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.
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!
Long time, no see! It’s been over a month since I’ve last blogged. My excuse is I’ve simply been busy working. Teaching full time on different supply contacts, doing extra shifts in a day nursery during the Easter holidays definitely took it’s toll though and by the Easter weekend I felt terrible. I went down with a stinking cold which then turned into a horrible cough. This pretty much made me feel like not doing anything much for the second week of the Easter holidays. So much for wanting to go out running. I didn’t even feel like getting my bum off the sofa let alone gathering up some energy to stick my trainers on!
This cake was one I baked right back at the beginning of April. I really miss baking and hadn’t done much mainly because I’m meant to be on a diet. This hasn’t really worked well the last few weeks as I have been so tired after coming in from work. Slimming World has gone by the wayside, especially when Mr SmartCookieSam gets involved with the cooking. He thinks nothing of using lots of olive oil. So when I get chance I like to take a cake into a school I’m teaching in. I was working in a school for the last week before the Easter holidays and decided to take a cake to leave in the staff room on the table. I explained I loved baking but baking didn’t love my figure.
This Lemon Curd Victoria Sponge is from a recipe in Lorraine Pascale’s latest book “Bake,” You might have realised I’ve baked a few recipes from her book recently but that’s what I usually do when I get a new book. I get a bit carried away. It’s a traditional two layer Victoria Sponge baked in an 8″ or 20cm diameter sandwich tin and sandwiched together with both lemon curd and a little buttercream. I was definitely not going to spend my precious time making my own Lemon Curd so I bought a jar of Tiptree with my weekly shop. I used about half the jar in the filling so Mr SmartCookieSam was happy to use the rest on his toast in the morning!The cake was very quick to bake and perfect for a Spring day. I reckon I only spent an hour baking it from start to finish, if that. A quick dusting of icing sugar on top and the cake was good to go. Or if you prefer caster sugar, go with that.
The morning after I arrived at the school, put my lunch in the staffroom fridge and the cake in a plastic box on the table. I left a note telling people to help themselves. It was quite a big school so I didn’t get along to the staff room until lunchtime. When I got there I noticed nearly three quarters of the cake had gone. Several staff members thanked me for the cake. I said I would bring some more another time, if I had time to bake. It gave me a warm, cosy feeling knowing that some teachers appreciated my baking. Especially at a time when it was getting near to the end of term and everyone was tired. A little bit of cake just helps you get through the day.
I know it’s New Year now but I can’t bear throwing things out or wasting things. As I’ve been doing Slimming World up to Christmas and hoping to start back at my local group on 4th January, I can’t really be baking things or eating leftover cake and mince pies.
But what to do with the two spare jars of homemade mincemeat which were sat taking up space in my cupboard? Mr SmartCookieSam said it would last until next Christmas but I’m not always so sure. So I had a look through my recipe books and spotted an ideal way of using up a whole jar of mincemeat without taking too much time and effort up.
This Mincemeat Loaf Cake recipe comes from Mary Berry’s Christmas Collection. The recipe actually makes two small loaves.
As Mary says in the recipe notes: ” These are great to have on hand at Christmas time. They freeze superbly and make a nice present…. the mincemeat adds spice and moisture to the cakes,”
The idea that the cakes freeze well was a real winner for me. I don’t want to be eating cakes right now but there is room in my freezer to put the loaves away and bring out for another time. They’re always useful if one of my friends pops round for a cuppa or for taking into work to share with colleagues.
The recipe was simple to make. I mixed mincemeat, softened butter, light muscovado sugar, 2 beaten eggs, self raising flour, currants and raisins together in a large mixing bowl. To this I also added an extra teaspoonful of ground mixed spice. This was all mixed together and put into two loaf tins lined with special loaf tin liners.
To finish off I needed to stud whole almonds into the top of the loaves. I realised I didn’t have any whole almonds left, only flaked ones. I sprinkled some flaked almonds on and also added some whole glace cherries before sticking the loaves in the oven. They baked for about 1 1 /4 hours while I got on with the ironing. As I was doing the ironing there was a lovely smell wafting about the kitchen, very tempting but not helpful when trying to lose weight!
The loaves didn’t look that big compared to what I was expecting, I would have preferred to have baked one big loaf instead of two tiny ones. It smelled wonderful though and once it had cooled down I was tempted to cut one of the loaves open and see what the inside looked like. I didn’t eat any, honest!
Wrapped up in cling film they’re now in the freezer. Let’s hope I don’t forget I’ve made them!
It’s been a long time since I’ve done a blog post update. I shouldn’t have any excuses as it’s the summer holidays and I’ve got much more time than I usually have. But summer holidays also means a chance to catch up on a long list of jobs I don’t get done and the blogging goes by the wayside. There have been so many blog posts in draft on the system for a few weeks now. Today, as I write I thought enough is enough and I need to get back into it.
A couple of weeks ago I joined in with the Clandestine Cake Club’s A Year Of Cake Monthly Bakealong for July. For the monthly bakealong you have to choose one of the recipes featured in A Year Of Cake for that relevant month and bake it. You share photos and experiences with others and Lynn Hill, the founder of the Clandestine Cake Club does a write-up and posts it on the website. The July chapter has eight different cakes to choose from. I chose to adapt the first recipe in the chapter, Shelley Titmus’ Bacon and Maple Syrup Cake in honour of Canada Day.
Coincidentally I was in Canada on holiday in July, visiting my brother and his family. I missed being there for Canada Day on 1st July, although my mum got to enjoy the celebrations! I would have loved to have taken a cake over to my family but it would have got a bit damaged on the plane!
Shelley’s Maple Syrup Cake is actually made with bacon as well. I’ve never tried bacon in a cake before though I’ve had it with pancakes and maple syrup. I would have needed about 18 pieces of streaky, dry cured bacon to add to the recipe. The bacon is grilled until crispy. Some is added into the cake batter, the rest used as a topping and filling for the cake. I didn’t have any bacon in but I had some other ingredients I wanted to use in the cake. I had brought back some genuine Maple Syrup back with me from Edmonton, as well as some maple flavoured peanuts. I thought the peanuts would be a fantastic alternative to the bacon in the cake.
I didn’t actually start to bake the cake until the very last day in July. It ended up being a Sunday lunch dessert/ pudding. It was a fantastic reminder of a very special holiday. The cake itself is baked in three layers in 3 separate 20cm or 8″ diameter sandwich tins. I creamed sugar and butter together with an electric whisk, then added 5 beaten eggs one at a time. These were mixed in slowly with some flour and a little milk, along with 3 tbsp of the pure Canadian Maple Syrup. I didn’t add any maple peanuts to the actual cake as I wasn’t sure how they’d react to baking. Instead I kept them for the filling and topping.
While the cakes were baking, I made up the cake filling and topping. This was a simple buttercream icing but maple syrup was added to the icing to flavour it as well. It tasted gorgeous but very sweet so a little piece would be all you would need.
The three layers baked for about 20-25 minutes and once cooked came out of the oven and cooled down on a wire rack. I went off to start a couple of other jobs so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat the spare peanuts or to decorate the cake before it was cool enough. There was enough icing and enough peanuts to decorate the cake with. To finish off, I drizzled some more maple syrup on the top of the cake.
We ended up having our Sunday dinner later than planned, so guess who ended up troughing a piece before? Yes, you guessed right! It was absolutely delicious and the cake didn’t last long. I’ll definitely be baking this one again.
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.
The Busy Mum’s Cookbook is the latest publication from food writer Annabel Karmel and was published a couple of months ago. My family have grown up with Annabel’s recipes right from when I started weaning my daughter back in 1998 using purees from the Baby and Toddler Meal Planner. I’ve bought several of her books over the years from her Family Meal Planner, to her Kids In The Kitchen inspired books, to her party recipe one. I’ve kept all the books though I don’t think my kids would appreciate butternut squash purees now! Having said that, I regularly go back to recipes from the Family Meal Planner, which has been my lifesaver in the kitchen for the past 16 years.
So, when Annabel brings out a new book which isn’t directed at babies and toddlers, I’m always keen to buy it. I was very impressed with the Busy Mum’s Cookbook as it fits into my lifestyle. I work most days as a supply teacher, a job I love but I’m always shattered when I get in from school. All the recipes I have tried out of the book so far have fitted into the slot of being suitable for busy parents and not just Mums!
The introduction states: “Many of us stick with what we know and trust when it comes to cooking, especially when our lives are busier than ever! Yet the result is often a collection of six or seven failsafe recipes that families rely upon week in week out!”
I have easily fallen into that trap. I think I’ve cooked chilli con carne or chicken curry every week for the past year but I do it because I know my son will eat it. Annabel Karmel’s own children have always been a massive part of her cookery career, she tests recipes out on them and there used to be photos of them in her earlier books. Now they are grown up but they still influence her recipes, just like I do when I try to recreate my own dishes at home.
The Busy Mum’s Cookbook is split up into seven sections each featuring a stack of recipes to suit all lifestyles.
Chapter One is called “20 Minute Recipes” and features plenty of recipes which can be cooked in a very short time. Last Monday evening I tried out the Penne with Roasted Tomatoes and Pesto on my family. It says the cooking time is 10 mins and the preparation time, 8 minutes. I had to roast the cherry tomatoes in the oven with garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar which took all of 10 minutes. While the tomatoes were roasting the pasta was cooking on the hob. When it had cooked I added pesto sauce to the pasta and mixed it with the tomatoes and mozzarella pieces. Ideal for a a quick weeknight supper.
Annabel’s baking recipes are just divine and I must admit I always looked at the baking and dessert chapters first when I bought her earlier books. For every special occasion dinner I must have made Annabel’s naughty but nice version of Tiramisu and baked a lot of her cakes and cookies for children’s parties. I know sweets and desserts get a bad press but to be honest I can’t see the problem in having the odd treat here or there. So it was great to see a handful of delicious recipes at the back of the book in the Sweets chapter. Last Sunday I tried out the Golden Syrup Ginger Cake which is described as a “deliciously moist, gently spiced cake (which is) perfect for an afternoon tea treat.”
To me it sounded like McVities Jamaican Ginger Cake which I used to eat as a child for tea at my Nana Margaret’s house. I’ve not had it for years. So I was tempted to try baking the cake to see if it was the same. I used my Nordicware Gingerbread Man Loaf Bundt pan which has only been used once before, great to give it another outing. I greased the pan well with Wilton Cake Release. Flour, caster sugar, cinnamon and ginger were combined in one bowl. In another in went eggs, sunflower oil and golden syrup. They were then mixed together and the batter poured into the tin. It tasted lovely even though I could have done with more mixture to fill the tin! It looked very small!
Last Friday night was perfect to sit out and enjoy the gorgeous sunny weather. I had loads of tomatoes to use up and had the idea of making the Three Tomato Bruschettas for my family. Though we only had one type of tomato, this recipe was a lot more fiddly than I thought. I had to peel and de-seed a whole punnet of cherry tomatoes which took a lot of time. The Bruschetta recipe is in the Lunchboxes and Snacks chapter. Lunchboxes is something I never get right. When my kids were at primary school they had Lunchboxes and I used Annabel’s own Lunchboxes book for ideas when my daughter first started in Reception. Her pasta salads and fruit salads with dips would come back untouched and she used to say “Why can’t I have fruit winders in my lunchbox?” Or “……has Cheesestrings in hers, why can’t I?” I tend to be a bit disorganised with my own lunches, I end up with half a carton of soup or a noodle pot. If I’m feeling really lazy then I buy a sandwich from a local garage with an M&S food shop attached to it. Same goes for my husband, when he’s working in his office, he’s across the road from a fantastic bakery so he nips there for a sandwich or a pasty. The kids follow what their friends are doing in town. So unless I sort myself out, I can’t see myself using the lunch box recipes much!
Anyone who knows me well knows that I love baking biscuits, hence my blog name SmartCookieSam. Last Friday I had some spare time and decided to bake some of Annabel’s Chocolate and Oat Cookies. My son is going through his GCSEs at the moment and my daughter has been busy in her college course. What better than a sweet treat to start half term off? The cookies were very simple to make using butter, brown sugar, flour, an egg, some vanilla extract, baking powder, a small amount of ground ginger, porridge oats and dark chocolate cut into chunks. No sooner than they had been put on the cooling rack, then half of them disappeared! That’s a good sign. If they’re still there in the biscuit tin a few days later that’s when I start getting worried.
My son and husband aren’t massive pasta fans but they liked the Pasta Arrabiata recipe. It was a perfect standby storecupboard supper to knock up after a busy day at work. It went very well washed down with a couple of glasses of wine! I forgot to tell hubby that Arrabiata sauce has chillies in it!
There was another chapter in the book dedicated to Entertaining. Well I can’t remember the last time I had friends round for dinner. It was probably about 10 years ago. Ever since I went back to work doing dinner parties is the last thing on my mind. Though I have had several parties and get togethers. This usually ends up being buffet food or a BBQ or maybe cakes and lots of drink though! I can’t see me cooking any recipes from the Entertaining chapter soon, though!
So, to sum up I was extremely impressed with Annabel’s book. It is going to be well used in the next few years I bet as it was the case with her baby and toddler feeding books. I can wholeheartedly recommend it!