Pecan Pie Popcorn Naked Cake.

I love the trend for naked cakes (cakes with little or no icing on top). I have a sweet tooth but am finding a lot of buttercream and sugarpaste a bit too much when I eat it on a cake no matter how beautiful and delicious it looks.  This cake is the third and last cake I baked for our local village’s Spring Festival nearly a couple of weeks ago.  I had a full bag of pecan nuts which needed using up and also wanted to use up a bag of Sugar and Crumbs Toffee Apple Icing Sugar in the cupboard. These would work amazingly well with some Butterkist Toffee Popcorn to top the cake off.

I had already baked a carrot cake and a banana loaf as seen in my previous two blog posts.  By now it was Saturday afternoon and I still had to get this cake baked.  I needed to chop the pecan nuts and toast them first. This I did roughly with a small, sharp knife and then chucked them onto a baking tray. They were lightly toasted for about 10 minutes then left to cool down.

The cake itself was made by creaming together butter and sugar for a few minutes until the mixture became light and fluffy.  I used my hand held whisk to speed this up. After this I added in three eggs and half the quantity needed of milk, vanilla extract, self raising flour and baking powder. Then the rest was added in, all except I used four eggs the second time round making seven all together.  Once all the mixture was combined well, I folded in the toasted pecan nuts.

As you can see in the pictures, the cake is a triple layer cake. So I had to use three 20cm (8″) circular sandwich tins. These I greased and lined. I love the ready made baking parchment circles you can buy in varying diameters as they save the hassle of cutting out circles by hand when you’re pushed for time.

I was very impressed with the way the Popcorn Naked Cake turned out. Each layer rose beautifully in the tin and was left to cool down before turning out onto a rack.  While these were cooling down I made up some frosting.  It was a buttercream filling using butter, Toffee Apple Sugar and Crumbs Natural flavoured icing sugar and full fat cream cheese.  I know full fat cream cheese doesn’t sound healthy but using the low fat stuff just doesn’t work when you’re making icing. It goes all watery and separates. The icing was easy to spread and there was just enough to decorate the two filling layers and the top.  About half a packet of Toffee Butterkist popcorn adorned the top of the cake.

At the Spring Festival that afternoon after dropping off the three cakes I had baked my mum and I sampled two of my cakes. We cut each piece in half. Apart from the cream cheese icing in the Naked Pecan Popcorn Cake being a bit too sweet for me, the main cake was delicious.  I also had to watch the popcorn as I had refridgerated the cake and it did taste a little bit soggy. What I really needed to do was to have added the popcorn to the top just prior to serving the cake. Having said that, I’ll definitely be making this cake again. It tasted fabulous and looked it as well.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Banana and Peanut Butter Loaf.

I’ve baked loads of recipes from Lorraine Pascale’s new book “Bake” now.  I’ve been really impressed with the range of recipes on offer from cakes to biscuits and desserts and savoury bakes.  I can’t bake as much as I’ve done in the past which does make me feel upset. But it doesn’t do me or my family’s health any good and also I just don’t have the time any more.  So baking for local happenings and for Clandestine Cake Club events is really special.

This Banana Loaf with Peanut Butter Frosting was the second cake I baked to donate to a local village’s Spring Festival on the May Day Bank Holiday weekend.  I love banana loaf and peanut butter but I’ve never attempted to use both these ingredients together in a cake before.

Lorraine says in her recipe introduction: “The bananas need to be super ripe for this cake recipe”. This is never a problem in our house. I always buy bananas in our weekly shop and it’s only really Mr SmartCookieSam that eats them. I like them but prefer berries on top of my porridge. Sometimes Mr SmartCookieSam puts them on his toast with peanut butter. I was lucky that there were two ripe bananas left which would be ideal to use in this recipe.

The main cake was very quick to bake.  I always use ready made loaf tin liners which are so easy to use. When the oven was preheating, I creamed together butter and sugar until it became light and fluffy. I then added one egg, followed by half the quantity of self raising flour needed. This was repeated with another egg and the remaining flour.  When all this was combined, in went two ripe mashed bananas.

The loaf was baked in the oven for about an hour.  I had to keep checking that the top didn’t over brown.  Thankfully it didn’t but I kept poking a skewer in the cake to check it was cooked.  Finally after an hour it was ready to come out.

The cake was put on a wire rack and left to cool down still with the loaf tin liner wrapped around it. I didn’t dare move it before just in case it made the whole blinking thing fall apart.

Later on that afternoon I made the Peanut Butter frosting.  I used Crunchy Peanut butter to add texture.  I prefer to use a sugar free brand, such as Whole Earth or Meridian.  There was no point in using a sugary one as I was already adding icing sugar to the frosting.  The frosting also used a little bit of butter and a small amount of cream cheese which gave it a delicious flavour.  This was simply all weighed out and mixed together with my hand held mixer.  The frosting was spread on the top of the cake with a palette knife.  To finish off I had bought a bag of salted peanuts to sprinkle on the top.  I had to hide the rest of the bag so I wasn’t tempted to eat them.

At the Spring Festival the following day I chose to buy a slice of the Banana and Peanut Butter Loaf to test it out (pictured above with a slice of my Pecan Pie Popcorn Naked Cake). My mum and I halved the slices of both cakes to check them out. I really enjoyed the banana loaf although I did find the frosting a bit on the sweet side. Since losing weight I’ve found my sweet tooth isn’t there as much as it used to be.

I’ll definitely bake the cake again.  It would also work well with chocolate chips sprinkled in the cake itself and on top of the cake instead of salted peanuts.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Carrot and Apple Cake with a Maple Cream Cheese Frosting.

You can’t beat a good carrot cake can you? Well maybe there are lots of other favourite cakes out there but I can’t resist carrot cake.  I’ve baked lots of them over the years and tried different recipes.

I’ve been enjoying testing out a few recipes from Lorraine Pascale’s new book “Bake” recently.  Our neighbouring village had it’s Spring Festival a couple of weekends ago and I always like to donate a cake or few to the cafe that the PTA run in the primary school hall.  As my son went to that school a few years back I always like to support it as he had such a happy time there.

Carrot Cakes always seem to be popular with lots of people and this one from Lorraine Pascale was no exception. This version contains not only grated carrots but also some grated apple.  This works extremely well with carrot and adds some natural sweetness. To add maple syrup to the cream cheese frosting was also a delicious touch which worked really well.

On the Saturday morning, the day before the Spring Festival I got up really early.  It had been a crazy busy week working full time teaching a Reception class in a local school and I was due to be there another week afterwards.   The night before I had gone off to bed at 9.30pm absolutely exhausted and laid there thinking would I have time to get everything done over the weekend? Thank heavens it was a Bank Holiday that weekend. I was up at 6am and was already baking.  I had to be at my beauty therapist friend’s house for my appointment at 10am and I had to have a headstart.  I find if I get up early without distractions then I get loads done.

I was so grateful to the grating attachment on my new food processor to help me out with grating the carrots and the apple.  I don’t mind grating by hand but I was in a rush and getting a machine to do the hard work really helped to cut the time down.  The carrots and apple came out a little bit chunkier than I would have liked but it did add to the texture of the cake.  In other carrot cakes I’ve added walnuts or pecan nuts but this one doesn’t contain nuts at all. It doesn’t have any dried fruit in either, like raisins or sultanas.

The recipe itself is simple to put together as all the ingredients are weighed out and put into one bowl.  This includes using vegetable oil as the fat instead of butter as is traditionally seen in a carrot cake or a muffin mixture.  Along with this was some light brown soft sugar, eggs, the apple and carrot, some self raising flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice, cinnamon and some vanilla extract.

When all the batter had been mixed together it was divided between two greased and lined circular loose bottomed sandwich tins. The cakes were then baked in my oven for about 30-35 minutes at around 160oC in my fan oven. While they were baking I went upstairs, sorted out some washing, put some washing away and tried to get my son’s uniform ironed for work. All while I kept an eye and an ear out for the oven timer.

Half an hour or so later the cakes were ready and out of the oven.  I left them to cool in their tins on the work top on top of a wire rack and headed down to see my friend to get my nails done.

In the afternoon I got round to decorating the carrot cake.  The frosting was a traditional cream cheese one but with the addition of maple syrup. Maple syrup goes beautifully with carrot cake and I was happy I had just enough in the cupboard from pancake day.  I’m not the neatest cake decorator and to be honest I found it really tricky to keep my frosting neat. My mum was standing next to me watching me ice it and she got her fork out and fluffed up the icing.  This wasn’t the original way I wanted to decorate the cake with neat, smooth edges but the more I tried to smooth the icing the more it wanted to fall off!  To finish off I used a dozen sugar carrots bought from a pack found in the supermarket a few weeks back.

The following morning I dropped all three cakes baked down at the school.  They were gratefully received and to help the servers in the cafe I pre-cut the cakes for them.  When my mum and I went back down to the festival a couple of hours later I noticed that the carrot cake had completely gone. It had sold out.  That made me so happy.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Lemon Curd Victoria Sponge. 

Lemon Victoria Sponge.

Long time, no see! It’s been over a month since I’ve last blogged.  My excuse is I’ve simply been busy working. Teaching full time on different supply contacts, doing extra shifts in a day nursery during the Easter holidays definitely took it’s toll though and by the Easter weekend I felt terrible.  I went down with a stinking cold which then turned into a horrible cough.  This pretty much made me feel like not doing anything much for the second week of the Easter holidays.  So much for wanting to go out running. I didn’t even feel like getting my bum off the sofa let alone gathering up some energy to stick my trainers on!

This cake was one I baked right back at the beginning of April. I really miss baking and hadn’t done much mainly because I’m meant to be on a diet.  This hasn’t really worked well the last few weeks as I have been so tired after coming in from work.  Slimming World has gone by the wayside, especially when Mr SmartCookieSam gets involved with the cooking.  He thinks nothing of using lots of olive oil. So when I get chance I like to take a cake into a school I’m teaching in. I was working in a school for the last week before the Easter holidays and decided to take a cake to leave in the staff room on the table.  I explained I loved baking but baking didn’t love my figure.

This Lemon Curd Victoria Sponge is from a recipe in Lorraine Pascale’s latest book “Bake,” You might have realised I’ve baked a few recipes from her book recently but that’s what I usually do when I get a new book. I get a bit carried away. It’s a traditional two layer Victoria Sponge baked in an 8″ or 20cm diameter sandwich tin and sandwiched together with both lemon curd and a little buttercream.  I was definitely not going to spend my precious time making my own Lemon Curd so I bought a jar of Tiptree with my weekly shop.  I used about half the jar in the filling so Mr SmartCookieSam was happy to use the rest on his toast in the morning!The cake was very quick to bake and perfect for a Spring day.  I reckon I only spent an hour baking it from start to finish, if that.  A quick dusting of icing sugar on top and the cake was good to go.  Or if you prefer caster sugar, go with that.

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Lemon Victoria Sponge baked from a recipe in Lorraine Pascale’s latest book: “Bake”.

The morning after I arrived at the school, put my lunch in the staffroom fridge and the cake in a plastic box on the table. I left a note telling people to help themselves.  It was quite a big school so I didn’t get along to the staff room until lunchtime.  When I got there I noticed nearly three quarters of the cake had gone.  Several staff members thanked me for the cake. I said I would bring some more another time, if I had time to bake.  It gave me a warm, cosy feeling knowing that some teachers appreciated my baking.  Especially at a time when it was getting near to the end of term and everyone was tired. A little bit of cake just helps you get through the day.

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This was the sight which greeted me at lunchtime in the staffroom!

 

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