Nostalgic Bakes from Paul Hollywood’s “A Baker’s Life”

The recent spate of snow days has made me want to stay in my warm kitchen and bake comfort food.  Never mind me trying to diet.  Forget that! When you feel cold and tired, all you want to do is to hibernate with a giant piece of flapjack in each hand!

I ended not being able to work for three days due to the snow last week but then again I wasn’t the only one.  Then again it gave me chance to catch up with jobs and to try out some recipes from Paul Hollywood’s latest book A Baker’s Life.  I had got it at Christmas last year and had my eye on several things I wanted to test out.

The book spans the five decades of Paul’s life so far from his childhood as the son of a baker in Merseyside right up to the present day as a judge on The Great British Bake Off.  Each chapter in the book concentrates on recipes from a certain time of life.  I wanted to start with the first chapter: Nostalgic Bakes from Paul’s early years.

There were loads of recipes to choose from, including traditional favourites that we would all remember from our own childhoods.  Some of the recipes are perfect for actually making with children, such as Cornflake Cakes and Jam Tarts.  As well as these, there were also recipes for bakes that your grandma or mum may have made in years gone by.  The first recipe in the book was actually called My Mum’s Ginger Biscuits.  I absolutely love ginger biscuits and they remind me of the Yorkshire Ginger Biscuits my Nana Margaret would buy.  She would never bake them as she was a walking disaster in the kitchen.  If she could buy it in Marks and Spencer’s food hall, she would have it and pass it off as her own.

Paul says in his recipe introduction: ” Not only are they a doddle to make, but they’ve got the right balance of being crispy and chewy.” The recipe was an old-fashioned melting method one, where the butter or margarine is melted in a saucepan on the hob with golden syrup and caster sugar. Then once the melted mixture was cooled enough to handle, then self raising flour and a beaten egg were added to the mixture.

The mixture was then gathered up into a ball and made into a dough.  I separated the dough into about 24 pieces and spaced them out carefully on lined baking trays.  I put two trays in the oven at a time and watched them like a hawk. They could easily burn quickly after about 10 minutes.

I always like my cookies on the chewy side and to be honest I would add tiny pieces of chopped stem ginger to the dough.  This version has the ginger flavour coming from ground ginger and wow, did my kitchen smell wonderful! I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep them from being scoffed instead of taking them into work.

When the biscuits were cooling down on the rack, I decided to have a go at another recipe from the Nostalgic Bakes chapter.  This time it was for a Tea Loaf.  I have baked countless tea loaves in my time, including my own version of a Welsh Bara Brith which recipe is featured in the second Clandestine Club Cookbook A Year Of Cake.  I can’t resist a slice of tea loaf, slathered in butter and with a cup of my beloved Yorkshire Tea.  The recipe doesn’t feature any spices or citrus fruit zest but is crammed full of raisins, sultanas and currants.  I did not have any currants but made up the difference in weight with extra sultanas and raisins.  The dried fruit had been previously soaked in some strong Yorkshire Tea and to this I added self raising flour, demerara sugar, milk and a beaten egg.

Once this was mixed up, I lined my 2 lb loaf tin with a special loaf tin liner and put it to bake in my fan oven.  I completely forgot that I also needed to bake some potato wedges to go along with the Cajun Chicken breasts cooking in the slow oven for our dinner that night.  So half way through the baking time I had to whip the oven door open and stuff the tray of wedges in on the shelf underneath the tea loaf.  Luckily they were both ready at the same time as I didn’t want the cake sinking.

I left the cake to cool on the side with the ginger biscuits and then took them along to work the following day.  I left them in the staff room and found that half the biscuits had gone along with a couple of slices of cake when I popped in at lunchtime before going home.

Next week I’m thinking of trying out some Millionaire’s Shortbread if I have time.

Happy Baking

Love Sam xx

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

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

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

Welsh Honey and Camomile Bara Brith- My Own Recipe Featured in The Clandestine Cake Club A Year Of Cake.

Last year myself and the other Clandestine Cake Club members were invited to submit recipes to be included in a brand new cookbook due to be published in September 2015. It was to be called “A Year Of Cake” and members were asked to contribute recipes which celebrated both festivals and famous people’s birthdays from all over the world.  I had joined the Clandestine Cake Club just after all the recipes had been submitted and shortlisted for the hugely popular first book The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook which came out in February 2013. It is one of my ambitions to write a recipe book so I was tempted to have a go but wasn’t sure if it was what they were looking for. I was a bit nervous about sending in my own recipes but I chose three that I had tried out and worked well enough for me. Lynn Hill, founder of the Clandestine Cake Club was to have some recipes in the book herself and the rest of the book would be made up of members’ own recipes.

A few months later I was absolutely thrilled when Lynn emailed and told me that I was to have not one but two out of the three recipes included in the book!  All the recipes are scrupulously tested out so I’m glad the testing team thought they would work ok! I was so excited when the email came through on my phone I shot through to where my hubby was sat watching telly in the lounge and upstairs to tell my two teenage children. They couldn’t see why I was so excited though, which dampened it down a bit.

We had to keep the nature of our recipes secret until the book was published but as soon as we got our copies of the books my cakey friends and I were looking excitedly at each other’s recipes and wondering what we’d bake first out of the book.

The first recipe I submitted was my Welsh Honey and Camomile Bara Brith.

This is the recipe introduction in the A Year Of Cake book: Bara Brith means speckled bread in Welsh and is a delicately spiced fruity tea bread. It is sometimes made with yeast to make it more like a bread but this version is firmly anchored in the cake category with the use of self-raising flour which keeps it wonderfully sticky and moist. As a tea bread, soaking the fruit in a brew is obligatory and Sam has chosen to steep hers in a camomile and honey tea giving it a unique aromatic flavour.  It’s an easy recipe to bake with children and the perfect cake to celebrate the feast of St David, the patron saint of Wales who died on this day in 569AD.  Mwynhewch eich bara brith! (Enjoy your bara brith!)

The inspiration for this recipe came from lots of happy memories of childhood holidays, my time at uni in Bangor in the early 1990s and more recently holidaying in Ceredigion where my husband lived as a child. On one holiday we visited NewQuay Honey Farm and ate delicious honey bara brith made with the honey from the farm.  I always stock up on the honey to take back home with me so I was really keen to replicate the recipe myself at home.

The idea is with a bara brith or other fruit bread is that you soak the fruit in the liquid the night before so that the fruit absorbs the flavours.  I wanted to choose a tea which complimented the honey flavour in the bara brith and inspiration came to me when looking in my cupboard.  I often drink camomile tea to relax me at night and found some Twinings Camomile and Honey teabags. So i tried it out with my recipe in place of the usual builder’s tea.  The result tasted gorgeous.

After you have soaked the fruit overnight (and again I am not one of those who sticks to a certain type of dried fruit in my bara brith, I just go with what’s left in my cupboard!)

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The dried fruit is soaking in a large bowl with the camomile and honey tea, stirred in with runny local Welsh honey and boiling water. This was left to soak overnight though I took the teabag out after 10 minutes.
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The following day I strained the liquid out of the dried fruit mixture but kept it just in case I needed moisture in the cake mix.

After straining the liquid I added beaten egg to the dried fruit and then afterwards added the remaining ingredients.  These were soft light brown sugar, a grated zest of a lemon, some self raising flour and some ground mixed spice.

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Here is the mixture about to go into the oven. You can line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with baking parchment or you can buy special loaf tin liners in specialist bakeware shops.

The loaf is baked in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours but if it looks like it is going brown well before the end of cooking time then you need to cover the top of it with a bit of foil.

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The finished Bara Brith. all ready and waiting to be boxed up and taken to the Cake Club Launch party so other members could taste it for themselves.

I hope lots of people will try to bake the Bara Brith for themselves as it is such a delicious tea loaf.  It freezes well too! I baked it again as I was invited to a book launch party last weekend and took along both bakes from the book. It was also easy to carry in a tin- no cake wrecks here with it being a loaf cake and easy to transport!  It’s also a fab recipe to bake with kids, as a teacher in my “day” job I have baked this with children and they adored it.

The excitement about A Year Of Cake being published was amazing amongst our community of cake clubbers and we couldn’t wait for our own special copies of the book to arrive just prior to the official publication date. On Saturday 5th September my own copy arrived and I was so emotional at seeing my own name in print.  Though sharing the same name as a famous singer who also happens to be singing the new James Bond theme means I do see my name a lot now, but this was to do with me and not Sam Smith the singer!

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Not every recipe in the book has an accompanying picture. This can be annoying to some who would like to see how the recipe is meant to turn out but usually it is down to the sheer cost of printing. My Bara Brith recipe did have a picture to go with it. Picture courtesy of Quercus Books.
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Here it is! My very own recipe in print!
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My Bara Brith on display at the launch party along with just some of the other mouthwatering cakes we all got to taste.

Please note I have not given out my recipe on the blog- you will have to buy the book to be able to see the full recipe. Not my rules, I’m afraid.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Fruit and Macadamia Nut Cookies from John Whaite Bakes At Home.

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A variation on John Whaite’s Apple, Macadamia Nut and Oatmeal Cookies.

Last weekend my village had a yard sale and I usually bake a couple of batches of cookies and flapjacks to sell on a stall. I had my eye on the Apple and Macadamia Nut Cookies in John Whaite’s latest book John Whaite Bakes At Home and wanted to bake them from the Breakfasts chapter at the beginning of the book.  This was part of my latest Cooking The Books Challenge for June 2014.

I read the recipe and realised that the recipe needed dried apple, not fresh apple chopped up in chunks.  I hadn’t got any dried apple so I found a bag of mixed, dried fruit which I thought I’d use instead.

John says “These inelegant cookies are nothing short of heaven sent.  The dried apples are chewy, the macadamia nuts are crunchy and the oatmeal adds great texture in between the two”  I could imagine me scoffing a whole plateful of these!  So I thought I’d try them out on visitors to our Yard Sale.

First I creamed butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl, then added vanilla and egg. After this I tossed in some oats, plain flour and baking powder.  Once this was brought together into a dough, in went some mixed dried fruit and some chopped macadamia nuts.

The ball of dough was then formed into a long sausage on a piece of cling film and wrapped carefully to chill in the fridge for about half an hour.  When it was chilled enough, I cut the cookie sausage into 1cm slices and arranged them on a baking tray, baking them for about 10 or so minutes.

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The finished cookies piled up on the cooling rack ready to be boxed up for our yard sale.

The Yard Sale started off well and all my chocolate flapjack and my white chocolate fudge cookies sold.  I was left with about six out of twenty of these beauties.  Many people who realised they had dried fruit in said “Oh no, I don’t like raisins” or “My kids won’t eat those,”  The people who did buy them said they were delicious.  I would love to bake the recipe again but will buy in some dried apple especially!

Here are a couple of pictures of the other two bakes for the Yard Sale:

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White Chocolate and Fudge Cookies.
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Chocolate Covered flapjacks.
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Bakes laid out on the table ready for the customers.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx