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

Chocolate Cherry Bakewell Loaf

It’s been a couple of months at least since I’ve been to a Clandestine Cake Club event.  I’ve been working full time and I haven’t baked much recently.  The Clandestine Cake Club’s VCake Events are a fantastic idea if you can’t get to an event but you still want to bake.  I love taking part in them and I baked a cake.  But unfortunately, I forgot to email my cake photos to the Club’s founder, Lynn Hill so my cake wasn’t included in the event write up.

The  event write up is featured on the Clandestine Cake Club website and the link is here  Magazines, Leaflets and Booklets 

The idea was that many people collect or stash recipes gleaned from magazines, leaflets and booklets. I do. I buy Good Food magazine and Delicious magazine but only get chance to cook recipes out of them sometimes.  I’m always picking up recipe leaflets and booklets but never seem to get round to cooking anything from them. This event was such a good idea to get you searching through those cake recipes you wish you had had chance to bake.  Funnily enough this month’s Good Food magazine came with a free cake recipe booklet to celebrate the magazine’s 300th issue! I’ve not been buying all of those, I was only 18 when the first issue of Good Food mag came out and as a sixth former cooking was the last thing I was interested in!

There were several recipes I wanted to try in the booklet but the one that I thought my whole family would eat was the Chocolate Cherry Bakewell Loaf.  All the flavours of a bakewell tart but in a loaf form and with chocolate as well.  Bound to be a hit!

Last Sunday I chose to bake this, along with some scones.  Mr SmartCookieSam was out at a Classic Car show and my two grown up children were at work. So it was me on my lonesome! Perfect opportunity to get my apron on and the scales out, especially as the weather has been so rubbish.

Recipe as featured in Good Food Magazine.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

Ingredients:

200g softened butter

140g fresh, stoned and halved cherries *

140g plain flour

200g golden caster sugar

3 medium eggs

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

75g ground almonds

2 tbsp milk

1 tsp each of vanilla and almond extracts

200g dark or milk chocolate, chopped.

2 tbsp toasted, flaked almonds.

  • First, heat the oven to 160oC/ 140oC fan/ Gas Mark 3.  Line a 900g loaf tin with baking parchment.  I swear by the ready made loaf tin liners readily available from shops like Lakeland.
  • Now to deal with the cherries.  If you are using fresh cherries, you need to wash, destone and half them first.  Then toss them in a tablespoonful of the flour from the quantity already weighed out.  If you are choosing to use glace cherries like I did, then thoroughly wash them to get the syrup off.  Then pat dry on a paper towel, halve them, rinse and dry again.  Then toss in a tablespoonful of flour.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.  When this is done, add the eggs one by one and mix well between each addition.
  • Fold in the rest of the flour, the baking powder and the ground almonds.
  • Stir in the milk, the two extracts and half of the chocolate.  Then add in the cherries.
  • Bake in the oven for 1 hour 10 minutes approx or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then turn out on to a wire rack to cool down completely.
  • When the cake has cooled down, melt the remaining chocolate in the microwave and drizzle or pipe it on top of the cake.
  • Scatter on top with toasted, flaked almonds.
  • Wait for the chocolate on top to set a bit before slicing the cake.

Now as I’m always doing things in a hurry or have a zillion things on the go at once, I was a little bit disappointed to find my chocolate and cherries had sunk to the bottom of the cake.  I’ve made cherry cakes before which have remained in the middle.  So why not this one? I thoroughly rinsed and dried the cherries as well as tossing them in flour.  Maybe it was the rest of the cake mixture.  Didn’t spoil the taste of the cake though.  I also didn’t bother with adding toasted almond flakes to the top of the cake.

I demolished a slice of this gorgeous cake with a cup of tea on that Sunday afternoon while reading a magazine.  It had the almond flavour running through it and tasted just like a cherry bakewell cake should taste with the added dimension of dark chocolate.  Cherries and chocolate work so well together.  I will definitely make this cake again as my family really enjoyed it.  The remainder froze well, although the cake apparently does keep in a cake tin for up to four days.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Baking With French Glace Cherries.

About three weeks ago I went along to Pudsey Clandestine Cake Club‘s last event which was very exciting.  It was sponsored by French Glace Cherries. Sharon the group organiser had been given lots of fantastic freebies for us all to take away and enjoy.  The event’s theme was A Kind Of Magic which to me conjured up images of the Queen song!  Though we all got our baking thinking caps on and there ended up being a little bit of cherry magic in there too!

You can find out more about the fun we had at the event here: http://clandestinecakeclub.co.uk/2015/06/18/clandestine-cake-club-kind-magic-sponsored-french-glace-cherries/

 I ended up baking a Cherry Bundt cake in the shape of a tree as I thought of  a childhood favourite storybook, The Magic Faraway Tree. Watch this space for a post about this cake coming up as soon as I have time to type it!

I was really intrigued to hear about French Glace Cherries.  They are a company I have not come across before.  The cherries themselves are grown down in the South of France (Provence, to be precise) and are completely natural in colour. Not at all like the bright red glace cherries my Nana used to buy to stick on top of her Angel Delight or trifles back in the 1970s!  I am a huge cherry fan and love glace cherries and love adding them to my baking when I can.  So I couldn’t wait to try and bake with them.  We were given a set of recipe cards but there are also loads of suggestions on the French Glace Cherries website.  I loved a lot of the ideas but I did fancy having a go at something myself.

The cherry freebies included two pots of natural coloured cherries. There was a pot of purple cherries and another one full of red ones.  I was very impressed with the quality of the cherries, round and plump and of a substantial size. I thought the purple cherries would work really well with chocolate, both with the colour and with flavour.  As I also love Empire Biscuits, I had a go at baking a chocolate and cherry version!

062
A batch of chocolate shortbread cooling down on the rack in my kitchen.
095
The Chocolate Empires were filled with a good quality brand of Morello cherry jam. I love Tiptree jam and their cherry jam has always been a favourite.
096
The chocolate shortbreads were sandwiched together with the jam and then topped with a cream and dark chocolate ganache.
097
I didn’t have enough purple cherries to top all the biscuits so had to add two more cherries to finish decorating off the batch from my own stash!
063
Although I’m doing Weightwatchers I did allow myself one of these little beauties as a treat with a cup of tea!

I was thinking what I could do with my red cherries and came up with a few different ideas.  In the end I settled for some chunky all butter shortbread.  I haven’t baked any shortbread for a long time and I love it, it was always hugely popular when I ran my Sam’s Smart Cookies and Cupcakes stalls.  Trouble is shortbread doesn’t love my figure though!  The temptation was too much to bear though and I made up a batch of shortbread and added the cherries to it.  I washed the cherries thoroughly and patted them dry as well as chopping them up into quarters.  They then got pressed into the mixture hoping that they would stay intact.

047
I used my regular shortbread recipe which is simply butter, caster sugar, plain flour and cornflour and then added the natural red cherries into the mixture.
048
The shortbread was cut into 12 large pieces and thankfully the cherry pieces stayed intact. All it needed was a dusting of caster sugar!
049
Mouthwateringly moreish shortbread. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to touch any- I’m doing Weightwatchers!

The cherry shortbread has been a huge hit with my family over the past few days.  I put the pieces into a box but when I got back in from work yesterday the box was completely empty.  My son and daughter have been eating it after school and my husband who doesn’t have a sweet tooth has been nibbling at it too!

A huge thankyou to French Glace Cherries for sponsoring various Clandestine Cake Club events over the past month.  We were all really happy with our goodies and I look forward to trying out my new kitchen timer and wearing my new apron when I’m next in the kitchen baking!

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- Italian Biscuits from How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

027
Italian Biscuits- cherry topped swirls of lemon flavoured shortbread. Featured in the biscuit chapter of Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

Last week I baked for a tea party at the school where I work as a teaching assistant.  My friend and work colleague was retiring from her post and we held a special party for her in the afternoon.  The children had made sandwiches and decorated cupcakes and I decided to bake some biscuits along with the large celebration cake.  As I looked through the biscuit chapter of How To Be A Domestic Goddess I wanted to choose something which wasn’t too overpowering and would be fairly simple to bake.  This was to be my Biscuit chapter recipe for my Cooking The Books challenge this month.

In the recipe introduction Nigella says “This is a rather sweeping description of those shortbready swirls punctuated by glace cherries that  you see everywhere in Italy, mostly sold by weight.” I saw some of these pretty biscuits for sale when my hubby and I went to the Italian Lakes nearly two years ago.  I didn’t buy any as I don’t tend to crave biscuits and sweet things (only maybe ice cream) on holiday in warmer climates.  But I did think they looked rather pretty, they reminded me of a cross between melting moments and Viennese Whirls! 

So here is how I made them:

019
I washed roughly about 20 glace cherries. Nigella says to use natural coloured ones. I had the bright red ones as I couldn’t find any in the supermarket at the time.
020
Then I creamed some butter and sugar together until it was light and fluffy. I used the hand mixer though it would have done my bingo wings some good if I’d got the wooden spoon out!
021
After this I beat in a large egg and grated in some lemon zest.
022
Now for the flour, salt and baking powder.

At this point I felt the dough was a bit stiff to pipe with and I wondered how on earth I would get it through the piping nozzle.I managed after a little bit of wrestling with the bag though.  What did surprise me was how the recipe said it made 40 cookies, I couldn’t even get 20 out of the dough.  I tried piping small but maybe it was due to the mixture being a bit stiff and me being over generous with the sizes.

023
The dough was put into a large piping bag fitted with a star nozzle.
024
The piped swirls on the prepared baking sheets.
025
The finishing touch! Half a cherry is added to each biscuit.
026
All ready and waiting in the tin to be taken along to the tea party.

I was impressed with the overall flavour and appearance of the biscuits. I sneaked one at the tea party even though I’m meant to be dieting. You could taste the lemon flavour without it overpowering the flavour.  They were a winner at the tea party and I’m definitely going to make them again.  They would make lovely gifts wrapped up in a cellophane bag tied with pretty ribbon for birthdays or Christmas.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cherry and Almond Victoria Sponge

Oh no, it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve updated my blog.  It has been really busy here, just too much going on what with life in general!  I thought I’d better get my act together and update it, seeing as Christmas and the mad hectic season is nearly upon us!  Anyway, enough of that.  Back to what I’m meant to be doing!

I’m going back to a cake I made a couple of weeks ago, initially intended for The Clandestine Cake Club‘s VCake event.  The theme was Life Is A Just A Bowl Of Cherries and we were invited to bake a cake containing cherries and email our photos to Katie, the organiser.  Only I clean forgot.  This is not good and I only remembered when I read the write up Katie had written on the website.  Anyway, at least I did make the cake and it was a pleasure to make it.

I always think of cherries as a summer bake so I decided to stick with the charming, retro bright red glace cherries.  My kids aren’t great glace cherry lovers though but I thought if I do make a cherry cake at least they won’t nick it when I’m not looking!  I set my heart on baking an old favourite, a cherry loaf I used to bake for coffee mornings.  Only being me, I went to the cupboard and realised I hadn’t got any cherries left!  How did that happen?  So back to the cakey drawing board!

I was looking through the blog At Home With Mrs M after I did the link up to her Meal Planning Monday blog hop and noticed that she had a post with a recipe about a Cherry and Almond Victoria Sponge.  This made my mouth water.  To me, cherries and almonds go together like fish and chips, Ant and Dec, strawberries and cream…  I just had to make this!  Mrs M used cherry curd in her filling but I bought a jar of Morello Cherry jam in Sainsburys and hoped for the best. I love this jam, I buy it quite often to have on toast.

Here is the link to the original recipe: http://athomewithmrsm.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/almond-cherry-victoria-sandwich.html

I originally planned to bake the cake on the Sunday and take it into work the following day on the Monday. What I had forgotten though, was that I would be too busy on the Sunday to be baking and then on the Monday we were out on a training day.  So we wouldn’t be in work to eat the cake! So, I chose to bake it on the Friday and take it along as a second/ alternative cake for members to try at the Harrogate Clandestine Cake Club event.

Here’s how I made the cake.  Now bearing in mind I’m usually trying to cram everything in at breakneck speed I think this one turned out fine.  I was so impressed with the flavours that I’m definitely going to make it again and again!

All the ingredients were mixed in and creamed together.  I used Pure Baking spread, caster sugar, self raising flour, baking powder, free range eggs, ground almonds and a splash of almond extract.
All the ingredients were mixed in and creamed together. I used Pure Baking spread, caster sugar, self raising flour, baking powder, free range eggs, ground almonds and a splash of almond extract.
Two 20cm/ 8" diameter cake tins were greased and lined with baking parchment circles.
Two 20cm/ 8″ diameter cake tins were greased and lined with baking parchment circles.
025
This red cherry conserve from Sainsburys is one of my favourite jams around. I love eating it on toast too!
030
I used about 6 tablespoons of jam in the centre of my sponge. This was roughly half the jar. I spoon it out into a bowl and stir it before spreading it on the cake though.
031
The filling for this cake is a delicate almond buttercream. It is like the usual traditional buttercream, only you add a splash of almond extract to the icing.
032
Beautiful lumps of whole cherries in the jam. This was spread onto one cake.
033
The finished and assembled cake. The sides came out a bit messy but the top looked fine with a dusting of icing sugar!
045
A slice of cake cut up to show the other VCake Club members what it looked like. Then my daughter ate it and said it was delicious.
050
Although the cake had been cut into, I took the rest of it along to Cake Club with the “proper” cake I had made.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx