttercream a bit sickly so I always add a splash of lemon juice to mine.  This is a tip I picked up from my late Nana Mary and also from my mum.  It takes the teeth tingling sweetness away if you don’t like it.  Just a splash of it, mind!

A few minutes later and my cupcakes were ready.  A stoned black cherry on top to finish!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

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.

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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

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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/

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

 

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

 

Dust Off The Old Cookbooks- Coffee Cake. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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!
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Each tier was assembled with a generous layer of apricot jam.
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The middle layer goes on top of the bottom one…
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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.

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It was hard to get a smooth finish on the side of the cake with the ganache but at least it tasted ok.
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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.
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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!
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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