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- Lebkuchen Cookies.

Friday 22nd December 2017.

I love spicy and aromatic Lebkuchen cookies.  My mum used to buy a special packet of them every year at Christmas from Sainsburys.  The biscuits were small and in traditional shapes like trees, stars and hearts covered with a crisp royal icing and sprinkles.  When I moved up to Yorkshire I discovered Betty’s own version of Lebkuchen cookies which they sell in their shop. The cookies are usually of a seasonal design and covered in a thin, white royal icing and finished with piping detail.

According to the recipe introduction Lebkuchen is “a classic German Christmas delight, these are a little bit like gingerbread, but with a deeper, more treacly and spiced flavour.” 

It was the last day of term but as a supply teacher on day to day work I thought there would be no work available that day.  Not only that, but with the last day of term being so close to Christmas Day I didn’t have enough time to get everything done.  I normally make some foodie gifts for friends and family but this had to be cut down a lot this year.  Anything I did make would have to be quick to make and bag up!

The recipe used a star cookie cutter but I chose to use another winter/ Christmas themed cutter, a mitten one.  I’d not used that one before and thought with white details piped on then that would make the cookies look pretty.

To start with I heated runny honey, black treacle and sugar with some butter in a pan.  When the sugar had disolved and the butter had melted I took the mixture off the heat while I weighed out and mixed the dry ingredients together.

In a large bowl I sifted self raising flour, bicarbonate of soda, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground ginger and some mixed spice together. This was combined with the melted butter mixture and then a beaten egg. I then added in some grated orange zest.  Finally I could combine the dough in a ball.  The dough had to be chilled in the fridge for about half an hour while I got on with other baking.

When the dough had chilled sufficiently I rolled it out to a 5mm thickness and cut out the mitten shapes.  I lost count of how many mittens I cut out but there was enough to go on 3 baking trays. I can bake two trays of cookies at the same time so I had to put the 3rd tray in after the others had finished.  The kitchen smelled wonderful.  Baking gingerbread is one of my favourite smells of all time.

The cookies didn’t need long in the oven.  They usually take about 12 minutes for me.  When I took them out of the oven I left them on the tray before transferring them across to the wire rack.  I bet if I didn’t, they would have fallen apart! Later on, when they were completely cooled I put them into a plastic box overnight until I was ready to decorate them.

The following day, which was Saturday I finally got round to icing the lebkuchen cookies.  I chose to ice them differently instead of the traditional egg white, icing sugar and lemon juice mixture.  Instead I made up royal icing so I could pipe on the details, like spots, stripes and zig zags, etc.  I’m not really that confident at piping the icing on as sometimes I find the bag splits and the icing explodes all over the work top! I think I had three goes this time!  Anyway I got there in the end.

After the cookies dried for a few hours I was able to put them into their gift bags and tie them with some pretty Christmas ribbon.  There were two spare ones so I kept them back and ate them for my breakfast on Christmas Eve!

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- 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

Chocolate Orange Star Cookies. 

The other day when I was in WHSmiths I ended up buying a copy of Lorraine Pascale’s new book “Bake”.  I was only meant to go in there to buy some new highlighter pens and a notebook but I came out with them plus Lorraine’s book and a magazine.  I was then meant to be doing my weekly shop so I went across the road and found myself sat in Costa coffee looking through the book. Instead of writing my shopping list I was sat there looking through all the recipes and mentally bookmarking which ones I wanted to try out first.

Now I’m not meant to be baking at home at the moment unless it’s for someone else or when I go to my local Clandestine Cake club event.  But I can’t help it. Baking is part of me.  So I try to make things for others.  I sometimes take bakes into schools I work in or give to other people.  This is what I did with the very first bake I tried from Lorraine Pascale’s “Bake”.

The first recipe I tried from the book was funnily enough also the very first recipe chronologically in the book.  It is an easy recipe to try and also looks effective.  The original recipe was for Chocolate and Vanilla Stars but I adapted this to turn them into Chocolate Orange Stars.  Instead of adding a vanilla pod or some vanilla extract to the dough, I used Sugar and Crumbs’ Chocolate Orange Cocoa Powder instead.

Lorraine’s recipe introduction says “These stars look great and are perfect for making with children. They are also awesome as presents.”  

The first job was to cream together some butter and sugar in a bowl or with a hand mixer. This needed to be done until the mixture was light and fluffy.  After this I added in a beaten egg.  The mixture was then divided carefully into two bowls.  Although I tried to take great care over this and to split the mixture evenly, I still thought there was slightly more chocolate dough than plain dough! To one bowl I added half of the quantity of self raising flour  and some cocoa powder. To the other bowl I just added the remaining amount of flour.

My star cutters looked a bit bigger than the ones featured in the photo next to the recipe but I still had enough mixture.  I rolled out the chocolate dough first and cut out the stars.  Once all the chocolate stars were cut out, they were laid onto two lined baking trays.  I then got a smaller star cutter and cut out the middle of the biscuit leaving a star shaped hole.  The chocolate mini stars were then put to one side to become the centres of the plain cookies.  On another two baking trays I did the same but with the plain dough. When I had cut the stars out of the middle they went into the middle of the chocolate ones and vice versa.

I had to bake the cookies in two batches as I needed four trays and I can only fit two trays in at a time in my oven.  They expanded in the oven and puffed up slightly, maybe because the recipe asked for self raising flour rather than plain flour.  Once cooked in the oven after about 10 minutes I let them cool down on a wire rack then planned to get ready for work.  When I was about to go out of the door I would put them into a box.

That never happened.  Just as I was getting ready to leave my phone rang so I was locking up and getting my things together.  I left the boxful of cookies on the worktop and drove off to work.  Over the next few days they got eaten at home.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Hilton Doubletree Cookies

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My version of Hilton Doubletree Cookies. Soft and chewy and deliciously moreish.

A couple of weeks ago I was in one of those I want to bake moods.  This happens quite a lot as baking takes my mind off everyday worries and is pure escapism from my busy job.  When I have times like these I love to bake cookies. They are quick and simple to make and taste fab too. Not that I’m allowed at the moment. I’m doing Slimming World and I can’t even begin to think about how many Syns are in some of my baking creations.

I was in one of those moods where I wanted to try out something new so I went online and came across these stunners.  Hilton Doubletree Cookies.  Now, if you have ever stayed in a Hilton Doubletree Hotel they give you a fresh and warm cookie when you check in.  I stayed at one in London near Tower Bridge about five years ago with my family and my son for one thought this was amazing to get a cookie.  We had set off early down to London from Yorkshire and were just checking in late in the morning so the cookie staved off the hunger pangs until we could stop for lunch later.

From what I remember of my Hilton Doubletree Cookie, it was soft and chewy inside, just how I like a cookie.  So when I saw the recipe online, I wrote it down and attempted to have a go at making some.  The recipe was in American measurements so I got out my set of baking cups.  I’m always nervous of adapting American recipes as I’m worried they won’t be as accurate because I’m not used to them.  Especially as this recipe called for a cup of butter.  I had to scoop up the butter and put it into the cup which was quite messy.  Usually when I bake cookies you just weigh out the butter!

The cookies also asked for chopped walnuts in the mixture. I added pecans to mine as I didn’t have any walnuts in at home. Of course due to nut allergies, etc. you can omit the nuts.  I used chopped chocolate chunks as well.

It was torture not being able to eat a cookie. Why do I do this to myself? I don’t like cooking Slimming World friendly cookies.  The one time I did this I was not impressed at having to use artificial sweetener and low fat spread in my baking. All those chemicals and the bake felt wrong. So it’s better to abstain and give the baking to someone else who can indulge. And this is exactly what happened here…. until the following day when I’d been so busy I’d not had time for lunch and got home from work. Who wanted a banana or an apple then? Oh no, not me! I ate one and very gorgeous it was too. Now a few months back I would have eaten another and another but guilt stopped me. So I stuck at one!

Now if you want to try baking the DoubleTree Hilton Cookies yourself,  then this is where I found the recipe. Head over to  fabulous The Little Kitchen blog and you will find it there:

http://www.thelittlekitchen.net/doubletree-hotel-copycat-chocolate-chip-cookies-recipe/

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With the addition of chocolate chunks and pecan nuts, these cookies are heaven on a plate.
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These cookies didn’t last long in our house.

 

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