The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Peanut Butter, Popcorn and Chocolate Fudge Torte.

Monday December 11th 2017.

Gosh, this seems like a long time ago now but the last two weeks before Christmas were so busy.  I didn’t have time to get updated with my blogging.  Anyway, here we are just after Christmas and I’m sat on the sofa typing this feeling like a beached whale.  I haven’t stuffed myself silly full of Celebrations and mince pies but I’ve not eaten well all through December.  Roll on the New Year!  Though when I go along to one of my Clandestine Cake Club events I don’t feel guilty about eating and enjoying cakes.  

The aforementioned Clandestine Cake Club recently celebrated its seventh birthday at a special event in Leeds.  The event was held in the restaurant on the top floor in the new John Lewis store.  I always like going to cake club events there because of the car park next door so that I haven’t got to cart my cake too far through the city centre.  This time, though was funny as I had my cake in a clear plastic container so various people were looking at me walking through the store carrying a cake.  I was so worried I was going to trip up on the escalator!

The cake I chose to bake was yet another recipe from The Great British Bake Off Christmas recipe book which was one of John Whaite’s own creations.  John won series three back in 2012 and his Peanut Butter, Popcorn and Chocolate Fudge Torte sounded absolutely mouthwatering.  The recipe introduction says: “Christmas is undoubtedly a time of indulgence or rather overindulgence (you’re telling me!) This torte is not only a feast for the stomach with its layers of soft cake, sweet mousse and decadent fudge but because of those defined layers, also a feast for the eyes; perfect for a Christmas Eve treat,”  We tend to go out for dinner on Christmas Eve but usually there isn’t cake involved, we’re far too full up!

 Although there was a lovely photo of John himself in the book posing with what looked like a peanut butter cake, there wasn’t a photo of the whole cake.  I had to guess from the recipe instructions to see how it would turn out like. 

So, on with the actual baking.  Mr SmartCookieSam had gone off to work and my son had left for college, it was just me and the animals.  My dog sloped off to have a snooze in his bed and I put the radio on to listen along while I was baking. I felt really happy and content as I got out my ingredients and the cake tin needed for the recipe.

The main part of the cake is a chocolate genoise.  I am not that familiar with baking genoise cakes but I know that they involce whisking eggs and then sugar together to get the air into the cake,  I did whisk for the full five minutes as the recipe asked me to do, even looking at the clock to check.

After the eggs and sugar had been whisked together I sifted in some plain flour and some cocoa powder along with some melted butter. I’m glad I remembered about the melted butter.  Last time a recipe asked for melted butter I melted it in the microwave and then forgot about it.  It wasn’t until the cake was in the oven baking that I realised I’d forgotten to add the butter! Eeeek!!

The cake mixture was then poured into a springform cake tin and put in the oven for 25 minutes to bake.  I then took it out of the oven and let it cool down on a wire rack until it was completely cold.

Meanwhile, I got the filling for the cake ready.  This was where all the calorific and indulgent ingredients came out.  I started with blitzing some Butterkist Toffee Popcorn in my blender until they became like coarse sand. I then added in double cream until it started to thicken up slightly.  After this, in went some smooth peanut butter, some condensed milk and some mascarpone cheese.  How does this taste sooo good?  Once this was mixed again so it was thickened up but not so much that it couldn’t be spread with a pallette knife. It was then put aside in a bowl and left until the cake was ready to be iced.  

The topping was a chocolate fudge affair and was made with even more condensed milk, more peanut butter, more double cream and some dark chocolate.  I can’t remember what sort of dark chocolate I used, probably what was on special offer in Morrisons that week.  

Now this is where I’d fail miserably if this had been a Bake Off Technical challenge.  I didn’t read the recipe properly and missed out the step where I was meant to put the cake back into the tin once I’d cut it in half horizontally, filled it and then added the fudge topping when it was in the tin.  I didn’t do that.  I took the cake out of the tin and then put it onto a cake board to decorate.  When I’d decorated it, it went into the fridge to set but not in the tin.  It did make the finish of the cake a bit messier.

When the cake was setting in the fridge for an hour, it was lunchtime by this stage.  I sat down and had some soup while the remaining toffee popcorn had been put into a pan with some brown sugar to caramelise.  It took about 10 minutes to do this and then I let them cool down completely before putting them on the top of the cake.  To finish I found some champagne bottle candles left over from a birthday cake and stuck them on the top of the cake.  

The cake was very big and rich so a small slice was all that was needed.  It seemed to go down well, along with the other cakes at the event.  I went home with one of my sugar rush headaches feeling that I could never eat another cake again.  This was very short lived as the following day I was out having Afternoon Tea with my friends!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Seedy Flatbread Crackers.

Sunday 10th December 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Caramelised Onion and Stilton Tart.

Thursday 7th December 2017.

I love making pies, quiches and tarts but I always worry about the fat and calorie content in the pastry and the fillings.  But nothing beats a homemade pie or tart, especially on a cold Winter’s evening.

I had planned out the meals to cook for this last week but forgot I was a day behind with what needed eating up first in the fridge.  I had some chicken breasts which needed to be used so they ended up being cooked for Thursday night’s dinner.  Being a supply teacher and at the time having no work booked in for the day after, I thought I’d prep ahead just in case I ended up working.  We’d all be starving by the time I got in from work. Not only that but the last thing I’d want to do is to start cooking something from scratch.  I’m glad I was prepared.  I ended up working and didn’t get home until 6.15pm.

The Caramelised Onion and Stilton Tart from The Great British Bake Off Christmas book ended up being our dinner along with some new potatoes, peas and sweetcorn.  It was assembled and cooked the night before and it was reheated carefully the following night.

So, back to Thursday tea time and I’m cooking two meals one after the other.  I started off with the tart and then went on to cooking the chicken breasts in a chipotle marinade with new potatoes, peas and sweetcorn.  Yes I know we had that two nights running but it was what I was trying to use up in the fridge before doing my weekly shop at the weekend.  I began with making up the shortcrust pastry which was fine.  It was chilled in the fridge for half an hour as I was cooking three medium onions in some olive oil and butter. The long, slow and low heat of cooking the onions really helps them to caramelise.

When the pastry was chilled for long enough, I got it out of the fridge and rolled it out to fit it into my tart tin.  There was enough pastry to overhang the edges. I filled the pastry case with baking parchment and my ceramic baking beans so I could blind bake it.  After 12 minutes I had to remove the paper and the beans then pop the pastry case back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

As the pastry case was baking, I mixed together the filling.  I mixed together two eggs and another egg yolk, along with some double cream, some grated Parmesan Cheese and some crumbled Stilton.  I was also meant to add pine nuts to the mixture but when I looked in the cupboard I’m sure I couldn’t find any.  So I left them out altogether.  I’m sure walnuts would have gone well in the tart as well.

When the pastry case came out of the oven, I mixed the filling, along with the caramelised onions together. The mixture was poured into the case and I popped the tart back into the oven.  I always put the tart case onto a flat baking tray in case it leaked out all over the oven floor.

The following day, when we chose to eat the tart, I asked Mr SmartCookieSam to put it back in the oven to reheat through for half an hour.  The result was absolutely delicious.  I’m sure it was hugely calorific, what with all the cheese and cream in the filling not to mention the butter in the pastry as well.  But it simply melted in the mouth.  What’s more is that as the tart was so big there was enough left over to eat cold the next day for lunch. It was a big hit and a recipe I’ll definitely be making again.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Tomato Provençale Tart.

The SmartCookieSam family have just come back from our summer holidays in the South of France.  It’s been 9 years since we last went to France.  We’ve always loved going there and as I speak French, it always feels like a special place to me.  Of course part of going to France is to enjoy all the lovely food and wine and our holiday  was no exception.

We stayed in a beautiful villa outside the medieval town of Flayosc near Draguignan and for most of our shopping used the huge Carrefour supermarket on the edge of Draguignan.  I was blown away by the sheer quality of the fruit and vegetables for a start.  Tomatoes never taste the same in the UK as they do in the mediterranean countries, to me.

The day after we got home I had to head up to our local supermarket to stock up.  I’d been so taken by all the Provencale type foods and dishes I’d seen, I was keen to make something  French for our dinner.  My son was over at his girlfriend’s house and he balks at anything with tomatoes in it unless it’s ketchup! I was looking in one of the Great British Bake Off books and found a mouthwatering sounding recipe in the book to accompany the 2013 series The Great British Bake Off Everyday.  There was a recipe for Roast Tomato Tart.  It captured all the typical Mediterranean flavours and could be adapted to have pesto sauce  in it in place of mustard.  I chose to stick with mustard.  The tart is a shortcrust pastry base infused with rosemary, baked blind and then spread with Dijon mustard and grated Gruyere cheese.  Then the tart is topped with sliced tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and then salt and pepper.

The recipe makes a tart in a circular 1 x 23cm loose based quiche tin but I chose to try out a rectangular flan tin I’d bought in John Lewis last year and never used.  I found I had slightly too many tomatoes to go in the tin but I just added them to the side salad I was serving with the tart.

Ingredients:

200g plain flour

1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (I used dried, as I didn’t have fresh)

140g butter chilled and diced

3-4 tbsp iced cold water

800g ripe tomatoes

1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard or pesto sauce

175g Gruyere or Emmental cheese, grated

1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

A couple of pinches of herbes de Provence

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First, you make up the rosemary shortcrust pastry.  This can be done in a food processor or by hand.  I thought that by the time I’d faffed about getting the food processor out, I could have made up the pastry.  But if you have one and it’s not a pain getting it out of the cupboard, it makes making pastry so much easier.  Rub the butter into the flour until it makes fine breadcrumbs then add the water little by little.  Form into a ball with the end of a round bladed knife.  It should be a soft but not sticky dough.  Wrap the dough into cling film and put in your fridge to chill for about 15 minutes.

Flour your work top with some plain flour or if you’re like me, pour too much out so it goes all over the kitchen floor.  When you have done that, get the dough out of the fridge and roll the pastry out to fit the flan tin allowing extra to overhang because of shrinkage.

Then the oven needs to be heated up to 190oC/

 

Excuse the awful pictures but I was taking the photos in a hurry.  Especially doing them before Mr SmartCookieSam saw me taking the pictures and would say he didn’t “want to see his dinner on bloody Facebook!”

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

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

Curried Beef Samosas

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As soon as I got my hands on a copy of Mary Berry’s latest recipe book “Everyday” I wanted to test out loads of the recipes.  Of course being a baking addict I always go straight to the cake recipes in her books but it was actually a savoury recipe I made first.

Last weekend we ended up having Mary’s Curried Beef Samosas with a salad.  I got out the mango chutney as well.  Normally samosas are deep fried and I love them from our local Indian takeaway.  But these were baked.

Mary’s recipe introduction tells  us: “With their delicious spicy filling and crispy texture , these are guaranteed to go down well. Perfect for sharing either as a canape or a starter,”

The recipe makes 14 large samosas. As I had never made samosas before this was going to be a really tricky challenge for me.  It would be like doing origami for me with fiddly filo pastry.

The first task was to prepare the spicy beef filling.  I heated olive oil in my large frying pan and added finely chopped onion, red peppers, dried chilli flakes, garlic and tiny pieces of carrot.  Once all the vegetables had softened after a few minutes, I added in some minced beef. This was then browned carefully.  After the mince had browned I added some medium curry powder, a tin of chopped tomatoes and a spoonful of mango chutney. All this was left to cook for a few minutes until it was time to add in some frozen peas.

Such a good thing that even Mary Berry uses ready made filo pastry. Life is far too short to make your own.  I draw the line at making your own shortcrust though. I had this packet of filo pastry in my freezer left over from Christmas. Making these samosas would be the perfect excuse to use up the pastry.

Trouble is filo pastry and I don’t really get on.  I find it really fiddly to use and it always rips on me.  It’s like an edible version of tissue paper. The air was blue in my kitchen as I tried my hardest to unwrap the pastry.  I had to have a long, thin strip of pastry which was about 10 x 40cm in size to make each samosa with.  My pastry was completely the wrong size for these dimensions so I had to make do.

The pastry was quite dry even though Mary warned in her everyday tips at the end of the recipe that this might happen.  You need to work quickly brushing each layer with melted butter.  The butter soaked in quickly and I found the pasty quickly broke several times.

Samosas are meant to be a triangular shape but because my pastry kept breaking I struggled with this.  In some cases they looked like uneven parcels or spring rolls.  All I could hope for was that Mr SmartCookieSam and my son were put off by their awful appearance.  I didn’t care though, so long as they tasted great.I  did make the 14 samosas like Mary’s recipe said but half were what I would have called a walking disaster area. I won’t be getting a job in my local takeaway or restaurant making the samosas.

When I served up the samosas I thought they looked nothing like I’d eaten but then they had been oven baked and not deep fried.  The pastry looked unappetising but once I bit into the samosa I was pleasantly surprised. The beef curry filling was spicy yet not too overpowering and there was just enough of it.  I ended up having two samosas with some salad.  Mr SmartCookieSam ate a couple for lunch the day after.

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The better out of the Samosas. Believe me they did taste better than they looked!

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The samosa rejects. The picture speaks for itself!

Would I make these samosas again?  In all fairness, probably not.  I was put off by the fiddliness of using the filo pastry and I found it far too tricky to make the triangles up with out the filling oozing out all over the place.  So for me, not something I would make for an everyday meal.

Love Sam xx

Our New Years’ Day Tradition- Steak and Mushroom Pie.

Happy New Year!  I hope that 2017 brings you luck, health and happiness. 2016 was a mixed year for a lot of people and I just hope this year doesn’t continue in the same way.  I feel a different person to the one I was at the beginning of 2016 and now I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I will be going back to Slimming World after not being able to make recent group meetings as well as trying to breathe life into this blog. It’s been a bit neglected recently.  This I would love to change.

Every New Year’s Day in the past we have usually eaten a big lunch at home and then gone out for a walk afterwards.  I tend to bake a pie and serve it with lots of vegetables and gravy.  This year things were different.  My son had been out at a party and got back in the afternoon from his friends’ house.  My daughter was working from lunchtime until the evening.  Our family New Years’ Day lunch ended up being a quiet tea time instead.

I chose to bake a Steak and Mushroom Pie this time as I had some braising steak in the freezer.  It was a cinch to make as I made a cheat’s shortcut. Not with the shortcrust pastry- that was homemade but with the pie filling.  I love Gordon Rhodes’ Gourmet Sauce Mixes and buy them regularly from my local farm shop.  I used their Slow Comfortable Stew mix with braising steak, a large onion, a tin of chopped tomatoes and a little water. Cooked for about 6 hours on a low heat in my slow cooker, it made the beef melt in the mouth and taste deliciously tender. I can’t bear tough beef. The sauce mix also suggests adding in chopped potato and carrot but I didn’t do this seeing as I wanted to serve these with the pie. Instead, nearer the end of the cooking time I put 250g of halved mushrooms into the slow cooker to soften for the last half hour.

The shortcrust pastry was made with 175g cold butter cut into cubes, 350g of plain flout and ice cold water to mix.  There was plenty of pastry dough left over so I gathered it into a ball, wrapped it in cling film and put it in the freezer for another time.  I bet I’ll forget about it, go to the freezer in a few week’s time and think “What the hell is this?”

As it was New Year’s Day I found my large number cookie cutters and cut out 2017 to stick on the top.  Mr SmartCookieSam said it looked too nice to cut up.

Not a scrap left of the pie. I’m beginning to feel like who ate all the pies here after all I’ve eaten.  But I won’t give up baking, I’ll just have to keep myself away from it!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx