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

Orange Chocolate Chip Shortbread.

Excuse the dire photography in this post.  Taking photos isn’t my strong point.  The photos didn’t do these tasty morsels justice.

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I baked these shortbread pieces for my family to eat at home while I was away staying away in Canada visiting my brother and his family.  I don’t think they remembered they were there as they were still in the plastic box I’d put them in over a week later when I got back home!

They’re adapted from a recipe in Mary Berry’s “Cooks The Perfect…Step By Step” which I’m really enjoying cooking from at the moment. The original recipe is for individual shortbread round biscuits but I chose to put all the dough together in a square loose bottomed tin and cut it into pieces instead.  I had some Sugar and Crumbs Natural Flavour Chocolate Orange Cocoa powder which I love using so instead of using plain cocoa powder, I used that instead.  Absolutely delicious and the smell of chocolate and orange was heavenly.

The recipe introduction says: ” Buttery and very moreish, few can resist these delicious cookies.”  Mary’s original recipe also contains semolina of which she states “brings a lovely crunch,”  I didn’t have any semolina so I added cornflour instead which I use in my normal shortbread recipe.

Here’s my adaptation of the recipe.  The original recipe can be found in Mary Berry’s book.

Makes 12-16 pieces depending on how big or small you like your pieces of shortbread.  Use an 8″ square loose bottomed tin and pre-grease it with either butter or Cake Release.

Ingredients:

75g cornflour

140g plain flour

75g caster sugar

25g Sugar and Crumbs Natural Flavoured Chocolate Orange Cocoa Powder

175g butter

100g plain, dark chocolate chips/ dark chocolate chunks or alternatively chop up your own bar of chocolate.

First, pre-heat your oven to 1600C/fan 140oC/235oF/Gas 3.

Put all the cornflour, flour, sugar and cocoa powder together in a bowl.  Mix well so that all the ingredients are evenly distributed.

When this is done, add the butter in and rub it in with your fingers.  I find it easier to cut the butter up into small cubes first so it takes less rubbing in and handling. It needs to be at room temperature too, so take it out of the fridge in good time!

Make your mixture up into a ball of dough.  Press into the square baking tin and make sure it is evenly covering the bottom of the tin. It helps to press down with the back of a spoon.  Prick the surface of the shortbread with a fork.

Bake in the oven for approximately 40-45 minutes until firm to the touch.  Transfer the shortbread to a wire cooling rack and cut into squares or pieces as soon as you can.

 

Pistachio Sablés 

 

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.

Pistachio 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.

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Afternoon tea at SmartCookieSam’s. It’s also the perfect excuse to use my late mother in law’s china.
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Afternoon Tea at SmartCookieSam’s. Don’t look at the creased tablecloth!!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

My Favourite Cookies.

Back in my favourite place.

Well hello everyone!  I’m back on my blogging after a break.  I’ve been teaching full time and there’s been no time at all to get jobs done at home, let alone having time to bake.  I really missed baking though, as that’s definitely my chill out and relax go-to activity. I broke up for the summer holidays yesterday and that means more time to bake.  Yayyy! Though my waistline won’t thank me for it!

On Sunday afternoon, though I had time to bake for the first time in a month at least. I baked cookies as an end of term treat for the class I’ve been teaching for the past few weeks. We had watched a DVD and half way through before playtime.we had a cookie break. I baked three types of cookies so they had a choice. The leftovers went into the staff room.

I’m sharing my fool-proof recipes for my cookies here.  They’re the recipes I always swear by and I always get compliments about them.

Chocolate Chip  or White Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies

Ingredients:

100g softened, unsalted butter

100g each of caster sugar and soft, light brown sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

175g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

100g dark or milk chocolate chips (whatever you prefer)

For the Cranberry and White chocolate cookies, add 100g of chopped white chocolate and 50g of dried cranberries into the mix instead of the dark chocolate chips.

Preheat the oven to 180oC/ 350oF or Gas Mark 4.  Line 3 baking trays with non- stick baking parchment.

In a large bowl, weigh out the butter in small cubes. To this, weigh out both sugars, the baking powder and the plain flour. Rub the mixture together until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Break the large egg into a cup and beat it. Add the beaten egg and the vanilla extract to the cookie dough and bring it all together with a blunt knife.  When the dough is nearly together, throw in the chocolate chips and cranberries, if using them.

If you wish, you can chill the dough in the fridge for about half an hour before baking the cookies.  I didn’t have time for this, though.

If you have one, use a cookie dough scoop to place the mixture on to the baking trays so that they are spaced evenly.  These cookies grow enormously, so I tend to only have 6 cookies on a tray. I usually get about 18 cookies out of a batch.  My cookie scoop broke so I use a tablespoon now to get evenly sized cookies.

Put the cookies into the oven. Depending on the size of your oven you might need to bake them in two goes. (I do, I would love to have a massive oven where I could bake hundreds at a time!)

Bake for about 12-15 minutes.  About half way through cooking, take the cookie tray out of the oven and give it a sharp bang on the top of the cooker.  This flattens the cookies out. A wonderful tip picked up from Great British Bake Off 2011 winner, Jo Wheatley.  Then return the cookies to the oven for the final 7-8 minutes.  The cookies should still be slightly soft and chewy. Don’t be tempted to move them straight off the baking tray as they’ll fall apart. Give them 5 minutes or so and then move them onto a wire rack to cool.

 

Chocolate M&M Cookies

The recipe above can also be adapted to use Smarties or M&Ms in.  I love M&Ms, especially the mint and the peanut butter ones.  The link to the mint recipe can be found here: Mint M&M Cookies

I chose to bake a plain version using an adaptation of the recipe above.  To bake them, this is what you need to do:

  • Instead of 175g plain flour, use 150g plain flour and 25g cocoa powder.
  • Substitute the chocolate chips and cranberries, etc. for a large “sharing” resealable type bag of M&Ms.  By the way, these bags make me laugh, Chocolate manufacturers know us only too well, once you open the damn things, that’s it!
  • I put half the quantity of M&Ms in the actual dough. Then halfway through baking when I tap the cookie tray on the top of the cooker, I stud about 3 or 4 extra M&Ms on the top of the cookie before returning them to the oven for the rest of the baking time. This makes sure the M&Ms don’t burn or split open and also ensures you get a good selection of colours on one cookie.
Baking chocolate chip, white chocolate and cranberry and M&M Cookies.

Hoping to share some more favourite cookie recipes with you over the summer.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

 

Chocolate Orange Star Cookies. 

The other day when I was in WHSmiths I ended up buying a copy of Lorraine Pascale’s new book “Bake”.  I was only meant to go in there to buy some new highlighter pens and a notebook but I came out with them plus Lorraine’s book and a magazine.  I was then meant to be doing my weekly shop so I went across the road and found myself sat in Costa coffee looking through the book. Instead of writing my shopping list I was sat there looking through all the recipes and mentally bookmarking which ones I wanted to try out first.

Now I’m not meant to be baking at home at the moment unless it’s for someone else or when I go to my local Clandestine Cake club event.  But I can’t help it. Baking is part of me.  So I try to make things for others.  I sometimes take bakes into schools I work in or give to other people.  This is what I did with the very first bake I tried from Lorraine Pascale’s “Bake”.

The first recipe I tried from the book was funnily enough also the very first recipe chronologically in the book.  It is an easy recipe to try and also looks effective.  The original recipe was for Chocolate and Vanilla Stars but I adapted this to turn them into Chocolate Orange Stars.  Instead of adding a vanilla pod or some vanilla extract to the dough, I used Sugar and Crumbs’ Chocolate Orange Cocoa Powder instead.

Lorraine’s recipe introduction says “These stars look great and are perfect for making with children. They are also awesome as presents.”  

The first job was to cream together some butter and sugar in a bowl or with a hand mixer. This needed to be done until the mixture was light and fluffy.  After this I added in a beaten egg.  The mixture was then divided carefully into two bowls.  Although I tried to take great care over this and to split the mixture evenly, I still thought there was slightly more chocolate dough than plain dough! To one bowl I added half of the quantity of self raising flour  and some cocoa powder. To the other bowl I just added the remaining amount of flour.

My star cutters looked a bit bigger than the ones featured in the photo next to the recipe but I still had enough mixture.  I rolled out the chocolate dough first and cut out the stars.  Once all the chocolate stars were cut out, they were laid onto two lined baking trays.  I then got a smaller star cutter and cut out the middle of the biscuit leaving a star shaped hole.  The chocolate mini stars were then put to one side to become the centres of the plain cookies.  On another two baking trays I did the same but with the plain dough. When I had cut the stars out of the middle they went into the middle of the chocolate ones and vice versa.

I had to bake the cookies in two batches as I needed four trays and I can only fit two trays in at a time in my oven.  They expanded in the oven and puffed up slightly, maybe because the recipe asked for self raising flour rather than plain flour.  Once cooked in the oven after about 10 minutes I let them cool down on a wire rack then planned to get ready for work.  When I was about to go out of the door I would put them into a box.

That never happened.  Just as I was getting ready to leave my phone rang so I was locking up and getting my things together.  I left the boxful of cookies on the worktop and drove off to work.  Over the next few days they got eaten at home.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx