Nostalgic Bakes from Paul Hollywood’s “A Baker’s Life”

The recent spate of snow days has made me want to stay in my warm kitchen and bake comfort food.  Never mind me trying to diet.  Forget that! When you feel cold and tired, all you want to do is to hibernate with a giant piece of flapjack in each hand!

I ended not being able to work for three days due to the snow last week but then again I wasn’t the only one.  Then again it gave me chance to catch up with jobs and to try out some recipes from Paul Hollywood’s latest book A Baker’s Life.  I had got it at Christmas last year and had my eye on several things I wanted to test out.

The book spans the five decades of Paul’s life so far from his childhood as the son of a baker in Merseyside right up to the present day as a judge on The Great British Bake Off.  Each chapter in the book concentrates on recipes from a certain time of life.  I wanted to start with the first chapter: Nostalgic Bakes from Paul’s early years.

There were loads of recipes to choose from, including traditional favourites that we would all remember from our own childhoods.  Some of the recipes are perfect for actually making with children, such as Cornflake Cakes and Jam Tarts.  As well as these, there were also recipes for bakes that your grandma or mum may have made in years gone by.  The first recipe in the book was actually called My Mum’s Ginger Biscuits.  I absolutely love ginger biscuits and they remind me of the Yorkshire Ginger Biscuits my Nana Margaret would buy.  She would never bake them as she was a walking disaster in the kitchen.  If she could buy it in Marks and Spencer’s food hall, she would have it and pass it off as her own.

Paul says in his recipe introduction: ” Not only are they a doddle to make, but they’ve got the right balance of being crispy and chewy.” The recipe was an old-fashioned melting method one, where the butter or margarine is melted in a saucepan on the hob with golden syrup and caster sugar. Then once the melted mixture was cooled enough to handle, then self raising flour and a beaten egg were added to the mixture.

The mixture was then gathered up into a ball and made into a dough.  I separated the dough into about 24 pieces and spaced them out carefully on lined baking trays.  I put two trays in the oven at a time and watched them like a hawk. They could easily burn quickly after about 10 minutes.

I always like my cookies on the chewy side and to be honest I would add tiny pieces of chopped stem ginger to the dough.  This version has the ginger flavour coming from ground ginger and wow, did my kitchen smell wonderful! I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep them from being scoffed instead of taking them into work.

When the biscuits were cooling down on the rack, I decided to have a go at another recipe from the Nostalgic Bakes chapter.  This time it was for a Tea Loaf.  I have baked countless tea loaves in my time, including my own version of a Welsh Bara Brith which recipe is featured in the second Clandestine Club Cookbook A Year Of Cake.  I can’t resist a slice of tea loaf, slathered in butter and with a cup of my beloved Yorkshire Tea.  The recipe doesn’t feature any spices or citrus fruit zest but is crammed full of raisins, sultanas and currants.  I did not have any currants but made up the difference in weight with extra sultanas and raisins.  The dried fruit had been previously soaked in some strong Yorkshire Tea and to this I added self raising flour, demerara sugar, milk and a beaten egg.

Once this was mixed up, I lined my 2 lb loaf tin with a special loaf tin liner and put it to bake in my fan oven.  I completely forgot that I also needed to bake some potato wedges to go along with the Cajun Chicken breasts cooking in the slow oven for our dinner that night.  So half way through the baking time I had to whip the oven door open and stuff the tray of wedges in on the shelf underneath the tea loaf.  Luckily they were both ready at the same time as I didn’t want the cake sinking.

I left the cake to cool on the side with the ginger biscuits and then took them along to work the following day.  I left them in the staff room and found that half the biscuits had gone along with a couple of slices of cake when I popped in at lunchtime before going home.

Next week I’m thinking of trying out some Millionaire’s Shortbread if I have time.

Happy Baking

Love Sam xx

Praline Brownies

There’s nothing like a great big gorgeous gooey chocolate brownie.  Just pure decadence.  I was off work for three days last week due to the snow and by last Friday afternoon I had cabin fever.  Now if you’re a baking addict like me you begin to think of what you can bake, never mind cooking the tea.  I was thinking I might have to get my breadmaker out but thankfully we had enough to keep us going.

A couple of weeks back I bought Martha Collison’s second recipe book “Crave” and ended up craving things after looking through the recipes.  One of her recipes for Pecan Praline Brownies including some homemade pecan praline to add to the mixture.

I had a packet of Vahine Pralines Concassees which I had bought from a Carrefour Supermarket when on holiday in France last year.  I didn’t know what I would use them for until I saw the recipe for the Praline Brownies.  Instead of making the praline with pecans, I would substitute the packet of pralines.  The pretty pink colour contrasted well against the rich, dark brown colour of the brownies.

What I also loved about this brownie recipe was that it used real, dark chocolate in the mixture and not just cocoa powder.  I also chose to bake mine in a square tin, rather than a traybake tin so I would get deeper pieces.

Instead of melting the dark chocolate separately, the recipe asks you to melt butter and sufar together on the hob.  Then, once this is melted then you add in the chocolate pieces using the heat of the melted mixture to melt the chocolate.

When the mixture had cooled, I added in beaten eggs, flour and cocoa powder and then finally tossed in the pralines.  Then it was poured into the prepared tin and ready to bake in the oven for between 25-30 minutes.

When the brownies were baked, they were taken out of the oven and left to cool.  I always worry about overcooking brownies as they are meant to be fudgy and chewy, not like a cake.

As not to tempt me to scoff them, I cut up the brownies and put them straight into a plastic box to go in the freezer.  I knew if they were frozen, I’d not be able to eat them all up. I did love the way the brownies turned out, though.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

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 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

Panforte- The Great British Bake Off Christmas.

Friday 22nd December 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Florentines- The Great British Bake Off Christmas.

Friday 22nd December 2017.

Yet another new favourite from The Great British Bake Off Christmas book.  I love Florentines but have only ever made them once before.  They’re another perfect treat to make for foodie gifts at Christmas as well as handy for having around for visitors who don’t like mince pies!  I don’t know why I’ve only made them once before, maybe because if I did make them more often they wouldn’t even get to the serving plate or into the box!

The last and only time I made Florentines was about 3 years ago.  That year my mum, auntie, cousin and his wife came up to stay in a nearby holiday cottage in Yorkshire.  They came over to our house on Boxing Day but before we had lunch and went home to open the presents, we went out to the pub.  Normally I don’t leave anything food related under the Christmas tree  because our greedy Labrador would have the lot. Anyway I made the mistake of putting all the presents out under the tree for when we got back. I though I had shut the door into the lounge but obviously not. We left our dog at home for about an hour but when we came back we noticed that he had eaten half the Florentines and ripped open the cardboard gift box they were in.  It was a wonder he wasn’t ill, what with all the chocolate and glace cherries on them.  So my mum, auntie, cousin and his wife ended up sharing what was left of the Florentines between them! They didn’t look that marvellous anyway, quite rustic looking but I heard they tasted lovely.

This time I was planning on Florentines but this time I would bake them for my three step-sisters and their families.  I definitely wouldn’t be putting them under the tree!  I’d keep them up on the work top in my utility room with the door firmly closed.

The recipe introduction to the Florentines says: “These sticky little sweet treats are half biscuit and half chewy caramel goodness. They have become a classic at Christmas, probably thanks to the candied peel and glace cherries that are so beloved at this time of year,”

The recipe said it made 16-18 biscuits so I prepared two baking trays with lining paper.  I know that Florentines spread out quite a lot when they are in the oven so you need to leave plenty of space between each biscuit.  I wondered whether to set out a third baking tray just in case.

First, I melted butter and sugar in a small pan on the hob. When this was melted and turned into a paste, I stirred in plain flour and double cream.  This was kept on the heat until smooth and the sugar had dissolved.

After this I folded in flaked toasted almonds, candied peel, dried cranberries and glace cherries.  I love all the different jewel like colours in Florentines which does add to their seasonal prettiness.

When it was time to bake them I put teaspoonfuls  of the mixture spaced well apart on the two baking trays. They only just fitted on two trays.  Both trays went into the oven at the same time and baked for about 10 minutes.

A word of warning! Do not move the Florentines onto a cooling rack until you have given them time to cool first and harden up a bit on the baking tray.  Like with any cookies, if you move them before you need to, they will break!  That happened to two of mine so I left the rest for about half an hour and then moved them with a pallette knife.

To decorate the Florentines I chose to melt two different types of chocolate. I melted a pot of white chocolate and the other dark chocolate.  I turned each Florentine over so that the flat bases were uppermost and spread either the white or the dark chocolate on the top of it with my small pallette knife.  I then left them to set before putting them into gift bags, alternating white chocolate ones with dark chocolate ones.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Vanilla and Chocolate Button Cookies.

Wednesday 6th December 2017.

Yesterday was full on at work and I came home with a thumping headache. I couldn’t face cooking anything for dinner, so we ended up at the chippy. The sooner I could sit down and switch off last night, the better.

Today was a different story. I was home earlier from work but wanted to try out a new cookie cutter I bought in Lakeland a few weeks back. It was a button shape with four mini holes in the middle. I thought it would be perfect to try out the vanilla and chocolate button cookie recipe in The Great British Bake Off Christmas book. The recipe looked simple enough and as I enjoy baking cookies I thought there wouldn’t be any problems.

How wrong I was! My go to recipe for vanilla or chocolate roll out cookies uses four or five ingredients. This recipe used icing sugar in place of caster which isn’t unusual but just used egg yolks and asked for baking powder.  Now, especially when I’m baking roll out cookies I never use baking powder as it makes the cookies expand and depending on the design can make them lose some of their shape.  I was tempted to leave it out but then if the recipe said so, it must have been put in there for a reason!

Ingredients needed to bake Vanilla and Chocolate Button cookies.
Softened butter, icing sugar, plain flour and baking powder added to the mixing bowl to be rubbed in and turned into a breadcrumb like texture.
Working the dough together. Unfortunately, although my recipe proportions were right, the dough turned out very sticky.

Then I divided the dough into two equal parts.  One half had vanilla added to it and the other cocoa powder to turn it chocolatey.  This did not work out too well as I felt as if I should have made the two doughs separately. The cocoa powder did not work into the dough as well as it should and the result was more of a marbled effect. Well I suppose you do get buttons that looked like that but that wasn’t the effect I wanted on these button cookies!

Then, after chilling the dough in the fridge for half an hour, it was time to get the button cookie cutter out and cut out the biscuits.  I was very disappointed with the cutter and despite the dough being chilled for the right time, the dough just wouldn’t come free from the cutter. The dough stuck to the rim of the cookie cutter and so I gave up. I don’t know whether it was the cutter or the dough so I went to my cookie cutter stash and found two round cutters. I cut out rounds of dough easily and then used a slightly smaller cutter to make the pattern for the rim. This just made an indentation and didn’t go all the way through the biscuit.  Then, to finish, I used a skewer to make four holes in the centre of each biscuit like a button.  Unfortunately due to the horrible nature of the dough used the skewers didn’t do a very good job of making the holes.

Vanilla button cookies on the cooling rack.
Chocolate Button Cookies on the rack.

As expected the cookies expanded in the oven, not a lot admittedly but enough to swell and look slightly out of shape.  I wasn’t impressed with the look of them. But as I love the recipe idea, I’ve decided to try and make them again with my own tried and tested recipe for roll-out cookies. Then I might actually be able to use my button cookie cutter without the dough sticking to it!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx


The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Jamaican Gingerbread Loaf.

4th December 2017.

Today being a Monday I really struggled to get out of bed this morning. I’d had a good night’s sleep until something woke me up at 4.30am. That was it, I was wide awake for an hour. The alarm was due to go off at 6am but of course I drifted back off to sleep just as I’d got back into the land of Nod! Then, could I get myself moving? Course I couldn’t. I’m not a morning person at the best of times. There’s only one type of work that would get me out of bed early and that’s when I’m baking! It doesn’t seem like work to me when you’re in the kitchen with music playing in the background.

But needs must. I love being a teacher though some mornings I wish I could be beamed direct from my house to the school I’m at, especially with the horrendous traffic congestion I have round near where I live. This morning was no exception. My journey to school should have taken me 35 minutes. It took me nearer 50.

Back home this afternoon I got out the mixing bowl and scales to test out another recipe from The Great British Bake Off Christmas. I love the spicy aroma of gingerbread at any time of the year but Christmas definitely lends itself to these flavours. I was really keen to try out the Jamaican Gingerbread loaf which was a perfect way of using up some treacle left over in a tin after baking some Parkin and also putting it in my Christmas cake. The loaf is an ideal bake to have as a standby, say if you have people popping over for a cuppa and it was really easy to make.

To begin with you melt butter in a saucepan with some dark brown muscovado sugar, some treacle and some golden syrup. When this has melted you take it off the heat and leave it to cool. In another bowl you weigh out some plain flour, bicarbonate of soda, ground ginger and some mixed spice. Add the melted mixture to it, along with a beaten egg and then fold in the flour mixture. Finally add in some chopped stem ginger pieces.

I always use pre made loaf tin liners which save me a lot of faffing about. The mixture was poured into the prepared loaf tin and put in the oven at about 160oC for about 45-50 minutes. Unfortunately I set the oven timer to 45 minutes but promptly forgot to switch it on. I suddenly remembered about the loaf when I could smell gingerbread coming from the kitchen. Luckily it came out of the oven just in time and although had sunk slightly in the middle, it looked wonderful.

After about an hour of cooling I cut the loaf up into 8 generous slices. It took all my willpower not to scoff a slice there and then. I boxed up the loaf and decided to take it with me to work tomorrow to leave in the staff room.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx