Nostalgic Bakes from Paul Hollywood’s “A Baker’s Life”

The recent spate of snow days has made me want to stay in my warm kitchen and bake comfort food.  Never mind me trying to diet.  Forget that! When you feel cold and tired, all you want to do is to hibernate with a giant piece of flapjack in each hand!

I ended not being able to work for three days due to the snow last week but then again I wasn’t the only one.  Then again it gave me chance to catch up with jobs and to try out some recipes from Paul Hollywood’s latest book A Baker’s Life.  I had got it at Christmas last year and had my eye on several things I wanted to test out.

The book spans the five decades of Paul’s life so far from his childhood as the son of a baker in Merseyside right up to the present day as a judge on The Great British Bake Off.  Each chapter in the book concentrates on recipes from a certain time of life.  I wanted to start with the first chapter: Nostalgic Bakes from Paul’s early years.

There were loads of recipes to choose from, including traditional favourites that we would all remember from our own childhoods.  Some of the recipes are perfect for actually making with children, such as Cornflake Cakes and Jam Tarts.  As well as these, there were also recipes for bakes that your grandma or mum may have made in years gone by.  The first recipe in the book was actually called My Mum’s Ginger Biscuits.  I absolutely love ginger biscuits and they remind me of the Yorkshire Ginger Biscuits my Nana Margaret would buy.  She would never bake them as she was a walking disaster in the kitchen.  If she could buy it in Marks and Spencer’s food hall, she would have it and pass it off as her own.

Paul says in his recipe introduction: ” Not only are they a doddle to make, but they’ve got the right balance of being crispy and chewy.” The recipe was an old-fashioned melting method one, where the butter or margarine is melted in a saucepan on the hob with golden syrup and caster sugar. Then once the melted mixture was cooled enough to handle, then self raising flour and a beaten egg were added to the mixture.

The mixture was then gathered up into a ball and made into a dough.  I separated the dough into about 24 pieces and spaced them out carefully on lined baking trays.  I put two trays in the oven at a time and watched them like a hawk. They could easily burn quickly after about 10 minutes.

I always like my cookies on the chewy side and to be honest I would add tiny pieces of chopped stem ginger to the dough.  This version has the ginger flavour coming from ground ginger and wow, did my kitchen smell wonderful! I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep them from being scoffed instead of taking them into work.

When the biscuits were cooling down on the rack, I decided to have a go at another recipe from the Nostalgic Bakes chapter.  This time it was for a Tea Loaf.  I have baked countless tea loaves in my time, including my own version of a Welsh Bara Brith which recipe is featured in the second Clandestine Club Cookbook A Year Of Cake.  I can’t resist a slice of tea loaf, slathered in butter and with a cup of my beloved Yorkshire Tea.  The recipe doesn’t feature any spices or citrus fruit zest but is crammed full of raisins, sultanas and currants.  I did not have any currants but made up the difference in weight with extra sultanas and raisins.  The dried fruit had been previously soaked in some strong Yorkshire Tea and to this I added self raising flour, demerara sugar, milk and a beaten egg.

Once this was mixed up, I lined my 2 lb loaf tin with a special loaf tin liner and put it to bake in my fan oven.  I completely forgot that I also needed to bake some potato wedges to go along with the Cajun Chicken breasts cooking in the slow oven for our dinner that night.  So half way through the baking time I had to whip the oven door open and stuff the tray of wedges in on the shelf underneath the tea loaf.  Luckily they were both ready at the same time as I didn’t want the cake sinking.

I left the cake to cool on the side with the ginger biscuits and then took them along to work the following day.  I left them in the staff room and found that half the biscuits had gone along with a couple of slices of cake when I popped in at lunchtime before going home.

Next week I’m thinking of trying out some Millionaire’s Shortbread if I have time.

Happy Baking

Love Sam xx

Half Term Baking

It feels like an eternity since I last updated my blog. I was working in a long term and full time post last half term. Baking, let alone any blogging was the last thing on my mind.

The last few weeks have been extremely stressful. Even though baking helps me to relax and unwind, I didn’t have the time and the energy to lift a wooden spoon. As soon as my work was finished for the night, it was bedtime and the cycle would start again at 6.00am the next morning.

Although half term week was last week up here in Yorkshire, it’s taken me that long to get my head back to writing up my latest post. But I was so happy, esctatic even to be back in my favourite place doing what I love. So I am sharing with you what I have baked this last week.

At Christmas I was given a copy of Jamie Oliver’s latest book “5 Ingredients” which I really love. As there are only 5 ingredients in each recipe, a lot of the recipes are simple to make and quick to throw together after a busy day. Although poor Mr SmartCookieSam ended up cooking our dinner most nights last half term! As usual, whenever I get a new recipe book I’m always looking at the sweet stuff at the back of the book.

On the Monday of half term week I went over to Leeds to meet up with my cake club friends at one of our friends’ houses. Linda cooked us a delicious Spanish Chicken Traybake (from the Hairy Dieters first book) and we had some sweet treats afterwards. This was a real tonic to catch up with my friends as I hadn’t seen anyone for a couple of months. My contribution was a Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake (more of that to follow) and some St Clements Polenta Biscuits from Jamie’s 5 Ingredients.

The St Clements Polenta Biscuits could have been used with lemons or oranges but I used just lemons in my recipe. The five ingredients were: butter, fine polenta, self raising flour, caster sugar and lemons or oranges. The biscuit dough could be made up in my food processor, so it was really quick to put together. When the dough had formed into a large ball, I split the dough into 24 equal pieces and laid them onto a lined baking tray. The biscuits spread a lot during the baking so I needed to space them well apart on the tray. I usually put 6 biscuits per tray. These were baked for about 10 minutes in the oven, but my oven temperature is a bit out at the moment so I was watching them like a hawk.

I was very pleased with the biscuits and they went down well. My only problem was not to eat them before I met my friends! It’s the first time I’ve used polenta in a biscuit recipe. I’ve baked polenta in savoury recipes and also in a cake. The latter was a complete disaster and the cake fell apart. Cake balls, anyone?!

The other bake I took along to my friend’s house was a Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake. Anyone who knows me well will know that I collect Nordicware Bundt pans. Much to the annoyance of Mr SmartCookieSam who complains about them taking up space in the garage! I chose to use my Elegant Heart pan to make my cake in, being as it was two days before Valentine’s Day. I had a packet of mini Chocolate Orange Lindt D’Or balls in my baking cupboard which I could use to decorate the top. I’m still confused. How were they still there in the cupboard? I’m surprised they hadn’t been scoffed.

I adapted the Tunnel of Fudge Bundt recipe from one of my Nordicware cookbooks and used one of my favourite products in the mix. I’m a huge fan of Sugar and Crumbs’ Natural Flavoured Icing Sugars and Cocoa powders. I used the chocolate orange cocoa powder in the cake itself and in the glaze on top.

The third bake of the week was on the Thursday of half term week. I was at home on my own that day just catching up on jobs around the house and by the afternoon I was fed up of doing boring chores. The kitchen beckoned again so I had a go at making another recipe from Jamie’s “5 Ingredients” This time I baked “Buddy’s Flapjack Biscuits” Jamie must have made the recipe for his son, Buddy. The five ingredients in this recipe were: butter, mixed dried fruit and nuts, porridge oats, self raising flour and golden syrup. Basically a flapjack style recipe without sugar in it, only syrup and more sweetness derived from dried fruit. I chose to substitute the dried fruit for a packet of Vahine choco-caramel chips which I had in the baking cupboard. They had been brought back from France last August and I hadn’t got round to using them. They melted into the mixture, though and turned it darker. I was hoping they might stay solid, rather like chocolate chips do in a cookie. Once again, this recipe was simplicity itself pulsed together in my food processor.

I also treated myself to Mary Berry’s latest book “Classic” and used her recipe for flapjacks which definitely are a classic to me. If I could only ever eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would easily be a flapjack. Though it has to be said, both my son and Mr SmartCookieSam ate these.

Finally, I had a very special cake to bake at the end of half term week. My friend was celebrating her 60th birthday so her husband asked me if I could bake her a cake. Marion and I met a couple of years ago before our favourite band of all time Wet Wet Wet were playing in Scarborough at the Open Air Theatre. Her husband was bringing her away for the weekend at Nidd Hall near Knaresborough in North Yorkshire and they asked Mr SmartCookieSam and I to come over to Nidd Hall for drinks and afternoon tea. I baked Marion’s special cake the day before and had great fun decorating it with a fanastic cake topper from mycupcaketoppers.co.uk. I used the image from Wet Wet Wet’s very first album cover Popped In Souled Out and added stars, hearts and sugar coated crispy balls around the edge. The cake itself was a Madeira sponge which I cut in half horizontally (not straight as you can tell from the photos), and layered with strawberry jam and buttercream. I then crumb coated the cake with buttercream, left it to dry and then added the sugarpaste layer. I hate covering cakes with sugarpaste and even though I’ve been decorating cakes for years, I still get anxious and nervous about the sugarpaste breaking and falling off the rolling pin. But thankfully today, it all worked out fine.

As I type, it’s now the following Thursday morning and I’m not at work today. I’m wondering what I can bake. I daren’t bake anything as I know I’ll eat it though. Maybe I’ll have to keep out of the kitchen and do my knitting instead once I’ve done all my chores.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Florentines- The Great British Bake Off Christmas.

Friday 22nd December 2017.

Yet another new favourite from The Great British Bake Off Christmas book.  I love Florentines but have only ever made them once before.  They’re another perfect treat to make for foodie gifts at Christmas as well as handy for having around for visitors who don’t like mince pies!  I don’t know why I’ve only made them once before, maybe because if I did make them more often they wouldn’t even get to the serving plate or into the box!

The last and only time I made Florentines was about 3 years ago.  That year my mum, auntie, cousin and his wife came up to stay in a nearby holiday cottage in Yorkshire.  They came over to our house on Boxing Day but before we had lunch and went home to open the presents, we went out to the pub.  Normally I don’t leave anything food related under the Christmas tree  because our greedy Labrador would have the lot. Anyway I made the mistake of putting all the presents out under the tree for when we got back. I though I had shut the door into the lounge but obviously not. We left our dog at home for about an hour but when we came back we noticed that he had eaten half the Florentines and ripped open the cardboard gift box they were in.  It was a wonder he wasn’t ill, what with all the chocolate and glace cherries on them.  So my mum, auntie, cousin and his wife ended up sharing what was left of the Florentines between them! They didn’t look that marvellous anyway, quite rustic looking but I heard they tasted lovely.

This time I was planning on Florentines but this time I would bake them for my three step-sisters and their families.  I definitely wouldn’t be putting them under the tree!  I’d keep them up on the work top in my utility room with the door firmly closed.

The recipe introduction to the Florentines says: “These sticky little sweet treats are half biscuit and half chewy caramel goodness. They have become a classic at Christmas, probably thanks to the candied peel and glace cherries that are so beloved at this time of year,”

The recipe said it made 16-18 biscuits so I prepared two baking trays with lining paper.  I know that Florentines spread out quite a lot when they are in the oven so you need to leave plenty of space between each biscuit.  I wondered whether to set out a third baking tray just in case.

First, I melted butter and sugar in a small pan on the hob. When this was melted and turned into a paste, I stirred in plain flour and double cream.  This was kept on the heat until smooth and the sugar had dissolved.

After this I folded in flaked toasted almonds, candied peel, dried cranberries and glace cherries.  I love all the different jewel like colours in Florentines which does add to their seasonal prettiness.

When it was time to bake them I put teaspoonfuls  of the mixture spaced well apart on the two baking trays. They only just fitted on two trays.  Both trays went into the oven at the same time and baked for about 10 minutes.

A word of warning! Do not move the Florentines onto a cooling rack until you have given them time to cool first and harden up a bit on the baking tray.  Like with any cookies, if you move them before you need to, they will break!  That happened to two of mine so I left the rest for about half an hour and then moved them with a pallette knife.

To decorate the Florentines I chose to melt two different types of chocolate. I melted a pot of white chocolate and the other dark chocolate.  I turned each Florentine over so that the flat bases were uppermost and spread either the white or the dark chocolate on the top of it with my small pallette knife.  I then left them to set before putting them into gift bags, alternating white chocolate ones with dark chocolate ones.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Lebkuchen Cookies.

Friday 22nd December 2017.

I love spicy and aromatic Lebkuchen cookies.  My mum used to buy a special packet of them every year at Christmas from Sainsburys.  The biscuits were small and in traditional shapes like trees, stars and hearts covered with a crisp royal icing and sprinkles.  When I moved up to Yorkshire I discovered Betty’s own version of Lebkuchen cookies which they sell in their shop. The cookies are usually of a seasonal design and covered in a thin, white royal icing and finished with piping detail.

According to the recipe introduction Lebkuchen is “a classic German Christmas delight, these are a little bit like gingerbread, but with a deeper, more treacly and spiced flavour.” 

It was the last day of term but as a supply teacher on day to day work I thought there would be no work available that day.  Not only that, but with the last day of term being so close to Christmas Day I didn’t have enough time to get everything done.  I normally make some foodie gifts for friends and family but this had to be cut down a lot this year.  Anything I did make would have to be quick to make and bag up!

The recipe used a star cookie cutter but I chose to use another winter/ Christmas themed cutter, a mitten one.  I’d not used that one before and thought with white details piped on then that would make the cookies look pretty.

To start with I heated runny honey, black treacle and sugar with some butter in a pan.  When the sugar had disolved and the butter had melted I took the mixture off the heat while I weighed out and mixed the dry ingredients together.

In a large bowl I sifted self raising flour, bicarbonate of soda, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground ginger and some mixed spice together. This was combined with the melted butter mixture and then a beaten egg. I then added in some grated orange zest.  Finally I could combine the dough in a ball.  The dough had to be chilled in the fridge for about half an hour while I got on with other baking.

When the dough had chilled sufficiently I rolled it out to a 5mm thickness and cut out the mitten shapes.  I lost count of how many mittens I cut out but there was enough to go on 3 baking trays. I can bake two trays of cookies at the same time so I had to put the 3rd tray in after the others had finished.  The kitchen smelled wonderful.  Baking gingerbread is one of my favourite smells of all time.

The cookies didn’t need long in the oven.  They usually take about 12 minutes for me.  When I took them out of the oven I left them on the tray before transferring them across to the wire rack.  I bet if I didn’t, they would have fallen apart! Later on, when they were completely cooled I put them into a plastic box overnight until I was ready to decorate them.

The following day, which was Saturday I finally got round to icing the lebkuchen cookies.  I chose to ice them differently instead of the traditional egg white, icing sugar and lemon juice mixture.  Instead I made up royal icing so I could pipe on the details, like spots, stripes and zig zags, etc.  I’m not really that confident at piping the icing on as sometimes I find the bag splits and the icing explodes all over the work top! I think I had three goes this time!  Anyway I got there in the end.

After the cookies dried for a few hours I was able to put them into their gift bags and tie them with some pretty Christmas ribbon.  There were two spare ones so I kept them back and ate them for my breakfast on Christmas Eve!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Seedy Flatbread Crackers.

Sunday 10th December 2017.

Mr SmartCookieSam loves cheese and biscuits. He loves a plate of cheese and crackers washed down with a glass of wine more than a piece of cake or some chocolate. Normally I’d buy in a couple of packets of cream crackers or oatcakes to put in the tin for whenever he fancies some cheese.

But looking through The Great British Bake Off Christmas book which I’m baking a lot from this month, I noticed a recipe for some crackers. I don’t really bake savoury biscuits that often but I was keen to have a go. After all, it might stop me stuffing my face too!

On Sunday afternoon I just didn’t fancy going out. It had started snowing (not settling though) but was still freezing. The fire had been lit in the lounge and Mr SmartCookieSam was on Dad’s taxi duty collecting our son from work and taking him over to a friend’s house. Me being the baking addict I am, started twitching and thinking right what can I bake now?

The seedy crackers contain polenta which luckily our local Morrisons had. It took me a while to find it, though. Was it going to be with the baking stuff? Or with the Italian food? Not with the flours in the baking aisle and the only polenta I could find was the ready made stuff along with the pesto sauce and the like. I almost gave up until I walked past where there were some lentils! Lo and behold, I could find some! Not only that but this recipe needed pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. There was a gap on the shelf where the pumpkin seeds were meant to be but in the end I bought a mixed bag of seeds to save buying three separate bags. I had some milled flaxseed left over from the other week when I baked a vegan banana loaf for a family get together.

The recipe introduction makes these delicious sounding flatbread crackers a perfect idea for presents wrapped up in a gift tin as they are “easy to make and keep exceptionally well,” The recipe also, to me sounds really adaptable as you can “experiment with different seeds, such as poppy, hemp and chia or you could try brown mustard seeds, cumin or coriander,” Not sure if I’d get that far, to be honest but I like poppy seeds.

All the seeds, polenta and flaxseeds were tipped into a large bowl and mixed up, along with some sea salt, some olive oil and some boiling water. I then stirred everything together so that it became a big dough.

On my work top I laid down two rectangular pieces of baking parchment. Half the dough went on each piece. Then, I cut two more identical sized pieces of baking parchment and put them on top of the mixture. Out came the rolling in and I rolled the dough, which was sandwiched between the baking parchment. This was to get the dough as flat as possible without it sticking to the rolling pin and the work top! When it was rolled flat, I trimmed the rectangle of dough neatly and then scored it into neat little rectangles. I ended up with two baking trays full of crispbreads.

My oven was set to 200oC and the crackers were baked for about 45 minutes until they came out crisp. They broke easily along the scored lines and were left to cool down on a wire rack. When Mr SmartCookieSam came back he wondered what they were. We still had a while to go until our dinner was ready and he ended up having a couple of crispy flatbreads with some Stilton cheese. He wasn’t that impressed with them, to be honest. I think he’s not a seed lover. He’ll eat cream crackers but he’s not keen on water biscuits or anything with “bits in” I couldn’t see my son eating them, either. Maybe if I experiment and keep out the big chunky seeds then he won’t notice. I wondered if I didn’t put enough salt in them, I suppose homemade crackers are a lot different to shop bought ones.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Vanilla and Chocolate Button Cookies.

Wednesday 6th December 2017.

Yesterday was full on at work and I came home with a thumping headache. I couldn’t face cooking anything for dinner, so we ended up at the chippy. The sooner I could sit down and switch off last night, the better.

Today was a different story. I was home earlier from work but wanted to try out a new cookie cutter I bought in Lakeland a few weeks back. It was a button shape with four mini holes in the middle. I thought it would be perfect to try out the vanilla and chocolate button cookie recipe in The Great British Bake Off Christmas book. The recipe looked simple enough and as I enjoy baking cookies I thought there wouldn’t be any problems.

How wrong I was! My go to recipe for vanilla or chocolate roll out cookies uses four or five ingredients. This recipe used icing sugar in place of caster which isn’t unusual but just used egg yolks and asked for baking powder.  Now, especially when I’m baking roll out cookies I never use baking powder as it makes the cookies expand and depending on the design can make them lose some of their shape.  I was tempted to leave it out but then if the recipe said so, it must have been put in there for a reason!

Ingredients needed to bake Vanilla and Chocolate Button cookies.
Softened butter, icing sugar, plain flour and baking powder added to the mixing bowl to be rubbed in and turned into a breadcrumb like texture.
Working the dough together. Unfortunately, although my recipe proportions were right, the dough turned out very sticky.

Then I divided the dough into two equal parts.  One half had vanilla added to it and the other cocoa powder to turn it chocolatey.  This did not work out too well as I felt as if I should have made the two doughs separately. The cocoa powder did not work into the dough as well as it should and the result was more of a marbled effect. Well I suppose you do get buttons that looked like that but that wasn’t the effect I wanted on these button cookies!

Then, after chilling the dough in the fridge for half an hour, it was time to get the button cookie cutter out and cut out the biscuits.  I was very disappointed with the cutter and despite the dough being chilled for the right time, the dough just wouldn’t come free from the cutter. The dough stuck to the rim of the cookie cutter and so I gave up. I don’t know whether it was the cutter or the dough so I went to my cookie cutter stash and found two round cutters. I cut out rounds of dough easily and then used a slightly smaller cutter to make the pattern for the rim. This just made an indentation and didn’t go all the way through the biscuit.  Then, to finish, I used a skewer to make four holes in the centre of each biscuit like a button.  Unfortunately due to the horrible nature of the dough used the skewers didn’t do a very good job of making the holes.

Vanilla button cookies on the cooling rack.
Chocolate Button Cookies on the rack.

As expected the cookies expanded in the oven, not a lot admittedly but enough to swell and look slightly out of shape.  I wasn’t impressed with the look of them. But as I love the recipe idea, I’ve decided to try and make them again with my own tried and tested recipe for roll-out cookies. Then I might actually be able to use my button cookie cutter without the dough sticking to it!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

 

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Advent Cookies.

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It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had the chance to bake anything, let alone blog about it.  It doesn’t help that my laptop isn’t working properly and I just can’t type my posts well on my iPad.  So, I know what I’ll be saving up for once Christmas is out of the way!  I don’t know about you but I’m so glad November is out of the way.  It’s always a really depressing month to me.  Hardly any daylight and you’re travelling to and from work in the dark.  I’m definitely a summer person and all I have wanted to do is to hibernate and eat comfort food.  But yayy, it’s December and finally Christmas month.  No organisation up until here in the SmartCookieSam house, unless you count making your Christmas pudding and soaking your dried fruit for your Christmas cake…

Which brings me to the subject of this month’s blog post themes.  I’ve got out one of my Christmas recipe books (see the rather awful selfie below) and decided to bake from The Great British Bake Off Christmas this month. Not only will it be baking as in cakes and mince pies but there will be a few savoury things, foodie gifts and baked main courses to try out right up until the New Year. I’ll be attempting a recipe a day throughout Advent and in between Christmas and New Year.  So watch this space to see what I try out every day.

Friday December 1st 2017.

It’s the first day of Advent and everyone in the SmartCookieSam house has an Advent Calendar, even the dog and the cat!  Though our Labrador would love to trough the cat’s treats out of the calendar as well as his own!

I’ve always loved the idea of baking mini cookies to put in pockets of an Advent Calendar but until this year had never got round to it.  I used the very first recipe in the Bake Off Christmas book for the basis for my very own Advent Calendar biscuits.  I baked a vanilla shortbread dough and used four different type of snowflake cookie cutters.  Three were of the same size but different patterns but there was also a larger cutter which would be suitable for number 25. The idea was that the cookies would adorn a tree and you would take one off the tree as each day passes, that’s if the cookies last that long in our house!   Baking cookies and decorating them has always been one of my favourite sorts of baking so it was great to get creative after a busy time at work.

It’s been a while since I’ve baked and decorated cookies.
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For the icing I used roll out fondant icing swirled with some blue food colouring to add a marbled effect.  Some cookies turned out bluer than others but that was the effect I was hoping to achieve.
My piping skils need work and the icing was a bit runny.  Hence the messy numbers.  But then it has been a while since I’ve done any piping.
Number 25 is a big, special shaped snowflake so it will stand out from all the others on the tree.
There was enough cookie dough left to bake five extra cookies.  One was decorated with the year 2017 on it and the other four had the initials of me and my family on them.
All the cookies ready and drying on the wire rack ready to be threaded with ribbon to hang on the Christmas tree.
Christmas 2017.

Baking and decorating cookies definitely did put me in a festive mood. I was nearly finished when my son got in from college and I was able to clear away the mess while enjoying a well earned gin and tonic.  Now I wonder whether any cookies will be left tomorrow?

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx