Half Term Baking

It feels like an eternity since I last updated my blog. I was working in a long term and full time post last half term. Baking, let alone any blogging was the last thing on my mind.

The last few weeks have been extremely stressful. Even though baking helps me to relax and unwind, I didn’t have the time and the energy to lift a wooden spoon. As soon as my work was finished for the night, it was bedtime and the cycle would start again at 6.00am the next morning.

Although half term week was last week up here in Yorkshire, it’s taken me that long to get my head back to writing up my latest post. But I was so happy, esctatic even to be back in my favourite place doing what I love. So I am sharing with you what I have baked this last week.

At Christmas I was given a copy of Jamie Oliver’s latest book “5 Ingredients” which I really love. As there are only 5 ingredients in each recipe, a lot of the recipes are simple to make and quick to throw together after a busy day. Although poor Mr SmartCookieSam ended up cooking our dinner most nights last half term! As usual, whenever I get a new recipe book I’m always looking at the sweet stuff at the back of the book.

On the Monday of half term week I went over to Leeds to meet up with my cake club friends at one of our friends’ houses. Linda cooked us a delicious Spanish Chicken Traybake (from the Hairy Dieters first book) and we had some sweet treats afterwards. This was a real tonic to catch up with my friends as I hadn’t seen anyone for a couple of months. My contribution was a Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake (more of that to follow) and some St Clements Polenta Biscuits from Jamie’s 5 Ingredients.

The St Clements Polenta Biscuits could have been used with lemons or oranges but I used just lemons in my recipe. The five ingredients were: butter, fine polenta, self raising flour, caster sugar and lemons or oranges. The biscuit dough could be made up in my food processor, so it was really quick to put together. When the dough had formed into a large ball, I split the dough into 24 equal pieces and laid them onto a lined baking tray. The biscuits spread a lot during the baking so I needed to space them well apart on the tray. I usually put 6 biscuits per tray. These were baked for about 10 minutes in the oven, but my oven temperature is a bit out at the moment so I was watching them like a hawk.

I was very pleased with the biscuits and they went down well. My only problem was not to eat them before I met my friends! It’s the first time I’ve used polenta in a biscuit recipe. I’ve baked polenta in savoury recipes and also in a cake. The latter was a complete disaster and the cake fell apart. Cake balls, anyone?!

The other bake I took along to my friend’s house was a Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake. Anyone who knows me well will know that I collect Nordicware Bundt pans. Much to the annoyance of Mr SmartCookieSam who complains about them taking up space in the garage! I chose to use my Elegant Heart pan to make my cake in, being as it was two days before Valentine’s Day. I had a packet of mini Chocolate Orange Lindt D’Or balls in my baking cupboard which I could use to decorate the top. I’m still confused. How were they still there in the cupboard? I’m surprised they hadn’t been scoffed.

I adapted the Tunnel of Fudge Bundt recipe from one of my Nordicware cookbooks and used one of my favourite products in the mix. I’m a huge fan of Sugar and Crumbs’ Natural Flavoured Icing Sugars and Cocoa powders. I used the chocolate orange cocoa powder in the cake itself and in the glaze on top.

The third bake of the week was on the Thursday of half term week. I was at home on my own that day just catching up on jobs around the house and by the afternoon I was fed up of doing boring chores. The kitchen beckoned again so I had a go at making another recipe from Jamie’s “5 Ingredients” This time I baked “Buddy’s Flapjack Biscuits” Jamie must have made the recipe for his son, Buddy. The five ingredients in this recipe were: butter, mixed dried fruit and nuts, porridge oats, self raising flour and golden syrup. Basically a flapjack style recipe without sugar in it, only syrup and more sweetness derived from dried fruit. I chose to substitute the dried fruit for a packet of Vahine choco-caramel chips which I had in the baking cupboard. They had been brought back from France last August and I hadn’t got round to using them. They melted into the mixture, though and turned it darker. I was hoping they might stay solid, rather like chocolate chips do in a cookie. Once again, this recipe was simplicity itself pulsed together in my food processor.

I also treated myself to Mary Berry’s latest book “Classic” and used her recipe for flapjacks which definitely are a classic to me. If I could only ever eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would easily be a flapjack. Though it has to be said, both my son and Mr SmartCookieSam ate these.

Finally, I had a very special cake to bake at the end of half term week. My friend was celebrating her 60th birthday so her husband asked me if I could bake her a cake. Marion and I met a couple of years ago before our favourite band of all time Wet Wet Wet were playing in Scarborough at the Open Air Theatre. Her husband was bringing her away for the weekend at Nidd Hall near Knaresborough in North Yorkshire and they asked Mr SmartCookieSam and I to come over to Nidd Hall for drinks and afternoon tea. I baked Marion’s special cake the day before and had great fun decorating it with a fanastic cake topper from mycupcaketoppers.co.uk. I used the image from Wet Wet Wet’s very first album cover Popped In Souled Out and added stars, hearts and sugar coated crispy balls around the edge. The cake itself was a Madeira sponge which I cut in half horizontally (not straight as you can tell from the photos), and layered with strawberry jam and buttercream. I then crumb coated the cake with buttercream, left it to dry and then added the sugarpaste layer. I hate covering cakes with sugarpaste and even though I’ve been decorating cakes for years, I still get anxious and nervous about the sugarpaste breaking and falling off the rolling pin. But thankfully today, it all worked out fine.

As I type, it’s now the following Thursday morning and I’m not at work today. I’m wondering what I can bake. I daren’t bake anything as I know I’ll eat it though. Maybe I’ll have to keep out of the kitchen and do my knitting instead once I’ve done all my chores.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Boxing Day/ St. Stephen’s Day Muffins- The Great British Bake Off Christmas.

26th December 2017.
These muffins are a great way of using up all that leftover Christmas Pudding.  Only Mr SmartCookieSam and I eat Christmas pudding in our house but our two children don’t like it.  My daughter usually makes a dessert for herself and her brother.  This year she baked a delectable Salted Caramel and Chocolate Roulade but last year it was Sticky Toffee Pudding. 
As it was just the four of us for Christmas Day and Boxing Day this year I knew there would be loads of Christmas pudding left.  Mr SmartCookieSam was a bit put out that I used some of our Christmas pudding leftovers for something else but I had made the pudding at the end of November even before I knew who was here for Christmas and who wasn’t. 

In The Great British Bake Off Christmas book, the recipe introduction states: “St. Stephen’s Day is the Irish holiday that we more typically call Boxing Day.  As to be expected, 26th December marks the start of enjoying all the leftovers from the previous two days and these boozy muffins are no exception,”

The recipe makes 8 good sized muffins so I found some left over Christmas themed muffin cases in the cupboard and put them into the muffin tin first, even before switching on the oven.  I would not call these muffins healthy by any stretch of the imagination though I ate one for a late breakfast on Boxing Day!  They contain sherry as well but 3 tablespoonfuls for the whole batch.

My son was working all day so I baked them after I had driven to York to drop him off at work.  When I got back Mr SmartCookieSam and my daughter were out so I had the house to myself.  I set up BBC Iplayer in the kitchen and caught up with the Christmas Special of Call The Midwife while I baked and cleared up in the kitchen.  

The muffins were quick and simple to make which is what you need at this time of year when you are battling with the Christmas leftovers.  I took 200g of the leftover Christmas pudding off what was left and crumbled it into a bowl.  There was still plenty left! 

In another bowl I mixed together flour, baking powder, some mixed spice and some light brown muscovado sugar into a bowl.  In another bowl I whisked together two eggs with some milk and some melted butter.  Though the melted butter nearly got left in the microwave and got forgotten to be put in the bowl! Ooops! I then raided the drinks cabinet and took out three tablespoonfuls of sherry. I don’t like sherry but I had a cheap bottle bought last year for the trifle.  The two mixtures were then folded together carefully along with the crumbled Christmas Pudding.

After baking for 20-15 minutes the muffins came out of the oven.  Tbey had turned a gorgeous golden colour and although well risen did not rise as much as shop bought muffins do.  I must admit they tasted amazing though and I had one there and then for a late breakfast.  I had one the following day, too! 

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Coconut Traybake.

Coconut and Marshmallow Traybake.

 I’ve been testing a few recipes out of a favourite book of mine this month: The Great British Bake Off Christmas.  There’s been loads of different things to choose from and we’re not just limited to cakes and biscuits here.   I was tempted to have a go at Cathryn Dresser’s own recipe featured in the book, her Snowy White Coconut Traybake. Cathryn was one of the contestants on the Bake Off from the third series in 2012. I liked her and who can forget her catchphrase “Oh my giddy aunt?” Her coconut traybake is bound to be a big hit with young and old alike as you can add optional marshmallow snowmen to the top of the cake. I didn’t do this as I didn’t have any marshmallows in.  I had completely forgotten to blog about this bake as things became so hectic in the run up to Christmas.

Sunday 9th December 2017.

After dropping my son off at work and catching up on the ironing, I fancied some baking. Anything with coconut in goes down really well with me and I had the perfect excuse to use some Sugar and Crumbs Marshmallow Natural Flavoured Icing Sugar in the frosting. I thought coconut and marshmallow would work really well together. As stated in the introduction “this sweet, simple cake is a delicious treat to enjoy with your visitors during the festive season,”  Or a great recipe to try out with children as it’s so easy and fun to bake.

After preheating my oven to 170oC (fan oven) I weighed out all my ingredients and greased my traybake tin.  Butter and sugar were creamed together with my electric whisk.  After that I mixed together some sour cream, buttermilk and eggs in another bowl.  Finally, these were combined, along with some desiccated coconut.  I could have added some ground cardamom pods to the mixture but I didn’t have any.  

Once all added together I poured the mixture into the prepared tin and baked it in the oven for about 25-30 minutes.  As usual I got distracted and ended up forgetting to put the oven timer on. I went off upstairs to put some washing away and forgot I’d put the cake in the oven.  It wasn’t until I smelled coconut coming from the kitchen that I remembered! Luckily I got the cake out in time.  Aftter another half an hour or so it was ready to be flipped out of the tin. Thankfully I had no problems with that coming out and falling to bits.

The frosting or icing for the top of the traybake was a combination of butter, icing sugar and soured cream.  As I said before, I was keen to try out one of Sugar and Crumbs’ new winter flavours which was a Marshmallow one.  The ingredients were simply added together in one bowl and then spread on top of the cooled cake.  My final flourish was to sprinkle some snow themed sprinkles on top of the cake.  I thought I had some snowflake themed ones but I found some pale blue, white and lilac hundreds and thousands to decorate instead.  I could have used some more dessicated coconut and/ or some edible glitter but the other choice worked well.  

To decorate the top I found some winter themed hundreds and thousands.

I’m definitely going to add this to my baking list for next year at Christmas.  Though the coconut bake being reminiscent of snow could be linked to Christmas and winter, I think that you could bake it all year round.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

My Favourite Cookies.

Back in my favourite place.

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

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

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

Chocolate Chip  or White Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies


100g softened, unsalted butter

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

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

175g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chocolate M&M Cookies

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

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

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

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

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx


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

Portuguese Pork and Rice- Mary Berry Everyday.

Those of you who are parents will know how frustrating and irritating it is when you try your hardest to cook interesting and delicious meals for your family.  Only for them to turn their noses up at something they haven’t even tried yet. Mr SmartCookieSam is the same as he has definite likes and dislikes. I like to try cooking different things for dinner and get bored of eating the same old meals day in day out.  Last Wednesday I had been working just for the morning so I had more time to cook and try out something new from Mary Berry’s latest cookbook “Everyday”. I had done my food shopping on the weekend and Mr SmartCookieSam had spotted some pork fillet in the fridge. He said it would be nice stuffed with black pudding. No it will not!  When I told him that it was going to be chopped up into slices to be made into Portuguese Pork and Rice, he was not impressed!

Portuguese Pork and Rice is a fantastic one pot dish that reminds me of a cross between a paella and a risotto.  I guess you could also make it with chicken or prawns if you don’t like pork.  The pork fillet I had bought was a lovely piece of meat and I sliced it carefully into bite sized strips.  These were seared in a pan with some olive oil first.

To add depth and colour to the dish there are a variety of vegetables to chop and put in.  I love the addition of banana shallots which I had never used before. I had used the little ones which remind me of pickled onions but not these.  They had a pinky purple hue to them as well so this made the dish look pretty.  Added to this was some strips of red pepper and some crushed garlic. These were softened for a few minutes.

It was then time to add the smoked paprika which is an ingredient I love using, followed by some long grain rice, a can of chopped tomatoes and a little bit of chicken stock.  To stop the liquid from boiling away and everything burning I had to put a lid on the pan. This made the moisrure stay in and the rice grains soaked up all the stock.

Towards the end of the cooking time the pork went back into the pan along with some pitted black olives.  As this was being prepared I warmed through slices of ciabatta bread and made up a side salad.

Even though both Mr SmartCookieSam and my son had originally turned their noses up at the thought of Portuguese Pork and Rice, I had a pleasant surprise.  They both tucked in with gusto.  It’s incredible how even the thought of something can turn people off until thay actually try it! For us, it was a perfect midweek dinner dish but Mary reckons it is also “great for feeding the family or for a summer lunch with a dressed salad on the



Now what I didn’r norice until a day or so after I had posted a photo of my meal on Instagram was the position of the black olives in my dinner.  What does it look like to you?

I really want to make this again.  I can see me eating it in the summer sat outside on the patio with a large glass of rose on the side.

Love Sam xx

Curried Beef Samosas


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.

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


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