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

Pistachio Sablés 


As I type it’s now a very wet and rainy September morning.  Most of the country’s children have gone back to school. I’m a supply teacher in my day job, which I love but as there’s no work around at the beginning of term I’m finally managing to catch up on my very neglected blog.

It seems ages ago now we’re back into school mode. Well in our house I have my older one back off to uni today.  She’s driving down in her car for the first time and my younger one doesn’t start back at college until next week. Time flies and before we know it we’ll be mentioning the dreaded “C” word!!  But for now I’ll still think about summer and our holiday.

When we were on holiday in the south of France a couple of weeks back we did a lot of our food shopping in the local Carrefour.  I always feel stressed and wound up in supermarkets at home.  I reckon it’s because I’m always in a hurry, they move things around and you end up forgetting half the things you came in for in the first place.  But in this Carrefour, even though it was a massive “grandes surfaces” it felt like a pleasure to shop there.

Of course wherever I go on holiday I have to search out their baking aisle.  I don’t always buy things from the baking aisle but I couldn’t help myself here.  The selection of nuts, dried fruits, flavoured baking powders, extracts and the usual cake decorations were amazing.  Seeing different flavoured baking powders was a new one on me.  I love pistachios so I bought a packet of ground pistachio nuts hoping to use them in a recipe somewhere.  Of course when I buy goodies to take home, my family make snide comments about how I’m going to make us go over the baggage allowance.  I think we had about 500g spare this time, thank God!

Two days after we got back from France I had invited my lovely Clandestine Cake Club friends over to my house for afternoon tea.  It was a great excuse to bake for them so I thought about how I could use my pistachio nuts in a recipe.  In the end I plumped for a biscuit recipe which I adapted from a recipe in The Great British Bake Off Everyday”  The original recipe was for Coconut Sables.

Pistachio Sables

Makes 20-24 biscuits

160g plain flour

a pinch of salt

75g icing sugar

160g unsalted, cold and diced butter

2 medium free range egg yolks

100g ground or crushed Pistachio nuts (I used Vahine Eclats de Pistaches Torrifiees)

First, put the pistachios, flour, icing sugar and a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl and combine them evenly.

Then add in the cubes of butter, rubbing them in until you get fine bread crumbs.

Next you add the egg yolks to the bowl until the mixture becomes like a ball of dough.  I then take the ball of dough out of the bowl and roll it into a disc that’s about 2.5cm thick.

 Wrap your dough in some cling film and leave it to chill in the fridge for about half an hour  until you are ready to use it.  Or if you are like me, you run out of time, leave it longer and then you find it is too hard to manipulate!

When you have the dough out of the fridge, sprinkle a little flour onto your work top and then roll out your dough to the thickness of a pound coin.  Cut out circles with a cutter (either plain or fluted) which is 7.5cm in diameter.

Put the biscuits onto greased baking trays and pop in the oven for about 10-15 minutes.  Oven temperature: 180oC/ 350oF/ Gas Mark 4. In the original recipe the biscuits should have been pricked with a fork before being baked but I forgot!

I found that once you ate one of these cookies, you didn’t want to stop.  So I had to hide them away until my friends came over. I could just imagine eating a massive bowl of pistachio ice cream with one of these little treats.

Afternoon tea at SmartCookieSam’s. It’s also the perfect excuse to use my late mother in law’s china.
Afternoon Tea at SmartCookieSam’s. Don’t look at the creased tablecloth!!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

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

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

Hummingbird Cake- Mary Berry Everyday.

As soon as I saw Mary Berry’s new book Everyday I had to bake the Hummingbird Cake recipe from the book. A while back I’d made some Hummingbird Cupcakes which had been very popular with everyone who tasted one.  So I was keen to test out a big cake version of this “Southern US classic which takes banana cake up a notch,” according to Mary’s recipe introduction.  Mary also states that “It makes for a moist, substantial cake, beautifully offset by the tangy cream cheese icing,”

Baking the Hummingbird cake would also be a great way of testing out some Sugar and Crumbs Banana Split icing sugar I had got in my baking cupboard. I had bought it before Christmas and wanted to use it in something but not had the chance. As banana is one of the key flavours in a Hummingbird Cake, along with pineapple, this banana flavour would be a perfect additional dimension to the cream cheese icing.

Into a large mixing bowl went all the dry ingredients. Self raising flour, baking powder, cinnamon, caster sugar all went in as well as some chopped walnuts.  I mixed them all up together and then put them to one side to prepare the rest of the cake.


In another bowl I mashed up two large, ripe bananas. These were then added to another mixing bowl along with some drained and chopped pineapple chunks, two beaten eggs, a spoonful of vanilla extract and some sunflower oil.

Both bowls were combined together and dry mixture was folded in carefully.  The mixture reminded me of a muffin batter.  This was then divided between 2 greased 20cm/ or 8″ diameter circular tins.  The cake baked for about 25 minutes in my fan oven. When it came out it had risen beautifully and smelled fabulous. I went off to put some laundry away and to do some hoovering.  By the time I’d finished that job it was time to take the cakes out of the tin and put them on a wire rack to cool down.

The Hummingbird cake does not need much decoration.  It’s all in the taste of the cake.  In the illustraion Mary uses a cream cheese frosting for the filling and the top of the cake. I wanted to add a little bit more yet I didn’t want to overdo things.  In the end I chopped up some more walnuts and sprinkled them on top to finish off.

The cream cheese frosting is made with softened butter, full fat cream cheese, vanilla extract and icing sugar. As mentioned before I substituted the plain icing sugar for the Sugar and Crumbs’ Banana Split icing sugar. I left out the vanilla extract.  This gave the cream cheese mixture a delicate banana flavouring. It was wonderfully creamy and so easy to spread on the cake.

As the icing contained cream cheese I chose to put the cake in the fridge to keep and this helped enormously.

A huge hit with everyone but the worst thing was that I kept craving more. I longed to have another slice and having the cake in the house tested my weakening willpower to breaking point.Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Black Cherry Cupcakes. 

Black Cherry Cupcakes- seriously indulgent and rich.

It seems like ages since I’ve baked cupcakes.  A couple of years ago they were everywhere and I was always being asked to make them.  I love making cupcakes, especially when you can put gorgeous decorations on them.  The only trouble is that I find the icing far too sickly sweet.  Doesn’t stop me baking for other people though.

Two weeks ago I had a much needed day off to catch up at home.  Of course baking always takes over my mind and all I can think of while I’m hoovering or dusting is baking. Why is baking seen of as fun but hoovering is not? At least it was an incentive to get me through the tedious bits.

I’m a huge fan of Sugar and Crumbs’ Natural Flavoured Icing Sugars and had a packet of their black cherry icing sugar to try out.  With this in mind a few weeks previously I had bought a tin of black cherries in syrup.  I had to de-stone all the cherries first. Can you imagine what a nasty surprise that would have been if I hadn’t have taken the stones out? I then thoroughly rinsed the cherries and patted them dry on some kitchen roll so that they weren’t covered in the sticky syrup.  I kept a dozen whole for decorating the top of the cupcakes and chopped the remaining ones up into quarters to go inside the mix.

It was a perfect excuse to use some pretty black and white patterned cupcake cases I had bought last year in TKMaxx and never used.  Thankfully they were great quality ones. Sometimes you buy pretty cupcake cases only to find they fade in the oven or feel greasy afterwards.  These didn’t and still looked perfect when they came out of the oven.

The recipe for these delicious cupcakes is from The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book.  They were baked by creaming butter and sugar together, then adding eggs, plain flour and baking powder to the mix.  After this I folded in the stoned, rinsed and quartered cherries.

Not before long the cupcakes were in the oven and I was greeted with a delicious smell wafting throughout the kitchen.  Time for a cup of tea before starting on the icing.

If you read my blog regularly you will notice I use Sugar and Crumbs’ icing sugars and cocoa powders a lot.  I’m not working for them or connected to them in any way but I just love their products.  Every time they bring out a new flavour I’m always desperate to try it. The Black Cherry one isn’t a new flavour in their range but it was one I’d not seen before. As with their other flavours you could smell the aroma of the black cherries when you opened the packet.

Once the cupcakes had cooled down and I’d finished my cuppa, I made up the buttercream.  I find buttercream a bit sickly so I always add a splash of lemon juice to mine.  This is a tip I picked up from my late Nana Mary and also from my mum.  It takes the teeth tingling sweetness away if you don’t like it.  Just a splash of it, mind!

A few minutes later and my cupcakes were ready.  A stoned black cherry on top to finish!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Dust Off The Old Cookbooks- Coffee Cake. 


As my regular SmartCookieSam readers will know, I’m a member of the internationally renowned Clandestine Cake Club. Although there are plenty of events held all over the world and some very local to me in North Yorkshire, there are also virtual or VCake events for those who can’t get to an event.  Or you can join them if you want an excuse to bake!

At the end of January, Lynn Hill the founder of the Clandestine Cake Club held a virtual event where you were invited to “dust off your old cookbooks” and bake something from a recipe book you had not used for a while.

I have loads of recipe books like that and my family are sick of all the books I have all over the house.  Some are more used than others and Lynn’s event gave me the perfect excuse to search through my stash and bake something.  When my Nana Mary (my Mum’s mum) died I inherited her cookbooks.  Nana and I were so alike in lots of ways, we both loved cooking and baking, knitting and sewing and also reading books.  Sadly Nana died in 1994, just after I’d sat my teaching degree finals.  She used to collect recipes from everywhere and wrote them down from TV cookery programmes or from the radio as well as cutting recipes out of magazines.

One of Nana’s baking books was a Sainsbury’s one.  It dates from the late 1980’s and I loved looking through the recipes in it.  As I decided what to bake I came across a mouthwatering recipe for a coffee sponge. I never remember Nana baking a coffee sponge, she tended to make fruit cakes and I do remember her lemon drizzle cake.

Mr SmartCookieSam’s birthday is at the end of January so it was a perfect opportunity to bake the coffee cake for then. My husband doesn’t have a sweet tooth but he loves coffee cake.  I had a couple of goodies to make this cake even extra special: some Sugar and Crumbs Coffee flavour Natural icing sugar, some cocoa covered coffee beans bought in Costa coffee and some glittery gold and silver star candles thrown in the trolley when I was shopping in Tesco.

My Nana Mary’s old cookery book with some special extras to turn the coffee sponge into a Birthday Cake for Mr SmartCookieSam.   
The coffee sponge was made using the whisking method.  I whisked eggs and sugar together until they became light and fluffy. Then in went some flour and baking powder, followed by a spoonful of vegetable oil and some semi skimmed milk. Also added to the mixture to give it a coffee flavour was a teaspoonful of Monin Tiramisu sugar syrup.

The cake baked for about 20-25 minutes and rose beautifully in the oven.  It smelled delicious.  When it was cooling I made up the coffee buttercream.  I also crushed up some pecan nuts to go in the middle of the cake and to sprinkle on the top of it.


The cake was layered together with the coffee buttercream and sprinkled with chopped pecan nuts in the middle and on the top of the cake. I used a packet of cocoa covered coffee beans to decorate the top as well.


We had a slice of birthday cake and it was delicious. What a treat to celebrate Mr SmartCookieSam’s birthday and he really enjoyed it.


Ooops! Back on the diet tomorrow!
Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx