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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
The SmartCookieSam family have just come back from our summer holidays in the South of France. It’s been 9 years since we last went to France. We’ve always loved going there and as I speak French, it always feels like a special place to me. Of course part of going to France is to enjoy all the lovely food and wine and our holiday was no exception.
We stayed in a beautiful villa outside the medieval town of Flayosc near Draguignan and for most of our shopping used the huge Carrefour supermarket on the edge of Draguignan. I was blown away by the sheer quality of the fruit and vegetables for a start. Tomatoes never taste the same in the UK as they do in the mediterranean countries, to me.
The day after we got home I had to head up to our local supermarket to stock up. I’d been so taken by all the Provencale type foods and dishes I’d seen, I was keen to make something French for our dinner. My son was over at his girlfriend’s house and he balks at anything with tomatoes in it unless it’s ketchup! I was looking in one of the Great British Bake Off books and found a mouthwatering sounding recipe in the book to accompany the 2013 series The Great British Bake Off Everyday. There was a recipe for Roast Tomato Tart. It captured all the typical Mediterranean flavours and could be adapted to have pesto sauce in it in place of mustard. I chose to stick with mustard. The tart is a shortcrust pastry base infused with rosemary, baked blind and then spread with Dijon mustard and grated Gruyere cheese. Then the tart is topped with sliced tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and then salt and pepper.
The recipe makes a tart in a circular 1 x 23cm loose based quiche tin but I chose to try out a rectangular flan tin I’d bought in John Lewis last year and never used. I found I had slightly too many tomatoes to go in the tin but I just added them to the side salad I was serving with the tart.
200g plain flour
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (I used dried, as I didn’t have fresh)
140g butter chilled and diced
3-4 tbsp iced cold water
800g ripe tomatoes
1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard or pesto sauce
175g Gruyere or Emmental cheese, grated
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A couple of pinches of herbes de Provence
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
First, you make up the rosemary shortcrust pastry. This can be done in a food processor or by hand. I thought that by the time I’d faffed about getting the food processor out, I could have made up the pastry. But if you have one and it’s not a pain getting it out of the cupboard, it makes making pastry so much easier. Rub the butter into the flour until it makes fine breadcrumbs then add the water little by little. Form into a ball with the end of a round bladed knife. It should be a soft but not sticky dough. Wrap the dough into cling film and put in your fridge to chill for about 15 minutes.
Flour your work top with some plain flour or if you’re like me, pour too much out so it goes all over the kitchen floor. When you have done that, get the dough out of the fridge and roll the pastry out to fit the flan tin allowing extra to overhang because of shrinkage.
Then the oven needs to be heated up to 190oC/
Excuse the awful pictures but I was taking the photos in a hurry. Especially doing them before Mr SmartCookieSam saw me taking the pictures and would say he didn’t “want to see his dinner on bloody Facebook!”
A couple of weeks back I dug out my copy of the Nordic Bakery Cookbook. It’s been sitting on the shelf in my spare room for about a year. I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I last tried something out from it. Anyway, what the hell. It was the summer holidays and I had the chance to bake something.
In the book’s Cakes chapter is a recipe for Tiger Cake. It “gets its name from the tiger stripes formed by the two colours of the cake mixture- vanilla and chocolate.” This is explained in the recipe introduction, that it’s really a marble cake but the staff at the Nordic Bakery like to call it a tiger cake instead. Either way, it still looks very impressive and even more so if you bake it in a bundt pan. As I collect Nordic Ware bundt pans, it was a great excuse to use one. The photo in the recipe shows a traditional ring shape but I chose to bake my version in my Star bundt pan bought earlier this year and was yet to get used. I also adapted the recipe slightly to suit ingredients I had in and to make the cake look more special. Here is my adaptation:
300g unsalted butter at room temperature
250g golden caster sugar
3 tsp vanilla extract
5 large, free range eggs
3 tsp baking powder
300g plain flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp full fat Greek Yoghurt
200g plain chocolate
Various chocolate sprinkles to decorate
You will also need a 23cm/ 9″ bundt pan or a 19cm/ 7″ diameter springform tin for this recipe.
Pre-heat your oven to 180oC/ 350oF or Gas Mark 4. I have a fan oven so I put it on at roughly about 160oC.#
Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until it becomes pale and fluffy. Add in the vanilla extract. Then add the eggs in one at a time, whisking well after each addition.
In another bowl, sift the baking powder and plain flour together. Then fold this in to the egg mixture.
Separate one third of the mixture into a separate bowl and fold in the cocoa powder and the Greek Yoghurt.
At this stage I then grease my bundt tin with some Wilton Cake Release. The tin is then ready for you to put the mixture inside it.
Take it in turns to spoon vanilla mixture then chocolate mixture into the bundt pan. Make sure the cake mixture is evenly spread out.
Bake in the oven for about 50-60 minutes until the top is firm to the touch and a skewer comes out clean after you have inserted it into the cake.
Leave your cake to cool down in the bundt pan for about 15 minutes and then take it our of the tin carefully. Leave it to cool down completely before serving.
The original Tiger Cake recipe was left plain but I thought mine looked a bit bland and boring without some decoration on the top. I had 200g plain chocolate in my baking cupboard so I chose to melt that and to drizzle it onto the top of the cake. To finish off I found a tub of various milk, plain and white chocolate sprinkles I’d bought a few weeks ago in the supermarket and not used up.
I’m sorry to say I broke my diet here and scoffed a slice. Well who can blame you when you’re faced with chocolate cake? The cake had a delicious aroma of vanilla and chocolate and the icing tasted wonderfully fudgy. Didn’t last long in the SmartCookieSam house, I can tell you.