Panforte- The Great British Bake Off Christmas.

Friday 22nd December 2017.

Panforte is a traditional Italian delicacy which is usually eaten with coffee after a meal. It is full of dried fruit, nuts and spices and baked in the oven on rice paper. A little piece goes a long way as it is very rich.

I had tried some Panforte one Christmas when my Mum had bought some. It might have come from Lakeland or Waitrose but I couldn’t get enough of it. I remember seeing whole hazelnuts inside the Panforte and it felt very chewy, almost toffee like in consistency. No wonder I couldn’t stop at one piece!

When I was looking for ideas to make for foodie presents this year I saw a recipe for Panforte in my Great British Bake Off Christmas Book. It was quite an expensive sweet to make as I don’t know about you but I think both dried fruits and nuts have gone up a hell of a lot in price in the past few years. Don’t get me started on all the other baking ingredients! So, I would only choose to make two panfortes and for those who I knew would like one.

It was the Friday before Christmas (can you believe that’s over a week ago now, where has the time gone?) and I was trying to do everything on that one day. By the time it got to Friday teatime I had a meltdown and started crying thinking why am I doing all this? I still had a birthday cake to bake, I hadn’t finished my Dad and step-mum’s Christmas present and I hadn’t made our usual mince pies and sausage rolls. Any normal person would have gone out and bought them but I’d bought all my mincemeat in and also the sausagemeat and I didn’t want to go out spending any more money. I guess, what with my day job and school breaking up so late I was struggling time wise.

But earlier on in the day I felt as if things were more under control. I was keeping going drinking endless cups of tea and coffee but later I got Mr SmartCookieSam to pour me a large gin and tonic. That did calm me down!

Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent. Back to the panforte. In the Bake Off recipe the dried fruit you need are figs and apricots. I don’t mind dried apricots but figs- yeuggghhh! I needed most of the packet of them and boy did they take ages to cut up. Then I cut up the dried apricots and put them, along with the figs into a pan and heated it on the hob with some runny honey, some light brown muscovado sugar, ground cinnamon, nutmeg and some ground mixed spice. The recipe needed cardamom pods (which I’d not got in) and also ground cloves. I had whole ones but not the plain ones. I had used the mixed spice instead of the cardamom and cloves. Also to the pan I added about a tablespoonful of water. This mixture was heated for about 10 minutes until it became soft and sticky,

Meanwhile I had weighed out some mixed peel, whole blanched almonds and some pistachios. I had to buy pistachios with the shells still on (so I had to remove these before mixing them in) Along with that I put in 3 tablespoonfuls of plain flour.

Panforte is traditionally lined with rice paper but I couldn’t find any in my local Morrisons with the baking stuff. I just lined the base of two loose bottomed round 18cm or 7″ cake tins with baking parchment. Though obviously that’s not edible!

I spooned the mixture between two tins as I had made double the quantity and baked both the panfortes at the same time. They took about 45 minutes in the oven. I must admit they didn’t look very pretty when they came out of the oven. They looked like giant cow pats! But dusted with a bit of icing sugar then they would be fine.

When the panfortes were cooled, I put them onto a thin circular cake board and wrapped them in clear cellophane. To finish I chose some pretty Christmas ribbon to tied them up with.

I gave one of the Panfortes to my Mum, the other to our family friend Paul. I hope they both like them and don’t break their teeth on them!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

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

Almond and Coffee Cake- The Cardamom Trail.

A few weeks ago I got a copy of Chetna Makan’s new book The Cardamom Trail.  Chetna was a semi finalist in the 2014 series of The Great British Bake Off . Her bakes were unique in that she added in the spices she grew up with and then gave them a unique twist.  I love adding different flavours to recipes and some of Chetna’s creations seemed so mouthwatering.

It took me a while to get round to trying out a recipe from the book.  It was so difficult to choose which to try out first but I needed an opportunity to get the mixing bowl out.  Last Wednesday I was at home and once again the urge to bake something overcame me.  I had picked my son up from school from his GCSE exam and was trying to put off doing the ironing. As you do! My mind wandered to what I could bake.  I’m trying not to eat too much sweet stuff (famous last words) but I knew I was going to be teaching in one of my regular schools the following day and I sometimes take cake in for the staff to try out.

As I browsed through the book several recipes leapt out at me.  But one which stuck in my mind. It was for an Almond and Coffee Cake which sounded delicious. It was also one which contained ingredients I already had in my baking stash. Including a mountain of flaked almonds and ground almonds which needed using up as soon as I could.

Chetna says “I love the combination of almonds and coffee. Normally it is associated with rich desserts, such as gateau opera but in this cake the sponge is made with ground and flaked almonds which makes it light. The richness comes with the buttery chocolate icing and can be topped with yet more almonds!”  So not only will the cake taste fantastic, it will be simple to decorate with a sprinkling of almonds. 

In the gorgeous photo of the cake it is shown baked as a bundt. Though for those who don’t have a bundt pan, the cake can also be baked in a 25cm diameter circular cake tin. Me being a bundt addict and an avid collector of all things bundt I was keen to get out one of my pans. I chose my square one which was a Christmas present to bake the cake in and  made sure it was properly greased with Wilton Cake release.

First some butter and sugar was creamed together with my hand held electric whisk. Then I added three large eggs, beating them well after every addition. Then in went some self raising flour, baking powder, ground almonds, some coffee and milk. The coffee was actually 2 tablespoons of very strong coffee dissolved in boiling water. This was all mixed together and well combined. In the mixture went into the bundt pan but I was concerned as the mixture only seemed to fill half the pan. Really it should fill three quarters of the tin so maybe the tin I used was too big. I hoped the cake would rise a lot in the oven!

Baking is normally a relaxing experience for me but today I was a bit impatient to get the cake out of the oven and finished off. Looking back it was getting near tea time and I had to sort out other jobs. Why do I do it? I forgot what time the cake went in the oven and didn’t set the timer. Then with that I looked at the cake too early. 

When the cake was ready it looked like it hadn’t risen much. Maybe the bundt tin was too big. At least it was one where it didn’t matter if the top half was missing. Thankfully also the cake came out of the tin in one piece!

Then it was time to slap the icing on and I mean slap or throw it on! I made up the icing by  melting some butter in a small pan on my hob. When it was melted I took it off the heat and mixed in some icing sugar and some cocoa powder mixed into a paste with boiling water. The icing was runny  but was ideal to spread on the cake and clung to the grooves of the  bundt. The final finishing touch was to sprinkle the flaked almonds on top of the cake!

The following morning I took the cake into work. It went down well but I left the cake there so I don’t know what happened to the rest of it. I collected an empty box the next time I was in. I didn’t try any myself though. I need to try it again, would be a perfect cake to bake if you have friends round for a cuppa or to donated to a coffee morning.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Very Easy Double Chocolate Cupcakes.

This year I was lucky enough to to get two useful calendars for Christmas. My Dad and step mum bought me a “his and hers” cupcake design calendar which is where I write down all mine and my husband’s work commitments. I work as a supply teacher so my work patterns and locations can vary from week to week. Hubby isn’t always in the office but can be out and about or can be away overnight. So a calendar showing one another’s whereabouts in full view in the kitchen is very helpful.  I was also given a Great British Bake Off Family planner.  This is where I put all the family and home commitments. Even the dog, cat and horse have a slot! The bonus with the planner is that each month features a delicious recipe. 

The recipe for January was for some easy Double Chocolate Cupcakes. They use cocoa powder to create the chocolate flavour instead of real chocolate. I was glad as I didn’t have any chocolate in the house. Well I’m MEANT to be doing Weightwatchers but all this cold and wet weather has made me want chocolate all the more. So I’ve made sure there wasn’t any in the house! But I really miss baking and I knew that my son was having friends over to help him with a film project the day after. I didn’t want to go out buying more ingredients so I wanted to use up what I had.

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s simple enough to be mixed up in a food processor. My food processor kicked the bucket last year and I haven’t got round to replacing it yet. You can use an ordinary stand mixer or a hand held mixer instead. I used my hand held one as I couldn’t be bothered with getting the big mixer out of the cupboard just for baking one thing! 

The fat content comes from using sunflower oil instead of butter.  First I weighed out and sifted the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl: self raising flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. These were then mixed together. In another bowl I weighed out the sunflower oil, a beaten egg, a spoonful of vanilla extract and some caster sugar. Once this was combined, some milk got added to the mixture. Finally the dry mixture was folded into the wet mixture to create a delicious fudgy and gooey brownie like batter. It was slightly runnier than my standard chocolate cupcake mixture so I poured it into the prepared cupcake cases rather than spooning them in with a teaspoon. 

The cupcakes rose beautifully in the oven and took roughly about 20 minutes to bake. I took them out of the oven and made the most of the gorgeous sunny day by going out for a four mile walk with my dog. It was a rush for me to get the cupcakes iced before I went out to pick my son up from school. The icing is a flavourful one with this recipe. It was a buttercream but instead of all icing sugar in the mixture it also contained caster sugar. I’ve never made icing with anything other than icing sugar in it before so that was a new one on me. The icing apart from containing cocoa powder to give it its chocolatey flavour had some strong coffee in it. Not sure how strong the coffee flavour would come across but I thought it was an interesting addition. 

Easy Double Chocolate Cupcakes from the 2016 Great British Bake Off calendar.
  
The cupcakes had a simple but delicious coffee chocolate icing.
 
I chose to bake my cupcakes in red cases because red looks great with chocolate and I had a pack of red, white and blue sprinkles to use up. The picture on the calendar showed mini Smarties or chocolate beans on the top but anything goes with these babies.

Surprisingly none of the cupcakes got touched until my son’s friends arrived. I don’t know how that happened. They went down well and my daughter said she preferred them to cupcakes swirled with a heap of buttercream on top like a Mr Whippy ice cream. Trouble is they look better. 

This recipe is perfect for baking with kids if you want to encourage them into the kitchen.  

Happy baking! 

Love Sam xx

Pistachio, White Chocolate, Cranberry and Lemon Biscotti inspired by the Great British Bake Off.

This is a blogpost I’ve been meaning to write for ages now. Before I went away on holiday for a week I enjoyed watching the second week of The Great British Bake Off, which was biscuit week.  For the contestants’ Signature Bake they were asked to bake biscotti.  This is not easy, to get delicious flavours, the right amount of crunch and to make sure that each biscotti was exactly the same size.. well all I can say is I’m glad I wasn’t trying it out in the Bake Off tent.

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My take on biscotti adapted from the Hazelnut and Orange Biscotti recipe adapted from the latest Great British Bake Off book.

I do love having a go at baking biscotti though.  I hadn’t baked any for ages although it tends to be something I make for foodie presents at Christmas.  I had to use ingredients in my baking cupboard rather than relying on one of the recipes for biscotti in the latest Great British Bake Off book “The Great British Bake Off Celebrations”.  There is a delicious sounding recipe for Orange and Hazelnut Biscotti in the book. Now as I didn’t have any oranges or hazelnuts in, that was going to die a death.  Instead I went for pistachio and cranberries and because I always think white chocolate goes well with cranberries, I used some white chocolate chunks as well.

This was the first thing I’d baked in a couple of weeks, what with our holiday and getting back into the swing of things.  Hubby had gone away overnight and I was at home doing jobs with the kids.  I knew that biscotti wouldn’t take me that long to bake but then realised that I should have waited to start baking. We were meant to be staying in catching up on jobs but I ended up having to nip out.  So, as usual my baking session ended up being rushed.

Plain flour, caster sugar and baking powder was first put together into a big mixing bowl and combined. After this was done I added beaten eggs and finally the dried fruit, chcoolate, pistachios and grated lemon zest were mixed in.  All formed into a huge ball of dough which was then split into two and rolled into two long logs.  These logs were then baked on a greased baking sheet.  They really expanded in the oven and thankfully didn’t stick together in one huge lump! Unfortunately I started to cut the biscotti up a bit too early, still a bit too soft  and warm and this made them a bit difficult to cut up.  Eventually I managed to get the separate biscotti pieces, I lost count of how many I cut up but they they did end up more or less the right size.  Back into the oven they went to bake separately and to crisp up.

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These biscotti didn’t last very long in our house.

It took all of my willpower not to scoff one but when my husband got in from work, I caved in.  My husband said he would have one with a cup of tea as it was going to be a while before our tea was ready.  That was it, he was eating one so I had to join in. In fact he had two!  They were delicious and I loved the flavour combination.

I enjoyed baking biscotti again and hope it won’t be too long before I can bake some more.  I put all the leftover ones into a tin but because they were so moreish they didn’t last very long!

Happy Baking.

Love Sam xx

Scandelicious Baking- Dime/Daim Bar Muffins.

Last Friday, at the end of the second week of the summer holidays I was at home in baking mode. I’d had the scales and the oven on to bake some cupcakes for my Dad’s cousin’s Golden Wedding Celebration. My two teenagers weren’t coming to the party but I wanted them to have a treat while we were out to have after their pizza.  They love muffins and chocolate so I thought I could try and bake them some Dime Bar Muffins like I saw in Scandelicious Baking by Signe Johansen.

Signe says in the recipe introduction: “These chocolate muffins satisfy a sweet tooth without being too sweet, despite the fact they contain little nuggets of Daim almond praline and are topped with a rich chocolate Daim glaze,”  Sounds good to me!

When I was out shopping the day before I struggled to find the Dime/ Daim bars needed to bake the muffins.  I was in Sainsburys and couldn’t find any on the shelf.  When I asked the assistant if they had any in he said they had stopped selling them.  Why?  I didn’t have time to go anywhere else except a local Tesco where I did find a couple of bars of Dairy Milk with Daim pieces in it.  I hoped that they would work just as well in the recipe.

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Dairy Milk Daim Bars, I needed two of these bars. Some pieces were chopped up in the muffins itself, the rest ended up as a chocolate glaze and sprinkled on the top of the muffins!

So on the Friday morning out came my muffin cases and the muffin tin and I got down to work.

The muffins didn’t swell up as much as I thought they would do, so they looked far more like cupcakes than muffins to me.  The kitchen smelled of chocolate heaven and my mouth was watering.  I didn’t eat any though as we were going out that night but I was really tempted!

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Whisking eggs, vanilla and sugar together.
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Folding in the flour and baking powder.
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The muffin batter ready to be put in the cake cases and for the oven.
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The finished Daim Bar Muffins were spread with a chocolate glaze and topped with chopped pieces of Dairy Milk with Daim inside.
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One of the muffins broken up to see what was inside!

Both my children loved the muffins and so did my hubby who had one to “put him on” until we ate at the Golden Wedding Celebration that evening.  He enjoyed it as he doesn’t have a sweet tooth but they still tasted great, just goes to show you don’t need to pack things full of sugar to taste good.  I thought, oh well I’ll have one for breakfast on the Saturday morning but when we got in from the party we found that ALL the muffins had gone!  Oh dear, my cake eating fairies had been at it again.  I’ll just have to go off and bake another batch!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Coffee and Walnut Sponge Cake from Delia’s Cakes

I’m beginning to catch up with my blog posts now, this week has been a bit of a mix up as I’ve been recovering from a minor operation.  Thankfully all went well and I’m more or less back to normal now despite still feeling tired.

The operation took place on Monday but before that I had a very busy few days.  It was my birthday followed by Open Gardens in our village.  So this meant a lot of baking but then again those of you who know me, know that I love any excuse to stick my apron on and to switch the oven on.

A week last Thursday was my last day at work before my birthday and I wanted to take a cake to share with my colleagues.  It was a toss up between a carrot cake and a coffee cake as I was choosing a recipe from my latest Cooking The Books Challenge.  Having said that I had got in late after a busy day at work and didn’t want anything too time consuming after spending time on the tea.  So that meant the carrot cake was out as I just couldn’t be bothered to grate all those carrots.  The Coffee and Walnut Sponge it was then, my choice of cake from the Sponge Cakes chapter.

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I started off by sifting self raising flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl.  I then remembered I hadn’t got the right cake tins out and looked through my very messy cake tin drawer.  What a surprise the tins I needed were right at the bottom of the deep drawer and loads of tins came crashing down onto the floor before I could get  hold of them.  It made a right din and my hubby came into the kitchen to see what had happened.  Thankfully no harm was done! Finally I got the tins out, lined and greased and ready for the cake mix!

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After this I added in some soft butter, eggs, caster sugar and some expresso coffee powder.  It was mixed together thoroughly with my hand held mixer.  Once this was blended together I threw in some chopped walnuts and mixed them evenly.  The mixture was divided equally between the two tins and put into the oven to bake.

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After about 25 minutes out came the baked cakes.  They were given some time to cool down and then I turned them out onto a wire rack.  They smelled absolutely delicious and I just couldn’t wait to dive in!004

Next, it was on with the icing.  Usually when I bake Coffee and Walnut cakes I ice them with a coffee buttercream but as this cake according to Delia is a “revised, more contemporary version of one of the original sponge cake in an earlier book… since the advent of mascarpone the icing is a great improvement”  As a huge Tiramisu fan, I love the taste of mascarpone and I know it goes well with coffee.  So I just knew it would work in this icing.  The mascarpone, some more coffee granules, caster sugar and a little milk were mixed together to make a spreadable icing.

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Half the icing was spread inside the cake and the rest on top of the cake.  I wish, but this is a personal preference is that I would like to have made more icing to spread more thickly on the top of the cake!  It tasted heavenly. As a final touch, on went some walnut halves.006

I took the cake into work and it went down well.  I will definitely bake it again, the mascarpone icing was absolutely gorgeous.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx