Pancetta, Cheddar and Chive Scones. 

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On Sunday, even though it was Mother’s Day I had a quiet day to myself.  Mr SmartCookieSam was out taking part in a rally in his classic car, my son was working and my daughter is at uni.  So for some of the day I was at home with the dog. I know I shouldn’t be baking as I just end up eating it but I love the whole process of it. Baking is therapeutic to me.

Last week I treated myself to Lorraine Pascale’s latest book simply titled “Bake” I have most of her books including her very first publication, also a baking book.  As soon as I opened the book in the middle of Costa Coffee I was sat there drooling over the pics and mentally bookmarking what I was going to bake first.

The day after I got the book I baked some star shaped cookies but this time it was something savoury.  I’ve always loved cheese scones but these ones were slightly different in that they had crispy fried pieces of cubed pancetta in the dough.  I knew they would taste amazing.  I had a packet of pancetta cubes in the fridge from when I was meant to make a Carbonara last week and never did. So in the end they got thrown into the scones.

First, the packet of pancetta was fried until crispy.No need for oil in the pan, I let them fry in their own fat.  Once they’d cooked and were crisp, I got a paper towel out and let the fat soak into the towel to dry off.

While the pancetta was cooling down I grated some mature Cheddar into a bowl.

I  then used my food processor to combine cold cubes of butter with self raising flour, baking powder, mustard powder, sea salt flakes and an optional extra to the recipe: paprika.  I put a large pinch of this in.  After the mixture had turned into what looked like breadcrumbs I put in 3/4 of the cheese along with some chives and the pancetta.

To bring it all together I poured in some buttermilk which was about half of a carton.  This was enough to form the scones into a dough. It wasn’t sticky but the right consistency for rolling out gently.

Lorraine says her recipe makes 8 scones but I found I could only get 6 decent sized ones out of it. I often find this with scones. The recipe quantity makes far less than it’s meant to. Still six scones was more than enough for me.  I used a plain circular cutter for my scones and then once cut out they were put onto a baking tray covered in parchment. I glazed the top of the scones with buttermilk and then sprinkled on the remaining cheese.

The  scones went into the oven for about 10-12 minutes until they had risen well. I saw the cheese was bubbling and golden and couldn’t wait to test one out that very afternoon cut in half and spread with butter.  They were delicious.

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

Pistachio and Hazelnut Macaroons using Whynut Pastes.

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The fabulous goody box which Whynut sent me. It contained two types of pistachios, some hazelnut paste and some pistachio paste.
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I had two small tubs of nut paste, here’s the pistachio one. A little goes a long way!

A couple of months back I was excited when WhyNut sent me a goody box through the post inviting me to try out some of their pistachio nuts and nut pastes.  I used the fresh nuts in different ways in to make some Pistachio Cupcakes and in cookies but wanted to try out the nut pastes to delicately flavour some macaroons. Now this was going to be a big challenge for me.  I’ve always wanted to be able to bake macaroons but always thought they looked far too fiddly and complicated.  I tried once but to be fair I rushed them and didn’t follow the recipe properly.  The result was a sloppy mess and since that bungled attempt about 3 years back I’ve never bothered since. But I had the nut pastes to try out so all I could do was try and try again!

So I asked my friends on Twitter and Facebook what recipes they would recommend for baking macaroons.  One suggestion was to try the recipe in Lorraine Pascale‘s first book “Baking Made Easy”  I remembered seeing a macaroon recipe in the book, it was for strawberry and lemon ones.  Being as the title had “made easy” in it, I did hope that would apply to the macaroons too!

A couple of weeks ago we had a get together with my mum’s side of the family. We didn’t get round to exchanging presents at Christmas and I love making foodie presents. I always think macaroons look so pretty in a gift box and I had some brightly coloured ones bought from Lakeland to put them in.  I knew my family would appreciate the macaroons and wouldn’t take the mickey out of me if they looked like they’d been trodden on either!

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Delicate pistachio flavoured macaroons, flavoured with Whynut Pistachio Paste.

So, jobs done and dog walked I started on the macaroons.  First I preheated the oven to 150oC as I was using my fan oven to bake them in and found my silicone macaroon baking sheets.  They hadn’t been used before so I hoped I could use them properly.

I weighed out icing sugar, some ground almonds and some egg whites into a bowl and mixed it so it formed a paste. When that had done I had to heat some water and sugar on the stove.  I was dreading this after my fiasco of burning my thumb when I got hot sugar syrup on me when I tried to make lemon meringue cupcakes a couple of years back.  I tried to be so careful.  I did rely on my sugar thermometer to help me.

After this some more egg white was mixed in a bowl until I got medium stiff peaks, then to this I added the sugar syrup. This was then whisked until the mixture became stiff and shiny.  At this point I added a teaspoonful of the nut paste and a couple of drops of food colouring paste.  For the pistachio macaroons I used a small dab of mint green paste, for the hazelnut ones I had to use a cream coloured food colouring as that was all I had left in the cupboard! After this I then folded the egg white mixture with the almond paste mixture.

Now for the piping bit.  To make it easier to carry I put the silicone macaroon mats on top of a flat baking sheet (the sort I use for cookies) and then started to pipe the macaroons into the bases.  I used one sheet for the pistachio flavour, the other for the hazelnut ones.  To pipe I used a large “Get A Grip” disposable piping bag from Lakeland which I swear by.  The nozzle I used was a straight one and I’m so glad I used a piping bag.  Otherwise it would have gone everywhere.

Before putting the macaroons in the oven I gave each tray a sharp tap on the side of the cooker and also left them for about 1/2 hour to stand before baking them.  Apparently this forms a skin on the macaroons.  Then they went into the oven for about 12-15 minutes, Lorraine suggests leaving the oven door slightly ajar! This was a new one on me but I tried it.

When the time was up and I looked in the oven I was so pleased.  The macaroons actually looked like they should. I was all set to do a big happy dance around the kitchen.  It was a major achievement to me.  What’s more they came off the tray without sticking as well.

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The macaroon shells were filled with some whipped cream flavoured with a little pistachio paste.

After leaving the macaroon shells to cool for a while I got on with the filling.  I whipped up a tub of double cream then halved it into two bowls. To one bowl I added a spoonful of Whynut Pistachio Paste and to the other a spoonful of  their Hazelnut Paste.  These were spread carefully onto the shells with a small pallette knife and left to set.

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Here’s the second attempt at macaroons- this time they were hazelnut flavoured using Whynut Hazelnut Paste.
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The macaroons were filled with whipped cream and hazelnut paste.

Each family member got a gift box of 6 macaroons each and along with their spice jars and granola, the macaroons went down very well. They looked smaller than the ones I’d seen in the shops but everyone loved them.  I was so happy it has inspired me to try out some more flavours in the future.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Peanut Butter Cookies- A Lighter Way To Bake (Cooking The Books January 2014.)

Peanut butter cookies are a serious addiction for me. Thank heavens I don’t make them often or I’d be the size of a killer whale!  Though keeping a whole jar of peanut butter aside for baking in our house is not an easy challenge.  Every time I buy a jar it miraculously disappears. Both my husband and daughter love peanut butter on toast for breakfast. So on the rare occasions where I have made peanut butter cookies, they just seem to vanish in our house.

Knowing that peanut butter cookies are naughty but nice, I was interested to see that Lorraine Pascale has a lighter version in her latest book “A Lighter Way To Bake” which I am currently using as my Cooking The Books Challenge for January.  Lorraine says in the recipe introduction that she has “worked hard to reduce the peanut butter, sugar and butter content in them as best as I can so that they still have that scrumbunctious flavour!”  To do this Lorraine uses no added sugar peanut butter which usually has palm oil in instead.  This is the peanut butter I usually buy anyway, like Whole Earth or Sainsbury’s Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter.

There isn’t any butter at all in the recipe, all the fat content comes from the peanut butter but there is a small amount of caster sugar.  It would be interesting to see how the peanut butter cookies tasted when compared with regular ones.

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The peanut butter and caster sugar were beaten together in a large bowl.
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Then I added in a beaten egg, some vanilla extract and a tablespoonful of water.
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Finally I added in some wholemeal flour and rolled oats.

The recipe made 12 cookies and I quickly split the dough into 12 equal balls ready to be put on the baking trays.  Usually I find I don’t have to squash them or press them flat as they spread out in the oven.  I didn’t read the recipe properly, Lorraine says to flatten them down with the palm of your hand. I didn’t do it, they went straight into the oven.

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Laid out on the baking trays well spaced apart and ready to go in the oven.

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The finished cookies on a plate. The photo isn’t that good as I took it on my phone camera in very poor light!

When the cookies came out of the oven about 10 minutes later they were cooked to the perfect golden brown colour they should have been but they didn’t look like the ones in the book.  I then read the recipe properly and realised my mistake.  This didn’t affect the taste of the cookies though.  I was impressed with them, not too sweet and you could taste the peanuts in them without the cookies being too rich! I will definitely be making these again.  I did only have one with a cup of tea, honest!

Looking at the nutritional analysis comparison chart, it says there are only about 8 calories different between the lighter and the regular one. The fat and saturated fat content has been reduced, only by about 1g but the main reduction was in the sugar content, a huge difference of about 3 grammes! I did think the cookies were very tasty though and I did have to hide them away in the cupboard so I wasn’t tempted to binge on them!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Lemon Yoghurt Pound Cake- A Lighter Way To Bake (Cooking The Books, January 2014.)

January 26th 2014.

Even though I’m trying to lose weight I just can’t face giving up my Sunday lunch pudding.  You’ve got to have SOME enjoyment in life.  A pudding after the Sunday roast rounds it all off nicely and although it can’t be a calorific, cream laden affair (now wouldn’t that be heaven?). I was thinking of what I could bake from my Lorraine Pascale “A Lighter Way To Bake”  book as part of my Cooking The Books January Baking Challenge.  It would have to be one of the bakes in the Cake chapter.

I fancied the idea of the Lemon Yoghurt Pound cake as it reminded me of a lemon drizzle cake but without the calories. Lorraine mentions in the introduction to the recipe was that she adapted a lemon drizzle cake from another of her books and gave it the least amount of sugar and butter possible. We all love Lemon Drizzle cake in our house and a small slice would fit in around my diet, everyone else could have theirs with a scoop of ice cream if they wanted to.

So here is how it was made:

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Butter and sugar were creamed together in my mixing bowl.
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Then eggs, egg white and Greek yoghurt were added to the bowl and mixed in.
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Adding in the “dry” ingredients: flour and baking powder. I then added some vanilla extract as well as some lemon zest to the mixture.
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Mixed all together. You could smell the lemon flavour as it was being prepared, what a gorgeous smell and so enticing!
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I lined my loaf tin with a special loaf tin liner.
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Then, the mixture was spooned into the prepared tin. My loaf tin was either too big or there wasn’t that much mixture compared to my usual lemon drizzle loaf recipe.
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The cake was taken out of its wrapper and tin and left to cool down on the surface. I think I left the cake in a bit too long as the top burned a little!

Time was running out and I put the glaze on before I was really meant to. This meant some of it soaked into the cake instead of resting on the top like a separate layer of icing.  It did add to my cake’s rustic charm though.

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With the citrus glaze poured on top, this was icing sugar and lemon juice mixed together.
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Cut up into small slices ready for our pudding.

Our lemon cake ended up being eaten before pudding!  As we were all busy with the usual family things, chores and the like I ended up doing the roast at tea time instead.  I had made the cake mid-afternoon in between trying to get the ironing done and my son popped in the kitchen and begged for a slice.  As he was hungry and I was tempted, how could I refuse?  It meant no cake for pudding later though!

The cake appeared slightly smaller than my standard lemon drizzle cake recipe but, to me, what mattered most was that I could enjoy a small piece without the massive guilt trip.  It tasted fab and you wouldn’t believe it was a “lighter” version!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cardamom and Ginger Shortbread- A Lighter Way To Bake (Cooking The Books- January 2014.)

Friday 31st January 2014.

I love baking shortbread and as soon as I came across Lorraine’s recipe in her A Lighter Way To Bake book I just knew I had to try this recipe out.  Anything with ginger in it is a winner with me.  There are lots of cardamom recipes around at the moment and I was keen to try baking with it.  The thing is though a lot of recipes call for ground cardamom and I just couldn’t find it anywhere, only in pod form.

My mum bought me a pestle and mortar at Christmas, something which I’d never got round to buying.  I was really pleased, at long last I could grind up the cardamom pods myself.  It was great fun bashing all the pods up and I managed to get the teaspoonful I needed for the bake in the end!

You needed quite a few cardamom pods to get a teaspoonful out of it!
You needed quite a few cardamom pods to get a teaspoonful out of it!

After I’d sorted out the cardamom pods I got on with the shortbread itself.  It was simple to make in my Kitchen Aid.  I started off by creaming butter and brown sugar together.  Once this was combined, I added plain flour and the ground cardamom to the mixture.

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Adding the flour and the cardamom to the mixing bowl.

Once this was mixed through I then added some chopped stem ginger, some vanilla extract and a tablespoonful of egg white.  Lorraine says “Fiddly I know, but a whole egg white is too much!”  This then brought the gorgeous sounding shortbread into dough form ready to be pressed into the tin.  The tin was an 8″ round sandwich tin which I’d already greased and lined.  Once this was done, I marked the edges of the shortbread with a fork and scored lines for cutting.  Lorraine says this shortbread serves 10 but I didn’t concentrate and marked it as if it was going to have 12 pieces. Oh well.

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All ready and waiting for the family to devour it!

So what made this shortbread lighter?  For a start when comparing it with the shortbread recipe I use normally the sugar and the butter content is reduced.  I think adding in flavour, such as the cardamom and ginger is key to eating healthily as you concentrate on the flavours of the spices and not the fat and sugar.  Lorraine  also used a little egg white to help bring it all together.  She mentions in the recipe introduction “This is not a massive change from a normal everyday shortbread  because, as I have discovered shortbread isn’t shortbread without a certain amount of sugar and fat, but it is a tinsey winsey bit better than my shortbread recipes of the past!”  

We all enjoyed this shortbread in our house.  I’m afraid to say my piece hadn’t even cooled down before it got eaten.  I will definitely bake it again.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

All Grain Nutty Seedy Soda Bread Loaf- A Lighter Way To Bake (Cooking The Books- January 2014.)

Sunday 26th January 2014.

It was Sunday teatime and I realised we’d run out of bread for the morning.  This is not good.  We’d been very busy all over the weekend and checking the bread bin was the last thing on my mind.  It was too late to nip out to the shops. I had to bake my own instead.  But when I opened my baking cupboard I realised I didn’t have any yeast.  Thankfully I could get out of that problem by baking soda bread instead as it needed bicarbonate of soda.  Fortunately I had that and plenty of it!

I found a suitable recipe in Lorraine Pascale’s book “A Lighter Way To Bake” which uses wholemeal flour and semi skimmed milk to enrich it.  You had to add about 5 tablespoonfuls of mixed nuts and seeds.  I had some pumpkin seeds and a few hazelnuts which I threw in to the mixture.

So how did I make this delicious bread?

First of all you had to put the flour, seeds, nuts, bicarbonate of soda and salt together into a mixing bowl and mix it all together.  Once that was done I made a well in the centre and poured in the semi skimmed milk.  Finally the mixture was combined to make a soft dough (but not too sticky!)  I found a loaf tin liner and put this in my loaf tin as I couldn’t be bothered to cut out the parchment.

The mixture was spooned into the tin carefully and then I sprinkled on a tablespoon of rolled oats.

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The very impressive All Grain Nutty, Seedy Soda Bread Loaf.

The loaf was ready after I tapped the base of it to see if it made a hollow sound.  This took about 35 minutes baking time and the mouthwatering smell permeated the whole house.  We ended up having a slice of it for tea with a bowl of soup so there wasn’t much left over for the day after!  My son, who would happily eat white processed “plastic” bread all the time said he liked it.  I thought he must have something wrong with him, he normally poo-poos any sort of seeded bread, calling it “nit bread”!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx