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- Tunis Cake

Friday 15th December 2017.

I must admit I hadn’t a clue what the origin of a Tunis Cake was.  Mary Berry had made one on one of her and Paul Hollywood’s original Great British Bake Off Masterclass programmes from a couple of years back.  I remember having a go at making one myself after seeing the pretty impressive chocolate topped almond  and lemon sponge which was finished off with marzipan holly leaves and berries.

The definition of a Tunis cake according to Wikipedia is that it’s “a madeira cake topped with a thick layer of chocolate and decorated with marzipan fruits,”  The origin of the cake dates back to Edwardian times.

I had been at work in the morning and was back home just after lunch time to get jobs done.  Not much had got done this week at home and don’t even ask about the Christmas shopping. But baking would relax me and I fancied baking a cake for my daughter coming home from uni the next day!

When I had my last go at baking the Tunis Cake I used the wrong size tin and therefore the cake was wider and shallower than it was meant to be.  Also, the icing didn’t look as neat as it should be.  Didn’t spoil the taste though!  Traditionally, the decorations are marzipan but I used sugar paste both times.  I needed to save the marzipan for our Christmas Cake!

First of all I started to bake the Madeira Sponge.  I love madeira sponges and this one is full of flavour from ground almonds and grated lemon zest.  All the ingredients were weighed out and mixed together in an all in one method.  The mixture was then put in the greased and lined deep cake tin.  While this was baking I made myself a well needed cup of tea and did the washing up!

The topping for the Tunis Cake is a very deep chocolate ganache.  I heated double cream in a small pan on the hob, then once it was starting to boil I took it off the heat and stirred in the chocolate pieces until they melted.  The ganache was left to cool a little and then poured on top of the cake still in the tin.  It was left in the tin until the chocolate was set. I was worried that the cake wouldn’t come out of the tin properly but it did.

The holly leaves were made simply by using ready made and coloured sugar paste.  I had a holly cutter and put the veins on the leaves using  a mini roller. I also rolled mini red balls for the berries.

Before the cake completely set, I arranged the holly leaves in a wreath pattern around the edge of the cake.  I didn’t dare eat a piece there and then but by the following lunchtime I caved in and ate a piece instead of eating a healthy lunch.  Too much temptation. Over the next few days the cake got eaten.  It’s definitely one you would have as an alternative to Christmas Cake or pudding if you’re not a great dried fruit lover.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

 The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Peanut Butter, Popcorn and Chocolate Fudge Torte.

Monday December 11th 2017.

Gosh, this seems like a long time ago now but the last two weeks before Christmas were so busy.  I didn’t have time to get updated with my blogging.  Anyway, here we are just after Christmas and I’m sat on the sofa typing this feeling like a beached whale.  I haven’t stuffed myself silly full of Celebrations and mince pies but I’ve not eaten well all through December.  Roll on the New Year!  Though when I go along to one of my Clandestine Cake Club events I don’t feel guilty about eating and enjoying cakes.  

The aforementioned Clandestine Cake Club recently celebrated its seventh birthday at a special event in Leeds.  The event was held in the restaurant on the top floor in the new John Lewis store.  I always like going to cake club events there because of the car park next door so that I haven’t got to cart my cake too far through the city centre.  This time, though was funny as I had my cake in a clear plastic container so various people were looking at me walking through the store carrying a cake.  I was so worried I was going to trip up on the escalator!

The cake I chose to bake was yet another recipe from The Great British Bake Off Christmas recipe book which was one of John Whaite’s own creations.  John won series three back in 2012 and his Peanut Butter, Popcorn and Chocolate Fudge Torte sounded absolutely mouthwatering.  The recipe introduction says: “Christmas is undoubtedly a time of indulgence or rather overindulgence (you’re telling me!) This torte is not only a feast for the stomach with its layers of soft cake, sweet mousse and decadent fudge but because of those defined layers, also a feast for the eyes; perfect for a Christmas Eve treat,”  We tend to go out for dinner on Christmas Eve but usually there isn’t cake involved, we’re far too full up!

 Although there was a lovely photo of John himself in the book posing with what looked like a peanut butter cake, there wasn’t a photo of the whole cake.  I had to guess from the recipe instructions to see how it would turn out like. 

So, on with the actual baking.  Mr SmartCookieSam had gone off to work and my son had left for college, it was just me and the animals.  My dog sloped off to have a snooze in his bed and I put the radio on to listen along while I was baking. I felt really happy and content as I got out my ingredients and the cake tin needed for the recipe.

The main part of the cake is a chocolate genoise.  I am not that familiar with baking genoise cakes but I know that they involce whisking eggs and then sugar together to get the air into the cake,  I did whisk for the full five minutes as the recipe asked me to do, even looking at the clock to check.

After the eggs and sugar had been whisked together I sifted in some plain flour and some cocoa powder along with some melted butter. I’m glad I remembered about the melted butter.  Last time a recipe asked for melted butter I melted it in the microwave and then forgot about it.  It wasn’t until the cake was in the oven baking that I realised I’d forgotten to add the butter! Eeeek!!

The cake mixture was then poured into a springform cake tin and put in the oven for 25 minutes to bake.  I then took it out of the oven and let it cool down on a wire rack until it was completely cold.

Meanwhile, I got the filling for the cake ready.  This was where all the calorific and indulgent ingredients came out.  I started with blitzing some Butterkist Toffee Popcorn in my blender until they became like coarse sand. I then added in double cream until it started to thicken up slightly.  After this, in went some smooth peanut butter, some condensed milk and some mascarpone cheese.  How does this taste sooo good?  Once this was mixed again so it was thickened up but not so much that it couldn’t be spread with a pallette knife. It was then put aside in a bowl and left until the cake was ready to be iced.  

The topping was a chocolate fudge affair and was made with even more condensed milk, more peanut butter, more double cream and some dark chocolate.  I can’t remember what sort of dark chocolate I used, probably what was on special offer in Morrisons that week.  

Now this is where I’d fail miserably if this had been a Bake Off Technical challenge.  I didn’t read the recipe properly and missed out the step where I was meant to put the cake back into the tin once I’d cut it in half horizontally, filled it and then added the fudge topping when it was in the tin.  I didn’t do that.  I took the cake out of the tin and then put it onto a cake board to decorate.  When I’d decorated it, it went into the fridge to set but not in the tin.  It did make the finish of the cake a bit messier.

When the cake was setting in the fridge for an hour, it was lunchtime by this stage.  I sat down and had some soup while the remaining toffee popcorn had been put into a pan with some brown sugar to caramelise.  It took about 10 minutes to do this and then I let them cool down completely before putting them on the top of the cake.  To finish I found some champagne bottle candles left over from a birthday cake and stuck them on the top of the cake.  

The cake was very big and rich so a small slice was all that was needed.  It seemed to go down well, along with the other cakes at the event.  I went home with one of my sugar rush headaches feeling that I could never eat another cake again.  This was very short lived as the following day I was out having Afternoon Tea with my friends!

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

 

Orange Chocolate Chip Shortbread.

Excuse the dire photography in this post.  Taking photos isn’t my strong point.  The photos didn’t do these tasty morsels justice.

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I baked these shortbread pieces for my family to eat at home while I was away staying away in Canada visiting my brother and his family.  I don’t think they remembered they were there as they were still in the plastic box I’d put them in over a week later when I got back home!

They’re adapted from a recipe in Mary Berry’s “Cooks The Perfect…Step By Step” which I’m really enjoying cooking from at the moment. The original recipe is for individual shortbread round biscuits but I chose to put all the dough together in a square loose bottomed tin and cut it into pieces instead.  I had some Sugar and Crumbs Natural Flavour Chocolate Orange Cocoa powder which I love using so instead of using plain cocoa powder, I used that instead.  Absolutely delicious and the smell of chocolate and orange was heavenly.

The recipe introduction says: ” Buttery and very moreish, few can resist these delicious cookies.”  Mary’s original recipe also contains semolina of which she states “brings a lovely crunch,”  I didn’t have any semolina so I added cornflour instead which I use in my normal shortbread recipe.

Here’s my adaptation of the recipe.  The original recipe can be found in Mary Berry’s book.

Makes 12-16 pieces depending on how big or small you like your pieces of shortbread.  Use an 8″ square loose bottomed tin and pre-grease it with either butter or Cake Release.

Ingredients:

75g cornflour

140g plain flour

75g caster sugar

25g Sugar and Crumbs Natural Flavoured Chocolate Orange Cocoa Powder

175g butter

100g plain, dark chocolate chips/ dark chocolate chunks or alternatively chop up your own bar of chocolate.

First, pre-heat your oven to 1600C/fan 140oC/235oF/Gas 3.

Put all the cornflour, flour, sugar and cocoa powder together in a bowl.  Mix well so that all the ingredients are evenly distributed.

When this is done, add the butter in and rub it in with your fingers.  I find it easier to cut the butter up into small cubes first so it takes less rubbing in and handling. It needs to be at room temperature too, so take it out of the fridge in good time!

Make your mixture up into a ball of dough.  Press into the square baking tin and make sure it is evenly covering the bottom of the tin. It helps to press down with the back of a spoon.  Prick the surface of the shortbread with a fork.

Bake in the oven for approximately 40-45 minutes until firm to the touch.  Transfer the shortbread to a wire cooling rack and cut into squares or pieces as soon as you can.

 

White Chocolate and Pistachio Blondies.

I found these white chocolate, pistachio and nougatine bars in the local Carrefour supermarket when I was on holiday in France

A couple of weeks back I was on holiday in France and spotted these scrumptious sounding bars of chocolate in the local supermarket.  I love anything with pistachios in them and slipped two of these 100g bars in my trolley.  Once back at the villa I had to put them in a cool place as it was so hot.  Then when I was packing my case to go home I was wondering if the chocolate would last the flight home!  Thankfully it did. Both bars were intact and nothing had melted!

I was wondering what to do with the bars and then last week I chose to bake Blondies with them.  I bake brownies a lot but have only ever tried peanut butter and white chocolate ones before.  They were delicious and didn’t last long in our house. I adapted My Favourite Brownie Recipe by substituting the two bars of white chocolate for the dark chocolate and the nuts/ chocolate chips.  Instead of cocoa powder I made up another 15g of plain flour instead.

I have to tell you but these Blondies were heavenly.  As soon as they came out of the oven I was tempted to get chomping on one.  Thank heavens I had to wait until they had cooled down.  They were devilishly gooey inside, just as Brownies and Blondies should be.  With treats like this they get snaffled up in no time and I was worried they would go before they were meant to be eaten at Sunday lunch when we had family round. Luckily we had enough!

These Blondies are perfect as a pudding with ice cream or on their own with a cup of tea or coffee.  I’ll definitely be making them again if I can find white chocolate with pistachios like this in the UK.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx.

Tiger Cake from The Nordic Bakery.

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 A couple of weeks back I dug out my copy of the Nordic Bakery Cookbook.  It’s been sitting on the shelf in my spare room for about a year.  I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I last tried something out from it.  Anyway, what the hell. It was the summer holidays and I had the chance to bake something. 

In the book’s Cakes chapter is a recipe for Tiger Cake.  It “gets its name from the tiger stripes formed by the two colours of the cake mixture- vanilla and chocolate.”  This is explained in the recipe introduction, that it’s really a marble cake but the staff at the Nordic Bakery like to call it a tiger cake instead.  Either way, it still looks very impressive and even more so if you bake it in a bundt pan.  As I collect Nordic Ware bundt pans, it was a great excuse to use one.  The photo in the recipe shows a traditional ring shape but I chose to bake my version in my Star bundt pan bought earlier this year and was yet to get used.  I also adapted the recipe slightly to suit ingredients I had in and to make the cake look more special.  Here is my adaptation:

Tiger Cake

300g unsalted butter at room temperature

250g golden caster sugar

3 tsp vanilla extract

5 large, free range eggs

3 tsp baking powder

300g plain flour

2 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tbsp full fat Greek Yoghurt

200g plain chocolate

Various chocolate sprinkles to decorate

You will also need a 23cm/ 9″ bundt pan  or a 19cm/ 7″ diameter springform tin for this recipe.

  • Pre-heat your oven to 180oC/ 350oF or Gas Mark 4. I have a fan oven so I put it on at roughly about 160oC.#
  • Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until it becomes pale and fluffy.  Add in the vanilla extract.  Then add the eggs in one at a time, whisking well after each addition.
  • In another bowl, sift the baking powder and plain flour together. Then fold this in to the egg mixture.
  • Separate one third of the mixture into a separate bowl and fold in the cocoa powder and the Greek Yoghurt.
  • At this stage I then grease my bundt tin with some Wilton Cake Release.  The tin is then ready for you to put the mixture inside it.
  • Take it in turns to spoon vanilla mixture then chocolate mixture into the bundt pan. Make sure the cake mixture is evenly spread out.
  • Bake in the oven for about 50-60 minutes until the top is firm to the touch and a skewer comes out clean after you have inserted it into the cake.

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Leave your cake to cool down in the bundt pan for about 15 minutes and then take it our of the tin carefully.  Leave it to cool down completely before serving.

The original Tiger Cake recipe was left plain but I thought mine looked a bit bland and boring without some decoration on the top.  I had 200g plain chocolate in my baking cupboard so I chose to melt that and to drizzle it onto the top of the cake.  To finish off I found a tub of various milk, plain and white chocolate sprinkles I’d bought a few weeks ago in the supermarket and not used up.

I’m sorry to say I broke my diet here and scoffed a slice.  Well who can blame you when you’re faced with chocolate cake?  The cake had a delicious aroma of vanilla and chocolate and the icing tasted wonderfully fudgy. Didn’t last long in the SmartCookieSam house, I can tell you.

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Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx