Christmas Cross Stitch Project 2016- “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

My special Christmas project for 2016, a sampler designed by Nia Cross Stitch,
My special Christmas project for 2016, a sampler designed by Nia Cross Stitch.

Along with baking and cooking, cross stitch is another great hobby.  I love to sit down on an evening and stitch, especially on a cold winter’s evening with the fire on and something decent to watch on the TV. I can’t just sit down with empty hands, I have to be busy doing something.  Cross stitch helped me relax in my down time doing exams,  during school holidays as a teacher and also throughout my two pregnancies.

Christmas is always a special time for showing off your cross stitch projects and over the years I’ve made a few decorations.  Each year I try to do something new but as work gets busier it ends up that the project doesn’t get finished til after Christmas. Last year I stitched a nativity scene which was so detailed it took me til well into January.  I still haven’t stitched the gold star sequins on it either.  This year was no exception, except I managed to finish my Christmas project on New Years’ Day! Well at least I’m organised for this Christmas!

Back in November I was looking on Amazon and came across a gorgeous wall hanging kit.  It was from a range by Nia Cross Stitch, a Welsh designer who produces beautiful, high quality kits in both Welsh and English.  I have stitched a few of Nia’s designs before: two wedding samplers, a Pearl anniversary sampler, an 18th birthday sampler and finally a teacher themed one last summer.  I love Nia’s quirky lettering, the vibrant colours she uses in her thread palette and also the cheerful motifs on her samplers.  This “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” sampler was no exception and I just had to order it.  Though it took me a couple of weeks to get round to starting it as I was in the middle of another project at the time.

Fast forward to 8th December and I finally got to start on the project.

Starting at the centre  with the “s” and “t” of  Christmas and one of the two candy canes in the design.

Not much stitching gor done in the next few days.

It’s Christmas Day and it’s nowhere near ready! At least I have time to finish it over the Christmas holidays.
My sister in law’s gorgeous dog wanted me to stop stitching and play ball with him!
Slowly but surely the design begins to appear on the canvas.  I’m really enjoying the various threads apart from the standard DMC stranded cotton.  I get to use gold Marlitt and a bluey white Light effect thread to stitch the snowflakes and the outline around the snowman, Santa’s hat and around the icing on the Christmas pudding!

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fullsizerender-2Finally after lots of time spent glued to the sofa over the Christmas holidays I finally got my sampler finished on New Year’s Day in the afternoon.  The air was blue trying to thread my beading needle to add the red and white seed beads to the sampler. I just couldn’t thread it so I gave up and did very messy French knots instead.  Now a couple of days later as I type I’m thinking of what I could do with the sampler. I think I’ll make it into a wall hanging once I find the perfect backing fabric.

Happy Stitching.

Love Sam xx

Christmas Leftovers- Mincemeat Loaf Cake.

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,”

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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!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Sugar and Crumbs’ Natural Icing Sugar Winter Flavours- Creme Brulee Snowflake Bundt and Cupcakes.

I really love Sugar and Crumbs’ Natural flavoured icing sugars and was really keen to try out their new limited edition flavours brought out for this Christmas and the Winter season.  I was lucky enough to win a £25 gift voucher from them in a Great British Bake Off competition on their Facebook page. We had to predict the winner of the Bake Off for this year. My name along with another lady, won because we were drawn out of the names who predicted Candice would win. I was so happy when I heard I’d won the prize as I wanted to buy packets of the new four flavours released in time for Christmas.  Not only that but I wanted to get some more packets of my favourite flavours, like Chocolate Mint and Salted Caramel.

The four new flavours included the decadent sounding Creme Brulee.  I love Creme Brulee although I never make it at home.  It sounded like a perfect creamy vanilla flavour to enhance a Christmas themed sponge, cupcakes or fudge.

Those of you who read my blog regularly might see I’ve not been writing much recently. This is down to me working full time with a position in a nursery.  It has been very long hours and as soon as I get in on an evening, the last thing I think about is baking or blogging.  But baking is a massive part of my life, it keeps me sane and helps me relax.  I really missed it.

Before the end of last term it was going to be a Christmas tea party at the nursery I’ve been working in.  I baked some plain vanilla cupcakes with glace icing and snowflake sugarpaste shapes for the children.  I didn’t want the adults to miss out, after all in the busy lead up to Christmas you definitely need a sugar boost to get you through the day.

Plain vanilla cupcakes baked for the children to eat at their tea party.

The Snowflake Creme Brulee Bundt was a great excuse to use my Nordicware snowflake bundt pan bought back in July when on holiday in Canada.  I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw it on the shelf in Williams Sonoma in Edmonton. I made sure I greased the bundt pan carefully with cake release, then got on with baking the bundt itself.  The recipe I used is adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery’s book Life Is Sweet.  On page 28 there is a delicious recipe for a Tunnel of Fudge Bundt cake.  Here is my adaptation:

SNOWFLAKE CREME BRULEE BUNDT

INGREDIENTS:

390g unsalted, softened butter

375g caster sugar

6 large eggs

250g icing sugar (Sugar and Crumbs’ Creme Brulee natural flavour)

395g plain flour

1 tsp vanilla extract

extra icing sugar to dust 

To begin with preheat the oven to 170oC/ 325oF or Gas Mark 3.Grease the bundt pan with Cake release.

In a mixing bowl with a hand held electric mixer or a freestanding mixer, beat the softened butter and the caster sugar together until it is light and creamy.

Then add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture after each addition. Then add the icing sugar to the bowl, followed by the vanilla extract.

After that, add in the plain flour. Mix this with a metal spoon by folding in the flour until everything is incorporated.  

Spoon the mixture into the prepared bundt tin.  I found that there was some mixture left over when I use a smaller bundt pan.  I ended up having enough mixture to bake several cupcakes.  Of course this does depend on the size of your bundt pan, just make sure it is filled to three quarters full. 

Bake your bundt cake in the oven for about 55-60 minutes. I usually need to check with a skewer inserted into the cake but it is usually done when the cake starts to come away from the side of the tin.

As the snowflake bundt has so much pretty detail on it, I felt it didn’t need any icing. All it needed was a dusting of the creme brulee icing sugar on top and it was finished.

The remainder of the 500g packet of creme brulee icing sugar was turned into a simple glace icing for the top of the cupcakes.I then cut out some sugarpaste snowflake shapes with some mini plunger cutters bought from Lakeland.  They were gorgeous and looked pretty on top of the cupcakes in their sparkly foil cases.

The Creme Brulee Snowflake Bundt in all its glory.
The snowflake bundt only needed a dusting of icing sugar to show the beautiful detail off.
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Love these pretty snowflake plunger cutters from Lakeland.
Cupcakes baked with the remaining mixture which was left.  Topped with the remaining creme brulee icing and finished with sugarpaste snowflakes
Different snowflake patterns

Everything went down very well at work.  Though it’s nearly 3 weeks since I made them now, such a distant memory. But I’m determined to get myself organised and blog more in 2017.  Wonder if I’ll still be saying that next month!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Slimming World Low Syn Christmas Star Cookies.

A few weeks ago I had a wake up call.  It came about the time when I was sorting out some clothes and realised that about two thirds of the items in my wardrobe were far too tight for me.  Trousers with zips that wouldn’t do up, buttons that wouldn’t do up and with gaping holes on my work shirts. Not to mention several dresses and skirts that made my stomach look like I was 6 months pregnant.  My baby is 16 years old!  I also saw several unflattering photos of me taken over the summer where I looked like a beached whale.  All I can say is at least I wasn’t in a bikini on them. I’m not classed as obese but well within the overweight category.  I blame my love of baking but if I don’t bake, I’m not tempted. Trouble is, I love baking and if I don’t do it, I feel I’m missing out. After a couple of attempts at Weightwatchers recently and feeling like I’ve not got anywhere, I decided to try Slimming World. I needed something new and with interesting recipes to motivate me and my family to eat what I cook.

So far in the past 3 weeks I have lost 5.5lbs. This, to me who takes ages even to lose a pound was a real motivator for me.  Not only that but I’ve really enjoyed going to my local group, everyone is so friendly and warm.

Yesterday in group was the launch of Countdown To Christmas and we were asked to bring Syn Free or low Syn Christmas nibbles for a taster session to our group.  I looked on the Slimming World Website for inspiration and came across some ideas for biscuits including a star shaped almond cookie. I was sceptical about baking cookies from a Slimming World recipe as I can’t stand using artificial sweeteners and low fat spreads in baking.  Not only is the taste different, the texture is strange and it’s just not what my baking is all about.  So I tried baking these biscuits with trepidation…eeeeekkk!

Yesterday afternoon I was in a rush after getting in from work late.  Thankfully there were no distractions so I got all the ingredients out and started on the cookies.  I mixed all the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, Canderel, Flora Cuisine and eggs all together to form a smooth dough.  The dough felt more like bread dough than a cookie dough and was a bit springy and like elastic.  It felt strange.  I don’t tend to put raising agents in my roll out cookies, unless it’s gingerbread and I felt as if I couldn’t get the dough thin enough. Also I didn’t want it rising up like pastry or a cake in the oven.

As the cookies were meant to be bite size ones I couldn’t use the normal star shape I use for cookies. Instead I used the second smallest one out of a 3D gingerbread tree set, which gave the perfect size for a nibble.  The recipe said I could get 48 biscuits, I lost count but there were definitely more than 48 there.

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I kept a close watch on the oven as the cookies would bake quickly.  I gave them about 8-10 minutes at about 160oC in my fan oven.  They did expand and rise quite a bit.

To decorate, I mixed up a little bit of glace icing. If I hadn’t made them Slimming World friendly I would have spent ages decorating the stars covering the whole of the top with a flood and fill royal icing and lots of glitter and sprinkles.  Instead I snipped a tiny hole off the bottom of a disposable piping bag and drizzled the icing on here and there, suppose Mary Berry would have said they were “informal”! I found a few bits left in different sprinkles tubs in my baking stash which needed using up. I chucked them altogether into one big jar, shook it up and sprinkled them on the cookies. Most of the sprinkles went on the floor and not on the cookies though!

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My son tasted a couple and said they didn’t taste like normal cookies and tasted bland.  I tried one and thought they were ok. I took them along to group and they went down well. I think, though for a tiny bite they are still 3 syns. That’s still quite a lot for a little biscuit.

Will I bake them again? I’m not sure.  I would rather bake biscuits with butter and caster sugar instead of fake sweeteners and low fat spreads full of chemicals.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Pumpkin Slices

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Pumpkin Slice from the Primrose Bakery Christmas book.

I can’t believe I haven’t updated my blog for weeks and weeks.  Time has just slipped by. Even during the Christmas holidays I didn’t have time to log on and update on what has been baking in the SmartCookieSam kitchen.

A few weeks ago one of my Cake Club friends very kindly bought a couple of cans of Libby’s Pumpkin Puree when she was shopping for some herself. I was grateful as I wasn’t sure when I would be able to get hold of some myself. I’ve bought it in Waitrose before. My family think pumpkin tastes disgusting but I love it so any excuse to bake something that wouldn’t get troughed before I manage to get a slice!

Anyway, what to bake? I wanted to try something different so I had a look through my recipe books and spotted an interesting looking bake in the Primrose Bakery Christmas.book. I don’t really associate pumpkin with Christmas, more with Autumn and Thanksgiving but I was keen to try it out.

The recipe introduction states: “This spicy and slightly alcoholic pumpkin slice would actually make a great dessert served with some whipped or double cream or vanilla ice cream on the side,” 

So, with an afternoon to spare out came my traybake tin and on went the oven.  The pumpkin slice has two parts to it, an unusual crumble base and a mousse like topping which are baked separately.  The base comprised of sugar, oats, plain flour and butter which were rubbed in together just like you do when you make a crumble.  Once the mixture looked like breadcrumbs I had to press the mixture into the base of my greased traybake tin.  The crumble base was baked in the oven for about 20 minutes.

While the crumble base was baking I prepared the mousse topping.  I was meant to put rum in the mixture but I didn’t have any so I used some leftover brandy instead.  To make the topping I simply mixed together a whole can of Libby’s Pumpkin Puree, three large beaten eggs, some caster sugar, self raising flour, vanilla extract, cinnamon. ginger and nutmeg.The mixture was a bright orange colour and reminded me of the purees I used to make for my children when they were babies!

The mousse like topping was then spread over the cooked crumble base. To finish off I sprinkled over some flaked almonds before putting the slice back into the oven for another 20-25 minutes.

The pumpkin slice came out of the oven and looked a bit unappealing to me.  It wasn’t a very deep slice but it looked claggy and stodgy.  I thought I would try a piece when it had cooled down. I was disappointed. I ended up eating a couple of mouthfuls and the rest went in the bin. It was revolting and the topping wasn’t the texture I was expecting at all. What a shame.

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Happy New Year to you and Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

 

 

Cranberry and Marzipan Cake from The Great British Bake Off Everyday.

Christmas and the New Year seems such a long time ago now that I’m back at work in school.  Out are all the unhealthy foods and I’m on a mission to shed a few unwanted pounds in the next few months.  But before I signed up to the Hairy Bikers’ Diet Club online I had been baking like mad throughout the festive season.  Last Monday, the first day back at work was a school training day.  Usually if we are in school everyone brings in some food to share, as a cake baker I usually bring in a cake and other treats.  Some years it can be leftover Christmas cake but my hubby insisted we kept it.  So out came the scales and the mixing bowl once more.

I chose to bake the Cranberry and Marizpan Cake from The Great British Bake Off Everyday. published last August to accompany the fourth series to the show. It is described as “a pretty red-flecked golden sponge, rich with seasonal flavours-cranberries, nuts and marzipan- this makes a lighter alternative to a traditional fruit cake or, served warm with ice cream or custard”  It seemed such a perfect way to use up the marzipan and some cranberries I had lurking in my baking cupboard.

I found my springform tin, which unfortunately is a bit bigger than the one suggested in the recipe book, it’s 23cm instead of 20cm in diameter.  My cake would be wider and shallower then but I hoped it would still taste fine.

Here’s how I got on:

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I creamed butter and sugar together using my hand held mixer.
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Little blobs of marzipan were added to the mixture and then beat in with the butter and sugar.
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After this I added the eggs to the mixture, beating them in carefully and followed this by folding in some ground almonds.
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In another bowl I sifted together plain flour and baking powder. This was then added to the other bowl.
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The final ingredient to be added was the cranberries. The recipe called for frozen or fresh cranberries. Mine were Ocean Spray dried ones so I was hoping they would bake in the same way as the other types.
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The cranberries looked pretty against the pale colour of the mixture, like red jewels. The mixture was spread carefully in the prepared tin.
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To top the cake I had some toasted flaked almonds. They were left over from my trifle I usually make on Boking Day.
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The toasted almonds were sprinkled on top of the unbaked cake.
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After about 45 minutes in the oven, this is what the Cranberry and Marzipan cake looked like. Golden on top and dusted with icing sugar.
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This cake was perfect with a steaming cup of coffee. Although it wasn’t as deep as I hoped it would be, it still tasted delicious.

I would definitely bake this cake again next Christmas as it was so easy to put together.  It was ideal to use up leftover bits and pieces.  I bet it would be great to experiment with different dried fruit and marzipan and maybe even other nuts. I’ll let you know if I do!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess- Christmas Morning Muffins.

Nigella’s Christmas Morning Muffin recipe from her Domestic Goddess Cookbook is just one of those recipes I’ve been keen to try ever since I bought the book nearly 10 years ago.  In the introduction Nigella suggests that these muffins are good as part of establishing your very own Christmas morning traditions or rituals.  To us in our house, we have our own traditions but I’ve never bothered with traditions for food on Christmas morning. We usually have something light and quick like tea and toast. About 11 am we’ll have a glass of Champagne or Prosecco with a mince pie to put us on until dinner is ready, usually about 2 o’clock.  Then again things are never set in stone in our house.  But I was keen to try out the Christmas Muffin recipe, it looked simple enough to bake the night before as I didn’t want to be baking on Christmas morning and the ingredients sounded festive and delicious.

Instead of the cranberries Nigella suggested I chose to use the same quantity of dried fruit.  I had some mixed dried fruit left over in an open bag.  I thought I’d save the cranberries for something else.

Here’s how the Christmas Morning Muffins were made:

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I used these pretty Nordic inspired Christmas muffin cases from Waitrose. I bought them last year and loved them.
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All the “dry” ingredients were weighed out into a large bowl. This was flour, baking powder, mixed spice, cinnamon, ginger and some brown sugar.
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The “wet” ingredients went into another bowl: orange juice, milk, eggs and some melted butter.
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Everything was combined carefully in one bowl with the dried, mixed fruit added into the wet ingredients right at the end.
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The muffin mixture spooned into the cases and all ready to go into the oven.
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Fresh out of the oven. Some muffins rose better than others!

Nigella suggests sprinkling the muffins with demerara sugar and cinnamon before baking.  I totally forgot to do it so I ended sprinkling icing sugar on the top of mine.  However, I was a bit heavy handed as you can see in the picture below!

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Ready to be eaten dusted with a little icing sugar on Christmas Day.

So, will this be a tradition to come in my family?  I don’t think so. Sadly I was the only one who ate a muffin!  It was just the four of us on Christmas morning and my hubby said no to a muffin.  As soon as the kids noticed there was dried fruit in the muffins they turned their noses up at them. Bet it would have been different if it was chocolate.  So it was toast all round.  It did taste lovely though.  The rest ended up being used as the trifle sponges towards our Boxing Day Trifle!

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas Day. It would be lovely to know if anyone reading this also has their favourite baking traditions over Christmas.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx