The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Luxury Fish Pie.

SundayDecember10th2017.

I was never really keen on fish until I met my husband. As a child I had several experiences with badly cooked fish. This was mainly from my Nana Margaret, my Dad’s mum who was a hopeless cook. I remember the time I threw up when we were on holiday in Scarborough as she stunk the holiday flat out with her kippers. Another time she bought some haddock from the local fishmonger and it was so overcooked, it would have made a great wash leather. Every time fish was on the menu I’d refuse to eat it.

Not only that, but I have a terrible fish phobia. For years and years I couldn’t bear to even go near the fish counter in a supermarket. I know the fish are dead and they’re hardly likely to jump up at me but they freak me out. I don’t know where the fear comes from but I do remember two things from my childhood. My Dad used to keep fish and he had a tank with two massive ugly fish called Oscars in them. They looked really grumpy and were large and grey. I must have been about seven or eight when we had them and one night I had a dream that they jumped out of the fish tank, grew wings and chased me around the house. Their tank used to be in our front porch and I remember looking down at the floor so I couldn’t see them. Another incident happened when we were on holiday in Scarborough. My Dad, brother and cousin went fishing and caught several tiny plaice. They were still flopping about when Dad brought them back and he put them in the bath! My brother joked that he was going to put them in my bed and every time he went near me, he’d pretend he had the fish and was going to stick it down my neck. This fear of fish still lives with me to this day! If we go swimming in the sea on holiday my kids tease me and say “Ooh look mum, there’s a fish!” I can eat certain types of fish now, thanks to Mr SmartCookieSam being great at cooking it and he’s got me eating salmon, scallops, prawns and some white fish. I still felt physically sick though when he ate a portion of whitebait right in front of me in Italy a few years ago. The batter was so thin you could see their eyes through it. But, having said that, if I am cooking fish it can’t look like a fish to me! It has to be ready filleted with no skin on and certainly no head and tail with its eyes looking up at me!

I chose to test out another recipe from The Great British Bake Off Christmas book, this time being an Indulgent Fish Pie. This is a recipe suggestion in the New Year’s Eve chapter of the book. I remember Mary Berry once cooking a fish pie on one of her programmes and saying she always has fish pie on Christmas Eve. We don’t in our house, in fact fish pie is our traditional meal on Good Friday. Normally on New Years Eve we have a Chinese takeaway if we’re at home. On Sunday, I thought a comforting fish pie was just what we needed. I’d bought some fish the day before in our local Morrisons, although I thought the choice available was a little bit poor. I ended up buying pre-packed and there weren’t any raw prawns on the shelf. My phobia came to the fore when I also realised I would have to take the skin off the salmon to cut it up into chunks! I was really freaking out, I couldn’t even bear to look at the skin, let alone touch it! In the end I turned the fillets over so I couldn’t see the skin and cut the salmon into chunks and then the skin off the bottom. Straightaway I scooped the skin up with some kitchen roll so I couldn’t see it and threw it into the bin.

After all that drama, it was easy to make. I boiled some potatoes and mashed them. I didn’t use double cream in the mash, only a tiny bit of butter. I also made a simple parsley sauce as well as hard boiling some eggs. When these were cooled, I shelled and quartered them, mixing them in with the salmon chunks, some cod chunks and some prawns. I poured over the parsley sauce and then finally topped this with the mashed potato. The recipe uses watercress as an ingredient, which I love. Salmon and watercress sauce is gorgeous but this time I’d forgotten to get some.

The fish pie then went into the oven to bake. I didn’t want to over cook the fish or it would end up like my Nana Margaret’s wash leather haddock. I don’t pre-cook the fish anyway and as the recipe introduction says “all the flavour is released into the pie,”

I’m glad to say my husband had seconds. I didn’t, but I did have a substantial portion.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Caramelised Onion and Stilton Tart.

Thursday 7th December 2017.

I love making pies, quiches and tarts but I always worry about the fat and calorie content in the pastry and the fillings.  But nothing beats a homemade pie or tart, especially on a cold Winter’s evening.

I had planned out the meals to cook for this last week but forgot I was a day behind with what needed eating up first in the fridge.  I had some chicken breasts which needed to be used so they ended up being cooked for Thursday night’s dinner.  Being a supply teacher and at the time having no work booked in for the day after, I thought I’d prep ahead just in case I ended up working.  We’d all be starving by the time I got in from work. Not only that but the last thing I’d want to do is to start cooking something from scratch.  I’m glad I was prepared.  I ended up working and didn’t get home until 6.15pm.

The Caramelised Onion and Stilton Tart from The Great British Bake Off Christmas book ended up being our dinner along with some new potatoes, peas and sweetcorn.  It was assembled and cooked the night before and it was reheated carefully the following night.

So, back to Thursday tea time and I’m cooking two meals one after the other.  I started off with the tart and then went on to cooking the chicken breasts in a chipotle marinade with new potatoes, peas and sweetcorn.  Yes I know we had that two nights running but it was what I was trying to use up in the fridge before doing my weekly shop at the weekend.  I began with making up the shortcrust pastry which was fine.  It was chilled in the fridge for half an hour as I was cooking three medium onions in some olive oil and butter. The long, slow and low heat of cooking the onions really helps them to caramelise.

When the pastry was chilled for long enough, I got it out of the fridge and rolled it out to fit it into my tart tin.  There was enough pastry to overhang the edges. I filled the pastry case with baking parchment and my ceramic baking beans so I could blind bake it.  After 12 minutes I had to remove the paper and the beans then pop the pastry case back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

As the pastry case was baking, I mixed together the filling.  I mixed together two eggs and another egg yolk, along with some double cream, some grated Parmesan Cheese and some crumbled Stilton.  I was also meant to add pine nuts to the mixture but when I looked in the cupboard I’m sure I couldn’t find any.  So I left them out altogether.  I’m sure walnuts would have gone well in the tart as well.

When the pastry case came out of the oven, I mixed the filling, along with the caramelised onions together. The mixture was poured into the case and I popped the tart back into the oven.  I always put the tart case onto a flat baking tray in case it leaked out all over the oven floor.

The following day, when we chose to eat the tart, I asked Mr SmartCookieSam to put it back in the oven to reheat through for half an hour.  The result was absolutely delicious.  I’m sure it was hugely calorific, what with all the cheese and cream in the filling not to mention the butter in the pastry as well.  But it simply melted in the mouth.  What’s more is that as the tart was so big there was enough left over to eat cold the next day for lunch. It was a big hit and a recipe I’ll definitely be making again.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

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

Wednesday 6th December 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

 

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Jamaican Gingerbread Loaf.

4th December 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

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

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Cinnamon and Raspberry Whirl Wreath.

Saturday 2nd December 2017.

Although I love baking and people say I’m good at it, the same can’t be said about my breadmaking and patisserie skills.  It’s only because I’ve not had enough practice or also that I don’t have enough knowledge.  Next year I hope to go on a couple of courses but in the meantime I’m going to practise at home.  It’s as if any recipe contains yeast, it suddenly pushes me into panic mode!  But surely if I followed the recipe to the letter like I do with cake and biscuit recipes?

Cue the reasoning for my second bake from The Great British Bake Off Christmas book.  I saw the photo which accompanied the recipe for the Cinnamon and Raspberry Whirl Wreath and my mouth started to water.  It looked like a giant Danish pastry.  As the recipe introduction says, it’s a “delicious wreath made from a sweet, enriched dough coated in fruity jam.”  Not only that but the dough is infused with cardamom and the raspberry filling is accompanied with the tantalising aroma of cinnamon sugar.  I couldn’t wait to try it out.

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Plain flour was sifted into a large bowl along with some salt.
In a small saucepan I warmed whole milk with ground cardamom, caster sugar and melted butter.

When the milk had cooled sufficiently, I made a well in the centre of the bowl containing the flour and salt.  I then poured the milk mixture into the well and then formed a dough.  I had to add a little  more flour so that the dough was easy enough to knead.

After kneading for 10 minutes I put the dough into a bowl and covered it with a teatowel. I usually put bread to rise in my utility room on the work top as it was warm in there.  I left it there for about an hour or so.

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Before proving…
After proving.

After the dough had proved for about an hour I knocked it back and then turned it our onto the work top.  I had to roll the dough into a rectangle which was easier said than done!  It was the most  wonky rectangle I’d ever seen though.

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The dough was rolled out into a large oblong shape. I trimmed it to tidy the ends up.
To make the filling I spread raspberry jam with sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on top.

The next bit was extremely fiddly.  I had to roll up the dough like I was making a Swiss Roll.  It had to be a very tight roll but that was easier said than done.  Once it was rolled up I then had to cut the roll in half lengthways so that the raspberry jam layers were easy to see. Unfortunately because of the red colour it looked more like a nasty wound or something my daughter might have created on her make up and special effects course! I twisted the dough round to form a wreath but it ended up more like a swirly lump with hardly any gaps in the middle like a wreath should have.

Back into the utility room it went, once again under a teatowel but this time on a baking tray.  Another hour of proving and then the wreath had doubled again in size and was now ready to be baked.  The wreath went into the oven while Mr SmartCookieSam and I were eating dinner and came out of the oven just before I went to pick my son up from work.  The gap in the middle of the wreath had closed up even more and it looked a lot messier than the picture in the book.  The thing was, did it taste good?  I couldn’t wait to try some.  As I’m typing this, it’s 10pm and I can still smell the cinnamony aroma wafting through from the kitchen.  Guess what I’ll be eating for breakfast tomorrow, then!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Advent Cookies.

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It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had the chance to bake anything, let alone blog about it.  It doesn’t help that my laptop isn’t working properly and I just can’t type my posts well on my iPad.  So, I know what I’ll be saving up for once Christmas is out of the way!  I don’t know about you but I’m so glad November is out of the way.  It’s always a really depressing month to me.  Hardly any daylight and you’re travelling to and from work in the dark.  I’m definitely a summer person and all I have wanted to do is to hibernate and eat comfort food.  But yayy, it’s December and finally Christmas month.  No organisation up until here in the SmartCookieSam house, unless you count making your Christmas pudding and soaking your dried fruit for your Christmas cake…

Which brings me to the subject of this month’s blog post themes.  I’ve got out one of my Christmas recipe books (see the rather awful selfie below) and decided to bake from The Great British Bake Off Christmas this month. Not only will it be baking as in cakes and mince pies but there will be a few savoury things, foodie gifts and baked main courses to try out right up until the New Year. I’ll be attempting a recipe a day throughout Advent and in between Christmas and New Year.  So watch this space to see what I try out every day.

Friday December 1st 2017.

It’s the first day of Advent and everyone in the SmartCookieSam house has an Advent Calendar, even the dog and the cat!  Though our Labrador would love to trough the cat’s treats out of the calendar as well as his own!

I’ve always loved the idea of baking mini cookies to put in pockets of an Advent Calendar but until this year had never got round to it.  I used the very first recipe in the Bake Off Christmas book for the basis for my very own Advent Calendar biscuits.  I baked a vanilla shortbread dough and used four different type of snowflake cookie cutters.  Three were of the same size but different patterns but there was also a larger cutter which would be suitable for number 25. The idea was that the cookies would adorn a tree and you would take one off the tree as each day passes, that’s if the cookies last that long in our house!   Baking cookies and decorating them has always been one of my favourite sorts of baking so it was great to get creative after a busy time at work.

It’s been a while since I’ve baked and decorated cookies.
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For the icing I used roll out fondant icing swirled with some blue food colouring to add a marbled effect.  Some cookies turned out bluer than others but that was the effect I was hoping to achieve.
My piping skils need work and the icing was a bit runny.  Hence the messy numbers.  But then it has been a while since I’ve done any piping.
Number 25 is a big, special shaped snowflake so it will stand out from all the others on the tree.
There was enough cookie dough left to bake five extra cookies.  One was decorated with the year 2017 on it and the other four had the initials of me and my family on them.
All the cookies ready and drying on the wire rack ready to be threaded with ribbon to hang on the Christmas tree.
Christmas 2017.

Baking and decorating cookies definitely did put me in a festive mood. I was nearly finished when my son got in from college and I was able to clear away the mess while enjoying a well earned gin and tonic.  Now I wonder whether any cookies will be left tomorrow?

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx