Panforte- The Great British Bake Off Christmas.

Friday 22nd December 2017.

Panforte is a traditional Italian delicacy which is usually eaten with coffee after a meal. It is full of dried fruit, nuts and spices and baked in the oven on rice paper. A little piece goes a long way as it is very rich.

I had tried some Panforte one Christmas when my Mum had bought some. It might have come from Lakeland or Waitrose but I couldn’t get enough of it. I remember seeing whole hazelnuts inside the Panforte and it felt very chewy, almost toffee like in consistency. No wonder I couldn’t stop at one piece!

When I was looking for ideas to make for foodie presents this year I saw a recipe for Panforte in my Great British Bake Off Christmas Book. It was quite an expensive sweet to make as I don’t know about you but I think both dried fruits and nuts have gone up a hell of a lot in price in the past few years. Don’t get me started on all the other baking ingredients! So, I would only choose to make two panfortes and for those who I knew would like one.

It was the Friday before Christmas (can you believe that’s over a week ago now, where has the time gone?) and I was trying to do everything on that one day. By the time it got to Friday teatime I had a meltdown and started crying thinking why am I doing all this? I still had a birthday cake to bake, I hadn’t finished my Dad and step-mum’s Christmas present and I hadn’t made our usual mince pies and sausage rolls. Any normal person would have gone out and bought them but I’d bought all my mincemeat in and also the sausagemeat and I didn’t want to go out spending any more money. I guess, what with my day job and school breaking up so late I was struggling time wise.

But earlier on in the day I felt as if things were more under control. I was keeping going drinking endless cups of tea and coffee but later I got Mr SmartCookieSam to pour me a large gin and tonic. That did calm me down!

Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent. Back to the panforte. In the Bake Off recipe the dried fruit you need are figs and apricots. I don’t mind dried apricots but figs- yeuggghhh! I needed most of the packet of them and boy did they take ages to cut up. Then I cut up the dried apricots and put them, along with the figs into a pan and heated it on the hob with some runny honey, some light brown muscovado sugar, ground cinnamon, nutmeg and some ground mixed spice. The recipe needed cardamom pods (which I’d not got in) and also ground cloves. I had whole ones but not the plain ones. I had used the mixed spice instead of the cardamom and cloves. Also to the pan I added about a tablespoonful of water. This mixture was heated for about 10 minutes until it became soft and sticky,

Meanwhile I had weighed out some mixed peel, whole blanched almonds and some pistachios. I had to buy pistachios with the shells still on (so I had to remove these before mixing them in) Along with that I put in 3 tablespoonfuls of plain flour.

Panforte is traditionally lined with rice paper but I couldn’t find any in my local Morrisons with the baking stuff. I just lined the base of two loose bottomed round 18cm or 7″ cake tins with baking parchment. Though obviously that’s not edible!

I spooned the mixture between two tins as I had made double the quantity and baked both the panfortes at the same time. They took about 45 minutes in the oven. I must admit they didn’t look very pretty when they came out of the oven. They looked like giant cow pats! But dusted with a bit of icing sugar then they would be fine.

When the panfortes were cooled, I put them onto a thin circular cake board and wrapped them in clear cellophane. To finish I chose some pretty Christmas ribbon to tied them up with.

I gave one of the Panfortes to my Mum, the other to our family friend Paul. I hope they both like them and don’t break their teeth on them!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Eccles Cakes.


A couple of weeks ago I tried my hand at Eccles Cakes for the very first time.
A few weeks ago when I was watching The Great British Bake Off my hubby said to me that a lot of bakes he finds far too sweet and sickly. As someone with a sweet tooth I found this difficult to understand. Although I do find as I’m getting older my taste buds are changing…

One bake hubby likes though are Eccles Cakes. A few weeks back he was tempted when our local Booths store had some on special offer in packs by the front entrance. He came home with some and was asking if they were easy to make. To be honest I didn’t know as I’d never made them before. I knew they were made with puff pastry, my nemesis in the kitchen. Why faff about all day making your own when you can use Jus Rol. Even Mary Berry says it’s ok, and if the First Lady of Baking says so then that’s fine by me. 

I’ve never had a thing for Eccles Cakes. I think it was because my Nana used to buy them from a local bakery and by the time we got to eat them they were always dry and stale. 

So, I thought as it was half term week and I’d have a little more time to play about, I’d have a go at some home made Eccles Cakes. Paul Hollywood has a recipe in his British Baking book and wait for it… lo and behold he says you can use ready made puff pastry to make them! What?! Couldn’t hear him saying that on Bake Off!

So, Jus Rol it was then. I’m far too busy to faff about making puff pastry. 

Paul’s recipe was very easy to follow and even had some step-by- step pictures and instructions to follow when making up the Eccles Cakes.

First I washed some currants, dried the, and then added them to a bowl with melted butter, caster sugar, some nutmeg and lemon zest. It was a delicious aroma and was very tempting to stick a teaspoon in and eat a few mouthfuls!

Next I rolled out my puff pastry on a lightly floured worktop and cut out rounds with a circular pastry cutter. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the one the right size, used an 8cm one instead of the 10cm one that Mr Hollywood suggested. After the rounds had been cut out, I spooned carefully the currant mixture in the middle of the pastry.  This was then finished off by brushing the rim of each Eccles cake with water then gathering up all the edges over the filling. I then pressed the gathered edges to seal the Eccles cakes and turned them face down on my lined baking tray.

I then flattened the top of the Eccles cakes with my hand and made 3 slits on the top of each one. They were then brushed with milk and put in the oven to bake for about 15-20 minutes.

I forgot to sprinkle the tops with caster sugar even though I’d put some out ready in my sugar dredger. They still looked ok though.


My Eccles Cakes came out a lot smaller than they should as I used the wrong size cutter.
My husband loved these Eccles Cakes .
 When they were warm out of the oven I took one to hubby with a cup of tea. He scoffs it down and asked for another one. They were smaller than the ones in the shop and although I’d only baked 12 and had filling left over he was allowed seeing as it was a long time til dinner! After dinner everyone else had apple cake and custard but hubby asked for more Eccles Cakes. I had to put the rest in a box to hide from him!

Well I don’t think I’ll be baking hubby a cake for his next birthday, he can have a giant Eccles Cake instead with a candle stuck in the middle of it! He has asked if I’ll make them again at Christmas, maybe I could try a version with cranberries in it.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Welsh Cakes/ Pices Ar Y Maen- The Great British Bake Off Big Book Of Baking.

Who else is excited by the return of The Great British Bake Off?  Me, me, me!  Though I’m the only one in our house who watches it.  My husband nicknames it “The Great British XXXX Off” but who cares?  I love it and enjoy baking recipes from the accompanying book.  Series 5 this year is no exception and I was pleased to get my hands on a copy of The Great British Bake Off Big Book Of Baking!

There are lots of interesting and innovative recipes in the book but sadly some recipes are repeated from the very first book The Great British Book Of Baking.  To those who have just got into the series this is fine but for me who has followed GBBO from the very beginning you do feel a little bit cheated.

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So excited to get back from my holiday to find this book waiting for me when I got home!

One such recipe was the one for Welsh Cakes.  I have previously blogged about Welsh Cakes as I adore them in a post about Welsh Baking on our holiday in Ceredigion last year.  To me, they are utterly addictive and the rest of my family feel the same.  I first tried them when I was a student in Bangor back in the early 1990s and have loved Welsh Cakes ever since.

So as it was my daughter’s GCSE results day I wanted to make Welsh Cakes for breakfast as a special treat.  They were simple to make: cubes of butter rubbed into sugar and plain flour with a hint of mixed spice added for flavour.  Currants or raisins are then added along with an egg yolk and milk to turn them into a dough.

After the dough is made you roll out the dough on a floured work surface and cut out circles with a fluted cutter.  Then, when you are ready you cook them on a griddle or flat frying pan. You usually cook them for about 2 minutes or so each side so they are golden brown.  The Welsh cakes puff up a little when they are cooked.

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Here are four of the Welsh cakes in my flat griddle frying pan. You don’t need to grease the pan.

As soon as my kids realised I was making Welsh Cakes they flew downstairs.  I couldn’t cook them fast enough, it’s like Pancake Day in our house.  They definitely are addictive! I got about 18 cakes out of the dough and when I got ready with the camera I found they had disappeared!

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That’s all that was left for me,slightly burnt too as hubby was asking me something at the time I was cooking them!

Happy Baking!  Or should I say Pobi Hapus?

Love Sam xx

Empire Biscuits on The Isle of Mull.

Empire biscuits, a UK treat but especially popular in Scotland.

Over May half term week my family went on holiday to the Isle of Mull. It’s a place very special to  me and to my hubby.  We had loved trips to the island before we met, he watched the Isle of Mull Rally which takes place every October and I had been to Mull a couple of times before as a student on travels around the UK.  So when we first started going out together about 18 years ago,  we chose to spend a week on the Isle of Mull as our first holiday together.  We always said we would go back and visit when the kids were older and that’s what we ended up doing.

We stayed in a very remote, midge infested, but beautiful part of the island near Lochbuie in the south.  Our cottage overlooked a loch and was absolutely stunning.  It was comfortable, immaculately clean and was definitely a home from home.  The only thing that spoilt it was all the midges which swarmed round the front porch and somehow managed to get in through the bathroom and our bedroom window.  I was covered in bites and one became infected when I came home.  But apart from that we had a fantastic time, wandering around Tobermory, playing on the beaches at Calgary Bay and on Iona, exploring Duart Castle and eating of course!

Now whenever I have a UK holiday I love to try out the local baking delicacies.  I don’t really think about sweet stuff when I go to Spain or something like that but in the UK it’s definitely about the cakes!  There was one bake I couldn’t get enough of and that was the Empire Biscuit.

I’ve had Empire Biscuits before and I’m sure they used to sell them in my local Sainsbury’s years ago on the bakery counter.  They are shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with jam and have glace icing spread on top with a cherry to finish.  But they’re very popular in Scotland and according to Wikipedia you can also get them with Jelly Tots on.

On the ferry over to Mull I had the 4 o’clock munchies and we went up to the Coffee Bar on the top deck.  I ended up buying a cup of tea and an Empire biscuit for myself.  It was just what I needed and kept me going until we had dinner that evening.  But throughout the week all I could think about were Empire Biscuits.  We enjoyed some Selkirk Bannock which I bought from a local Spar shop but I wanted more Empires!  On the last day of our holiday we were in Tobermory and I popped into the bakery on the High Street.  They had some scrummy looking Empires for sale and they were massive!  I bought four to take back to the cottage with us to have with a cup of tea and they were absolutely delicious.  The shortbread was perfect, which melted in the mouth and the icing wasn’t too sweet and sickly.  A perfect treat and ever since I’ve wanted to bake some Empires for myself.

The mouthwatering Empire biscuits which I bought in the Tobermory Bakery. Absolute heaven!

Last Friday was my usual day off work and I had been really busy all day catching up on chores.  I hadn’t baked anything for nearly three weeks, apart from a quiche  for last Sunday lunch and I was having serious withdrawal symptoms.  So I got Googling and found out all about Empire biscuits through Wikipedia.  I decided to use my usual shortbread biscuit recipe but my biscuits would come out smaller as I couldn’t get in the garage to get my big circular cutters out.  We had a workman putting a new back door on and it was chaos. So I used my small circular cutter I found in the kitchen drawer from last time I baked cookies.

Plain flour, sugar and salt is mixed in to a large bowl.
Cold, small cubes of butter are weighed out and added in to the mixing bowl.
After rubbing in the mixture and adding a large free range egg, I formed the dough into a large ball. This was then put into the fridge wrapped up in cling film to chill for about half an hour.

My daughter, who is on study leave at the moment doing her GCSE’s came downstairs and asked what I was doing.  She asked if she could roll out the dough and cut out the biscuits.  I let her as she is a great baker.  I just wish she would use a pallette knife to put the biscuits on the tray, not her hands!  Grrr! Anyway, she rolled the biscuits out beautifully and we looked forward to them being ready to ice.    The workman, as if on cue asked if I knew where the nearest cafe was for when he finished.  He was probably hoping for a biscuit but they weren’t ready then.

The biscuits laid out and spaced well apart on baking trays ready to be put into the oven.

The biscuits were left on the tray to cool while I went out to walk the dog.  Then out came some seedless raspberry jam and the biscuits were sandwiched together.

The biscuits now sandwiched together with seedless raspberry jam.

When this was done, I made up a quick glace icing but in my usual rush I made it a bit too runny.  It still spread ok and made the biscuits look presentable.  Finally, for the finishing touch I added half a glace cherry to each one.

The finished Empire biscuits, left on the cooling rack so that the icing would set.

So the verdict?  These biscuits were just absolutely divine.  We all had one each, hubby and I had one sat outside in the sun with a cup of tea before I got on with the dinner and he said they were lovely.  That’s a compliment from him!  The rest got hidden away in a biscuit tin!

Now, if I ever realise my dream of owning a tearoom then Empire biscuits will definitely be on my menu!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cooking The Books March 2014- Baking Update on A Passion For Baking.

I’ve not been very organised at keeping up with the old blog posts recently.  Life has been very busy both at work and at home so blogging has gone a bit by the wayside!  I also managed to delete a load of photos on my phone I’d taken of some Peanut Butter M&M cookies and some Raspberry Iced Fingers!  They were two of the ten recipes I needed to bake from my “Cooking The Books” challenge from this month, which is to bake one recipe from each chapter of Jo Wheatley’s A Passion For Baking. I got as far as sticking the photos on Facebook and Twitter but that was it!

As I don’t have time to write much at the moment I thought I would produce an updated blog post to show everyone how I’m getting on so far this month!  I’ve managed to bake seven out of ten of the recipes and as I’ve had so much on (but then who doesn’t these days, it’s a fact of life!) I can’t even remember how the recipes were baked.  Isn’t that awful but let’s hope as soon as the Easter holidays are here I can concentrate a bit more!

I was very pleased with how the Peanut Butter Cookies from the Biscuit chapter turned out.  I adapted the recipe and added in some Peanut Butter M&Ms bought in Gob Stoppers, an American sweet shop in Trinity Leeds.  This was based on a similar idea from a few months earlier where I baked Chocolate Mint M&M Cookies.  They turned out MAMOOOSIVE and even though I lost the picture to post on here, if you follow me on Twitter (@smartcookiesam) there will be a couple of pics of them somewhere about. The cookies disappeared very quickly as everyone in my family love peanut butter. A big success and one to try again in the future.

A couple of days after I tried baking the Raspberry Iced Fingers from the Bread and Yeast chapter for Sunday lunch pudding instead of a massive, stodgy dessert.  Anything involving yeast is my nemesis but I managed ok with these apart from the fact they looked a bit messy.  They were very naughty but nice but better eaten fresh as my hubby tried eating one the day after and it tasted stale.  No pictures here, either but once again if you are really bothered about seeing what they look like, look through my tweets!

If you like Blueberry Muffins then you will love the Blueberry Muffin Loaf which is in the Brunch chapter of A Passion For Baking.  It has a crumbly streusel like topping which gives the cake a lovely texture.  The cake itself was easy to make and very quick, all put together into a loaf tin.  It was moist and kept well for a couple of days in an airtight tin. Although it was a brunch recipe I baked it to have over the weekend for my family to have with a cup of tea.

The delicious Blueberry Muffin Loaf Cake.

My hubby went away overnight a couple of weekends ago so I cooked some Singing Hinnies for my two children one Sunday breakfast time.  They reminded me of Welsh cakes which you cook in a griddle pan but Singing Hinnies originate from the North East as they “sing” as they are cooking on the griddle. Hinny is a term of endearment used in the north east, a bit like honey I suppose!  I thought they were delicious and I devoured them spread with jam. Definitely a recipe I have to try again and again!

Singing Hinnies "singing" away in the griddle pan.  They contained currants and were absolutely delicious!
Singing Hinnies “singing” away in the griddle pan. They contained currants and were absolutely delicious!

Last week I had another go at making macaroons, this time it was to try out some Coconut and Pineapple ones.  Unfortunately they burned a bit and the colour came out a bit brown rather than the delicate pastel yellow they were meant to be. My daughter said they tasted nice, though I wasn’t convinced.  I might have another go when I get time as I love the pina colada combination.

Pineapple and Coconut Macaroons from the Afternoon Tea chapter.
Even at a better photo angle the macaroons didn’t look their best! Never mind!

Last Sunday I attempted to bake a Swiss Roll for the first time.  I chose to try out the Chocolate Cardamom Swiss Roll from A Passion For Baking as I loved the idea of baking with flavoured sugars.  I made up a jam jar of Cardamom sugar a few days before, leaving the flavour from the cardamom pods to infuse into the sugar.  The smell was gorgeous and the leftover sugar will go beautifully in some shortbread in the future!

My made up jar of Cardamom Sugar to go in the Chocolate and Cardamom Swiss Roll.
A bit squished and probably wouldn’t impress Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood but who cares? It tasted fab!
Oooh all that cream and chocolate made this cake quite calorific but it was worth every mouthful!

So what’s left to bake this month for the Cooking The Books Challenge? I have three recipes left to bake this weekend, after all it’s the end of the month on Monday!  Onion and Port Salut Tart for Saturday lunch with some salad, Eton Mess for Sunday lunch dessert and that leaves something from the Celebration Cakes chapter.  I’m thinking of the chocolate cake decorated with lots of sweets on top!

Watch this space!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Dorset Apple Cake

I’m still catching up on all my blog posts and realised I had made this cake over three weeks ago for the Clandestine Cake Club VCake Event which was called “Regional Cakes”.  As I am originally from Nottinghamshire I wanted to find something that reflected my home county’s heritage.  This was easier said than done.  When I searched on the internet for some Nottinghamshire baking recipes I was very unlucky.  I only found one recipe, which was for Nottingham Goose Fair Gingerbread (which are rather like brandy snaps and certainly would not be allowed at the whole cake only Clandestine Cake Club!

After a good hour searching an idea came to me.  I knew that the Bramley Apple tree originated from Southwell in Nottinghamshire (pronounced Suthall, not South-well). Southwell is slap bang in the middle of the county and is a pretty town with a Minster and a racecourse.  It wasn’t far from where I grew up and I remember as an 8 year old going on a school trip to the Minster as part of a History topic on The Normans. I don’t remember much about the trip all except I bought a pen with my spending money in the Minster and I left it on the coach.  I didn’t get any sympathy from Mr Clarke, our teacher!

Anyway, I thought well I could adapt a recipe I already had using Bramley Apples from Nottinghamshire. It had been my wedding anniversary a couple of days previously and my mum (who lives in Nottingham) was up staying with us for the weekend.  I thought we could have some Apple Cake for our pudding at lunchtime served with some ice cream.  There was a gorgeous sounding recipe that I could use from The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook called Dorset Apple Cake.  The original recipe was by Karen Burns Booth.  Karen said in the recipe introduction that the cake could be baked in a springform round tin or in a rectangular traybake tin.  I chose to bake my version in my Alan Silverwood traybake tin as I just couldn’t find the base of my springform one!

So, here;s how it was made:

I used three large Bramley Apples given to me!
I used three large Bramley Apples given to me!


They were chopped up and sliced.
They were chopped up and sliced.
Butter and sugar was then creamed together with my hand mixer.
Butter and sugar was then creamed together with my hand mixer.
The eggs were added in gradually to try and prevent curdling.
The eggs were added in gradually to try and prevent curdling.
Self raising flour was folded in to the mixture.
Self raising flour was folded in to the mixture.
A thin layer of mixture was put into the bottom of my greased  traybake tin.
A thin layer of mixture was put into the bottom of my greased traybake tin.
A layer of sliced apples dusted with cinnamon was added to the traybake.
A layer of sliced apples dusted with cinnamon was added to the traybake.
After repeating the two previous steps the cake mixture was now used up.
After repeating the two previous steps the cake mixture was now used up.
The cake was baked in the oven for just about an hour.  The apples burnt a bit on top but they had a lovely, caramelised taste to them.
The cake was baked in the oven for just about an hour. The apples burnt a bit on top but they had a lovely, caramelised taste to them.
The Dorset Apple cake was turned out onto a wire rack to cool down.
The Dorset Apple cake was turned out onto a wire rack to cool down.
One slice cut up.
One slice cut up.

The rest of the cake!

The rest of the cake!

The cake was a big success with the adults in our house although my son said he didn’t like it because it had cooked apple in it.  All the more for us then!  I cut the cake up into 16 pieces which were large ones and served it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  There was plenty left over for me to take into work in a box the next day to share with my work colleagues.  It went down well as there was none left by the Tuesday!

If any of you reading this do know of any Nottinghamshire baking recipes then please do tell me. I would love to bake more.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Happy Baking