The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Mary Berry’s Classic Christmas Cake.

Sunday December 3rd, 2017.

Since I gave up baking professionally to concentrate on the day job full time, I’ve had less time to spend on baking things like Christmas cakes. Mr Smartcookiesam says to me every year that I should just go and buy a small one from Marks and Spencer but to me part of Christmas is baking and decorating a Christmas cake. Why should I go out and buy something I enjoy baking at home?

I’ve never been a massive fan of roll out icing and marzipan but I love fruit cakes. If I eat Christmas cake I always take the icing off and serve it with a slice of Wensleydale cheese as you do in my part of the world. I try to decorate my cake differently each year but if I’m short of time I always get out my The Snowman and the Snowdog decorations and cake ribbon. At the time of writing I’ve no idea how I’m going to decorate this year’s cake, please send some inspiration my way!

As for the previous couple of years I’ve used Mary Berry’s Classic Christmas Cake recipe for my family Christmas cake. The recipe features in both The Great British Bake Off Christmas book and Mary’s own Christmas Collection. Dried fruit (a mixture of currants, sultanas, raisins, mixed peel and halved glacé cherries) had been soaking in some brandy for a few days along with some orange zest.

This afternoon, albeit a few days after it should have been done but I thought I’d better get started on the cake. I knew I needed time where I’d be in all afternoon while it was baking. Sundays are not usually a day of rest in our house. I’m normally catching up on all the jobs I haven’t done from the previous week or trying to get ahead for the next week. No time like the present, as they always say.

In a large bowl I creamed together unsalted butter, light brown sugar, treacle and eggs. After these were mixed together, I added in some flour and some ground mixed spice along with some chopped blanched almonds. Then this was combined with the dried fruit mixture.

I had greased and carefully double lined a deep 9″ or 23cm diameter circular cake tin. Mary Berry says in her recipe intro that the cake isn’t a very deep one but it definitely makes a big enough cake for our Christmas celebrations. I found the cake mixture went just over halfway up the cake tin and was deep enough for me.

My oven had been preheated to 140oC and I put the cake tin into the oven on the central shelf. By this time it was 2.30pm and time was cracking on. The cooking time was estimated between 4- 4 1/2 hours so I wanted the cake out by the time we were due to go out.

Jobs done and now it was time to chill. Every now and again throughout the 4 hours I kept popping backwards and forwards to the kitchen to check on the cake. I’m always worried about fruit cakes burning and to be honest I think I need to get my oven checked out. I don’t think the temperature is as accurate any more. Well my oven is 11 years old and it has had a lot of use over the past few years.

At 6.30pm the cake was ready to come out of the oven. The fruit looked a bit burnt on top to be honest and I should have covered the cake with some foil or baking parchment to stop it catching. You can never tell with my oven at the moment.

I’ll be wrapping the cake up in foil and feeding it with brandy every few days or so. In the week leading up to Christmas I will be marzipanning and icing the cake. Watch this space to see it finished!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cranberry, White Chocolate and Coconut Magic Bars. 

I’d had a manic few days at work so to come into the kitchen and bake was a great tonic for me.  I feel guilty every time I bake at the moment though.  I shouldn’t be doing it as eating the sugary stuff is not good for my health. But at the same time I love the process of making it. Why does baking always feel so much more exciting to me than cooking a casserole or a roast dinner?

It was a cold, damp and foggy Thursday morning last week and I was very tired.  I’d taken my son to the bus stop three miles away and gone out and walked the dog.  My warm, cosy and inviting kitchen beckoned. As I was walking across the muddy field with my dog, all I could think about was getting back home and into my kitchen.  I was thinking about some ingredients I had in the cupboard left over from Christmas. These included two bars of white chocolate and some dried cranberries.  It was a miracle that the chocolate hadn’t been nicked by the kids but then one of them is away at uni! My son has been trying to eat sensibly too.

Looking through one of my favourite cookbooks The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days, I found the perfect recipe on page 49 for Cranberry Magic Bars.  There wasn’t a picture to accompany the recipe so I had to guess what they might look like. From looking at the ingredient list it said what I needed for the base and for the topping. So that meant it was baked in two parts. Nothing explaining it in the recipe introduction either.  I had to go on my own instincts here and worked out that the bars were made up of a shortbread type base and topped with a condensed milk, chocolate, dessicated coconut and dried  fruit concoction. Sounded scrumptious to me.

Luckily I had a tin of condensed milk in my baking stash from Christmas. Bought with the intent of using it to make fudge with, it never got used.  I also needed white chocolate, cranberries and pecans.  I didn’t have any pecans. The only nuts I had left was some flaked almonds so I put those in the recipe instead of the pecans.

I lined and greased my well loved Alan Silverwood Traybake pan and then put the made up base into the bottom of it.  This was quite a challenge.  The base had to be extremely thin and I ended up pressing it down with the back of a spoon to make it even.  It only just covered the bottom of the tin.  Into the oven it went at 150oC (fan oven) for about 15-20 minutes. I wanted the base to be a gentle golden brown.

While the base was being baked I made the topping.  This was simple enough. The condensed milk, white chocolate, cranberries, desiccated coconut and the nuts were mixed together.  I used a whole 100g bar of white chocolate chopped up instead of a bag of  white chocolate chips. I had two bars but I thought I’d save the other one for another time. The mixture was spread onto the base and back into the oven it went for about 20 minutes.

Being as I wasn’t sure what the bars were meant to look like, it was confusing. When they came out of the oven they looked a bit boring. So, to make them more enticing to eat I melted my other bar of white chocolate and piped on a lattice pattern onto the cooled bars. They smelled absolutely gorgeous and I was tempted to grab at one and eat it there and then.

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I will definitely be making these again.  I usually have a stall at my village’s Open Gardens event every May selling my cookies and cupcakes so these might end up on the stall. You never know!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Almond and Coffee Cake- The Cardamom Trail.

A few weeks ago I got a copy of Chetna Makan’s new book The Cardamom Trail.  Chetna was a semi finalist in the 2014 series of The Great British Bake Off . Her bakes were unique in that she added in the spices she grew up with and then gave them a unique twist.  I love adding different flavours to recipes and some of Chetna’s creations seemed so mouthwatering.

It took me a while to get round to trying out a recipe from the book.  It was so difficult to choose which to try out first but I needed an opportunity to get the mixing bowl out.  Last Wednesday I was at home and once again the urge to bake something overcame me.  I had picked my son up from school from his GCSE exam and was trying to put off doing the ironing. As you do! My mind wandered to what I could bake.  I’m trying not to eat too much sweet stuff (famous last words) but I knew I was going to be teaching in one of my regular schools the following day and I sometimes take cake in for the staff to try out.

As I browsed through the book several recipes leapt out at me.  But one which stuck in my mind. It was for an Almond and Coffee Cake which sounded delicious. It was also one which contained ingredients I already had in my baking stash. Including a mountain of flaked almonds and ground almonds which needed using up as soon as I could.

Chetna says “I love the combination of almonds and coffee. Normally it is associated with rich desserts, such as gateau opera but in this cake the sponge is made with ground and flaked almonds which makes it light. The richness comes with the buttery chocolate icing and can be topped with yet more almonds!”  So not only will the cake taste fantastic, it will be simple to decorate with a sprinkling of almonds. 

In the gorgeous photo of the cake it is shown baked as a bundt. Though for those who don’t have a bundt pan, the cake can also be baked in a 25cm diameter circular cake tin. Me being a bundt addict and an avid collector of all things bundt I was keen to get out one of my pans. I chose my square one which was a Christmas present to bake the cake in and  made sure it was properly greased with Wilton Cake release.

First some butter and sugar was creamed together with my hand held electric whisk. Then I added three large eggs, beating them well after every addition. Then in went some self raising flour, baking powder, ground almonds, some coffee and milk. The coffee was actually 2 tablespoons of very strong coffee dissolved in boiling water. This was all mixed together and well combined. In the mixture went into the bundt pan but I was concerned as the mixture only seemed to fill half the pan. Really it should fill three quarters of the tin so maybe the tin I used was too big. I hoped the cake would rise a lot in the oven!

Baking is normally a relaxing experience for me but today I was a bit impatient to get the cake out of the oven and finished off. Looking back it was getting near tea time and I had to sort out other jobs. Why do I do it? I forgot what time the cake went in the oven and didn’t set the timer. Then with that I looked at the cake too early. 

When the cake was ready it looked like it hadn’t risen much. Maybe the bundt tin was too big. At least it was one where it didn’t matter if the top half was missing. Thankfully also the cake came out of the tin in one piece!

Then it was time to slap the icing on and I mean slap or throw it on! I made up the icing by  melting some butter in a small pan on my hob. When it was melted I took it off the heat and mixed in some icing sugar and some cocoa powder mixed into a paste with boiling water. The icing was runny  but was ideal to spread on the cake and clung to the grooves of the  bundt. The final finishing touch was to sprinkle the flaked almonds on top of the cake!

The following morning I took the cake into work. It went down well but I left the cake there so I don’t know what happened to the rest of it. I collected an empty box the next time I was in. I didn’t try any myself though. I need to try it again, would be a perfect cake to bake if you have friends round for a cuppa or to donated to a coffee morning.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake- Great British Bake Off Technical Challenge.

I’ve already been back at work for over two weeks now but for our school training day at the very beginning of the year we always have a shared lunch.  As I love baking I always bring in the pudding or some cake.  This time as normal I brought along some peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies and a cake.  The cake was one I’d been wanting to bake for a couple of weeks now, ever since it was the Technical Challenge in the first week of this year’s Great British Bake Off! So Mary’s Cherry Cake it had to be!

For the link to Mary’s own recipe you can find it here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/marys_cherry_cake_17869

In the Bake Off it was lovely to see the cakes baked in ring tins and I thought that one of my Nordicware Bundt pans would be perfect for the job.  My bundt pans are my new obsession and I can’t wait to add to the collection when I can afford it.  So I got out my heart shaped one, greased it carefully and got on with the baking.

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I carefully washed the cherries to get rid of all the sticky syrup and then dried them on some kitchen towels.

More often than not my cherries sink to the bottom of my cakes.  I try to rinse them carefully but I’ve since found out that taking a couple of tablespoonfuls of flour out of the total amount and tossing the cherries in it works well to stop the sinking.  I realised also if I needed to halve or quarter the cherries I should really rinse off the sticky syrup after cutting them as you end up with the stickiness on the inside too! Maybe that was another reason why my cherries sank!

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The quartered cherries now thoroughly rinsed and ready to go in the mixture.

All the other ingredients were simply weighed out and mixed together in one large bowl. Self raising flour, caster sugar, butter, eggs, along with a delicate flavour of grated lemon zest and a small amount of ground almonds.  I was pleased about that, almonds always go really well with cherries.

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Here’s the mixture spooned into my heart shaped tin and ready to be baked.

The cake was meant to stay in the oven for about 35-40 minutes.  I found this was ample time for the cake and thankfully it rose well inside my bundt tin.  I always feel nervous when turning out a cake from its tin, especially so with a shaped cake.  But I can honestly say I don’t have any trouble with Nordicware bundt pans so long as you spray the tin with Dr Oetker Cake Release first!

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The cake turned out onto the wire rack and ready to cool down.

While the cake was cooling it was time to make the icing.  I mixed up icing sugar and the juice of one lemon to make a glace icing.  I think my lemon made a lot of juice as the icing was very runny and I ended up having to add twice as much icing sugar than was asked to make the icing thick enough.  It was still runny though but I didn’t mind that as I wanted it to trickle down the sides of the heart in the grooves.  When I’d done this I added some halved cherries and some flaked almonds to decorate the top.  Hey presto, it was finished and ready to take along to work.

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The finished cake as seen from the top.
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View from the side.
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The cake was cut up into slices to enjoy for pudding at our school training day lunch.
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I was pleased with how the cake turned out.
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Whoohooo! Suspended cherries! Mary and Paul would be proud!

My cake went down well at the training day.  There wasn’t much left the next day, although I did manage to have a small slice myself.  I love cherry cake so I know I’ll be having another go at this in the future.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Scandelicious Baking- Toscakaka.

I don’t miss baking and eating cakes when I’m on holiday in places like Spain.  I think it’s because it’s far too hot to be thinking about eating cake and I’m not in my own kitchen.  Although the villas we usually stay at have pretty impressive kitchens I’m happier getting a salad ready, cooking something with pasta or warming up croissants!  But as soon as I’m back home, that’s it.  I want to be baking again and eating comfort food.  When we left Spain on Saturday morning it was 30oC, now as I type it’s 14oC.  No wonder I’m craving carbs!  Or maybe it’s the fault of The Great British Bake Off?

Once I was back from holiday and had to get stocked up again in our local Morrisons I thought of what we could have to go after our Sunday lunch pudding.  I didn’t have one single pudding on holiday, apart from a couple of ice creams.  I got out my Scandelicious Baking book which is part of my Cooking The Books Challenge from this month and decided on the Toscakaka.  Of course when I told my kids I was making Toscakaka they started laughing about the kaka bit and said it sounded like cack , I think caca is also French for poo which made them laugh even more when I told them that.  Though in this case I think it’s either Norwegian or Swedish for cake!

Toscakaka is actually a very delicious cake and I’ve been lucky enough to eat it at a local  Scandinavian cafe, called Baltzersens in Harrogate which serves the most yummy cakes.  The sponge base is a light vanilla sponge made with buttermilk and topped with an almond praline.  It isn’t overly sweet which I thought would appeal to my husband.

We ate our dinner quite late that day as a main meal, I couldn’t be bothered with a full roast or anything like that so I made up a lasagne with some salad for our mains followed by a slice of the Toscakaka.  Here’s how it was made:

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First I whisked eggs with sugar and vanilla extract. This had to be done by hand as my hand held mixer has broken.
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All the “dry ingredients” were mixed together in another bowl. In another bowl I was meant to add some buttermilk but Morrisons didn’t have any. I used creme fraiche instead!
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Making the almond praline- by heating butter, brown sugar, flaked almonds and milk in a pan until caramelised.
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The baked cake out of the oven and cooling down on the rack. I left the cake inside the tin as you have to put it back in the oven with the praline topping on it.
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The cake with the praline topping on it, it went back into the oven for about 10 minutes to cook.
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Here is the finished cake after it was turned out onto the cooling rack. Although the sides weren’t very neat it tasted fantastic.
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The flaked almonds look a bit lighter than the ones in the recipe’s picture but I was worried about them burning!
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A slice for me! My hubby had his with a dollop of creme fraiche on the side.
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Leftovers for another day.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cherry and Almond Traybake from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.

I love baking traybakes.  They’re so useful as a little goes a long way if you need to bake for a coffee morning or a bake sale.  They’re great for when I have to do my turn for WI supper as they can easily be cut up into little fingers or squares so that everyone gets to have a little taste.

When I was thinking about what to bake from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible for this month’s Cooking The Books Challenge it was difficult to choose what to make out of the Traybakes and Flapjacks chapter.  All of the recipes looked so yummy but yet I wanted to try one I’d not baked before. I had lots of Glace Cherries and some almonds in my baking stash so it had to be the  Cherry And Almond Traybake.  Mary says “in season you can use fresh, stoned cherries instead of glace” but with it being April it had to be the glace option.

My daughter and her friend who were helping me in the kitchen on this day were on washing, drying and quartering the cherries duty.  I explained this would help them not to sink to the bottom of the cake but usually I toss them in a tablespoon of flour as well.  Mary doesn’t mention this in the recipe so I didn’t do it.

All the other ingredients (self raising flour, baking powder, softened butter, caster sugar, the grated rind of two lemons, ground almonds and five large eggs) were weighed and measured out into a large mixing bowl.  The mixture was then mixed thoroughly with my hand held mixer.  The glace cherries were then folded in carefully.

The glace cherries and lemon rind was ready to be folded in to the rest of the mixture.
The glace cherries and lemon rind was ready to be folded in to the rest of the mixture.
The cake mixture was spooned into my traybake tin and put into the oven to bake for about 30-40 minutes.
The cake mixture was spooned into my traybake tin and put into the oven to bake for about 30-40 minutes.
The traybake all finished  and just out of the oven.
The traybake all finished and just out of the oven.
Turned out of the tin and cooling on the wire rack.
Turned out of the tin and cooling on the wire rack.

I was pleased with the way the traybake turned out although many of the cherries had sunk to the bottom.  The traybake got nice compliments from some of the WI ladies and there were a few pieces left to take home.

Dusted with sugar and cut into squares to take along to my WI meeting.
Dusted with sugar and cut into squares to take along to my WI meeting.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cooking The Books February 2014- Chocolate Macaroons from How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

A week last Friday, when it was Valentine’s Day marked the end of a very busy week for us.  We had just got over a nasty flu virus and were still not feeling one hundred per cent.  The last thing on my mind was Valentine’s Day.  To be honest I don’t really care much for Valentine’s Day, if you love someone you show them every day, not just on 14th February. I do like to buy my hubby a card, we have a nice meal at home and I bake something for him.  It’s usually a big chocolate cake but this year I wanted to make something different.

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Chocolate Macaroons- a pretty Valentine’s Day treat for my hubby.

After I had managed to bake some pistachio and hazelnut macaroons a few weeks back, I was keen to try another recipe.  My hubby was pleased when I bought some macaroons home from Betty’s in Harrogate once and he enjoyed them.  So once again I turned to my trusty Nigella book “How To Be A Domestic Goddess” which I am baking from for this month’s Cooking The Books challenge.  Nigella has a recipe for Chocolate Macaroons within the Chocolate chapter of her book.  These sounded utterly sublime sandwiched together with a swirl of chocolate ganache.

So off I nipped to Morrisons to buy some chocolate and cream to make the recipe.  I had everything else in the cupboard and I hoped that Nigella’s method for making the macaroons would work as well as Lorraine Pascale’s did the previous time.

I needn’t have worried.  The macaroons came off the baking tray perfectly and I spread chocolate ganache in between two shells to sandwich them together.

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Deliciously chewy, the chocolate macaroons came out well. I’m afraid to say my hubby wasn’t the only one who ate them!

When my hubby got home he ate a couple with a cup of tea and said they were delicious.  My appetite had begun to come back after my flu virus so I must admit I sneaked a couple out of the tin, so did my daughter.  They vanished very quickly.  I will definitely bake them again as they worked out so well. I need to try some other flavours, my daughter has asked if I’ll make some raspberry ones.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx