Half Term Baking

It feels like an eternity since I last updated my blog. I was working in a long term and full time post last half term. Baking, let alone any blogging was the last thing on my mind.

The last few weeks have been extremely stressful. Even though baking helps me to relax and unwind, I didn’t have the time and the energy to lift a wooden spoon. As soon as my work was finished for the night, it was bedtime and the cycle would start again at 6.00am the next morning.

Although half term week was last week up here in Yorkshire, it’s taken me that long to get my head back to writing up my latest post. But I was so happy, esctatic even to be back in my favourite place doing what I love. So I am sharing with you what I have baked this last week.

At Christmas I was given a copy of Jamie Oliver’s latest book “5 Ingredients” which I really love. As there are only 5 ingredients in each recipe, a lot of the recipes are simple to make and quick to throw together after a busy day. Although poor Mr SmartCookieSam ended up cooking our dinner most nights last half term! As usual, whenever I get a new recipe book I’m always looking at the sweet stuff at the back of the book.

On the Monday of half term week I went over to Leeds to meet up with my cake club friends at one of our friends’ houses. Linda cooked us a delicious Spanish Chicken Traybake (from the Hairy Dieters first book) and we had some sweet treats afterwards. This was a real tonic to catch up with my friends as I hadn’t seen anyone for a couple of months. My contribution was a Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake (more of that to follow) and some St Clements Polenta Biscuits from Jamie’s 5 Ingredients.

The St Clements Polenta Biscuits could have been used with lemons or oranges but I used just lemons in my recipe. The five ingredients were: butter, fine polenta, self raising flour, caster sugar and lemons or oranges. The biscuit dough could be made up in my food processor, so it was really quick to put together. When the dough had formed into a large ball, I split the dough into 24 equal pieces and laid them onto a lined baking tray. The biscuits spread a lot during the baking so I needed to space them well apart on the tray. I usually put 6 biscuits per tray. These were baked for about 10 minutes in the oven, but my oven temperature is a bit out at the moment so I was watching them like a hawk.

I was very pleased with the biscuits and they went down well. My only problem was not to eat them before I met my friends! It’s the first time I’ve used polenta in a biscuit recipe. I’ve baked polenta in savoury recipes and also in a cake. The latter was a complete disaster and the cake fell apart. Cake balls, anyone?!

The other bake I took along to my friend’s house was a Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake. Anyone who knows me well will know that I collect Nordicware Bundt pans. Much to the annoyance of Mr SmartCookieSam who complains about them taking up space in the garage! I chose to use my Elegant Heart pan to make my cake in, being as it was two days before Valentine’s Day. I had a packet of mini Chocolate Orange Lindt D’Or balls in my baking cupboard which I could use to decorate the top. I’m still confused. How were they still there in the cupboard? I’m surprised they hadn’t been scoffed.

I adapted the Tunnel of Fudge Bundt recipe from one of my Nordicware cookbooks and used one of my favourite products in the mix. I’m a huge fan of Sugar and Crumbs’ Natural Flavoured Icing Sugars and Cocoa powders. I used the chocolate orange cocoa powder in the cake itself and in the glaze on top.

The third bake of the week was on the Thursday of half term week. I was at home on my own that day just catching up on jobs around the house and by the afternoon I was fed up of doing boring chores. The kitchen beckoned again so I had a go at making another recipe from Jamie’s “5 Ingredients” This time I baked “Buddy’s Flapjack Biscuits” Jamie must have made the recipe for his son, Buddy. The five ingredients in this recipe were: butter, mixed dried fruit and nuts, porridge oats, self raising flour and golden syrup. Basically a flapjack style recipe without sugar in it, only syrup and more sweetness derived from dried fruit. I chose to substitute the dried fruit for a packet of Vahine choco-caramel chips which I had in the baking cupboard. They had been brought back from France last August and I hadn’t got round to using them. They melted into the mixture, though and turned it darker. I was hoping they might stay solid, rather like chocolate chips do in a cookie. Once again, this recipe was simplicity itself pulsed together in my food processor.

I also treated myself to Mary Berry’s latest book “Classic” and used her recipe for flapjacks which definitely are a classic to me. If I could only ever eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would easily be a flapjack. Though it has to be said, both my son and Mr SmartCookieSam ate these.

Finally, I had a very special cake to bake at the end of half term week. My friend was celebrating her 60th birthday so her husband asked me if I could bake her a cake. Marion and I met a couple of years ago before our favourite band of all time Wet Wet Wet were playing in Scarborough at the Open Air Theatre. Her husband was bringing her away for the weekend at Nidd Hall near Knaresborough in North Yorkshire and they asked Mr SmartCookieSam and I to come over to Nidd Hall for drinks and afternoon tea. I baked Marion’s special cake the day before and had great fun decorating it with a fanastic cake topper from mycupcaketoppers.co.uk. I used the image from Wet Wet Wet’s very first album cover Popped In Souled Out and added stars, hearts and sugar coated crispy balls around the edge. The cake itself was a Madeira sponge which I cut in half horizontally (not straight as you can tell from the photos), and layered with strawberry jam and buttercream. I then crumb coated the cake with buttercream, left it to dry and then added the sugarpaste layer. I hate covering cakes with sugarpaste and even though I’ve been decorating cakes for years, I still get anxious and nervous about the sugarpaste breaking and falling off the rolling pin. But thankfully today, it all worked out fine.

As I type, it’s now the following Thursday morning and I’m not at work today. I’m wondering what I can bake. I daren’t bake anything as I know I’ll eat it though. Maybe I’ll have to keep out of the kitchen and do my knitting instead once I’ve done all my chores.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

“Cooking On A Shoe String” Food Parcel Challenge in partnership with Zest Health For Life, Hammersons and Leeds East Food Bank.

Just before Christmas I was contacted by  Hammerson, the developers behind the new Victoria Gate retail development currently being built in the centre of Leeds. They are working in partnership with Zest Health For Life and the Leeds East Food Bank on a project which will make a huge difference to thousands of struggling families in Leeds. Zest Health For Life is a non- profit making organisation which helps disadvantaged people in the Leeds area by giving them chance to take part in activities to improve people’s social, mental, physical and emotional well being.

Over the past three or so years there has been an increasing need for food banks as families struggle to get by due to many circumstances.  As a result there are more and more food banks which are providing a lifeline for disadvantaged families.  There was also a need for providng people with help in giving ideas for nutritious, yet cheap mealthat would also be tempting to eat.  So Victoria Gate has linked up and created a fantastic cookbook which is given out at the food bank.

To find out more about Hammerson’s partnership with Zest Health For Life and the cookbook, read about it here:

The book “Simple Cooking On A Shoe String” is an ideal starter book to give beginners a start in cooking healthy meals that won’t cook the earth.  In the ingredients list against every recipe the foods that are usually put in the food parcels are highlighted in bold type. These are usually tinned or packet foods.

I was asked if I would like to take part in a Charitable Food Blogger Challenge by either using inspiration from my own recipes or recipes from the recipe book.  I agreed and was sent a food parcel full of ingredients to take up the challenge.

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These were the contents of my food parcel for my challenge: porridge oats, ground mixed spice, eggs, vanilla extract, baking powder, granulated sugar, four bananas, and some wholemeal self raising flour.

I was impressed with the ingredients I got in the food parcel.  I knew that I could bake quite a few things with the ingredients provided, they would stretch quite far and that by including oats, wholemeal flour and bananas the bakes would be healthier than, say a cupcake with buttercream. Not only were there ingredients containing the slow release carbs, such as the oats, they were also cheap ones.  I did have to add my own butter but I used Sainsbury’s own value brand of unsalted butter which at the time of writing was 95p for a 250g packet.  I also used golden syrup in one of the recipes and this is also a cheap standby to have in your storecupboard.

First of all  I chose to bake the Spicy Banana Bread in the Cooking On A Shoestring recipe book.  According to the ingredients list you might get sugar and oats in a parcel from the food bank but the other ingredients are cheap to buy and with the exception of the bananas will keep so you could make it again and again.  The recipe introduction says “bananas are a good source of vitamin C, potassium and fibre.  You can use overripe bananas for this recipe so that they don’t go to waste.  You could also use less sugar as the mixed spice already gives this recipe a delicious flavour.The bread could be eaten as a snack or at breakfast time”

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Three ripe mashed bananas were mixed with two beaten eggs and some mixed spice. Then flour, sugar, oats and vanilla essence were added to the mixture and baked in a loaf tin.
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The loaf made about 10 generous slices and tasted fab with or without butter spread on it.
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The banana kept the cake naturally sweet and moist.
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Cut up into slices, this banana bread would make a perfect lunchbox treat, or a quick breakfast on the run. It would also freeze well so you could bake in bulk if you have an abundance of bananas.

The banana loaf was simple to bake in a 24cm size loaf tin and was easily stored in an airtight tin.  It cut beautifully up into slices and tasted delicious with or without butter spread on it. My husband actually said he preferred it to other banana loaves he had tasted as it wasn’t too overpoweringly sweet.

With the remaining ingredients I had a brainstorming session and thought about what I’ve baked in the past using oats as a main ingredient and came across a wonderful recipe in another of my favourite cookbooks, one which I’ve bought for my children The Hungry Student Easy Baking by Charlotte Pike.  In this book there is a recipe for banana and chocolate chip cookies. As I had quite a bit of sugar left and one banana left in the box I thought I would adapt the recipe to suit what was in the box.  So instead of the chocolate chips in the original recipe I used 100g of oats and instead of the plain flour and bicarbonate of soda I used the wholemeal flour given to me in the food parcel.

The result was 18 deliciously chewy and moreish cookies whiche went down extremely well with the whole family.  I had to add 90g of my own butter but I didn’t need anything else to make them special.

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These oaty banana cookies may LOOK boring but they certainly didn’t TASTE boring. I had to hide them from my 14 year old son!
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I also added in a spoonful of the ground mixed spice given to me in the parcel along with the flour. It gave the cookies a lift and made them taste gorgeous.

After the cookies I realised I still had enough ingredients left to bake some flapjacks.   I combined 175g butter with 175g of the sugar in the parcel and to this I also added my own golden syrup of  about 150g.  Otherwise the flapjack wouldn’t have stuck together.  When this had melted in a large pan I then added 500g porridge oats and some ground mixed spice.  I reckon one or two of the bananas in the parcel might have worked here so long as it had been mashed in.

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Flapjack which got a bit burned at the edges!

106 Unfortunately my daughter turned the oven temperature up to well over 200oC after I had asked her to turn it up. I was refering to some music playing in the kitchen, but she thought I meant the oven! I realised when I thought I could smell burning only 10 minutes after putting the flapjacks in the oven.  So down went the temperature but they weren’t my usual chewy offerings.  Anyhow I did find one of them was delicious with a cup of coffee at breakfast the next day!

After all this I still had a tiny bit of sugar and oats, some baking powder, some of the vanilla essence, some mixed spice and some of the flour left!  It just goes to show that you can create some delicious things with store cupboard ingredients and that they don’t have to cost the earth either.  I thought I could use the remaining ingredients to make pancakes  and one member of my family could have porridge for breakfast.

You can find out about the work of Zest Health For Life at the link to their website here:

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Scandelicious Baking- Flappenjacken.

The other day when we were sat round the table eating breakfast on holiday the conversation turned to my obsession with baking.  Well we were eating croissants at the time and I said I would love to have a go at baking my own croissants one day.  My family sometimes appreciate my efforts, sometimes don’t.  What they don’t realise is that baking is therapy to me like some people play music, some paint, some do sewing or play sport.  I like the feeling baking something gives me and when I get it right there is nothing else to match those feelings.  Although baking isn’t very kind to my hips and thighs it has brought back a sense of wellbeing and boosted my self esteem enormously over the past few years.

My husband said to me “Why don’t you bake some more flapjack?” and I agreed with him.  Flapjack always goes down well with my family and I have to hide the tin from them. Sometimes I have to hide the tin from myself as I can never stop at one piece! So when we got back from holiday I knew I’d planned to try a version of flapjack called Flappenjacken from Scandelicious Baking by Signe Johansen as part of my monthly Cooking The Books Challenge.

In the recipe title Flappenjacken are also described as salted caramel granola biscuits but looking at the ingredients mine had to be a complete variation on the recipe.  I also chose to bake them as a complete traybake rather than as individual biscuits. Signe says “I can’t claim that these are authentically Scandinavian in anyway but they are inspired by my love for salted caramel, Norwegian crispy havreflarn oat biscuits and British flapjacks or flappenjacken as the Muppet Show’s Swedish Chef likes to call them!”

In the recipe Signe calls for a mixture of oats to be used comprising of spelt, rye and barley flakes but I had to use plain porridge oats as I couldn’t find any other flakes in my local supermarket.  I noticed also that the recipe used egg, milk, flour and baking powder unlike my traditional flapjack recipe so that meant it was more cakeified!

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Here’s the flappenjacken mix before being tipped into the cake tin.
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All ready to go into the oven!
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Out of the oven and cut up into slices. Looks more cakey than like traditional flapjack but tasted wonderful.
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The flappenjacken was perfect for me as it wasn’t too overly sweet. My hubby enjoyed it too for the very same reason.

I was pleased with the results and should have waited a little bit longer before cutting it up as the flappenjacken crumbled as I took it out of the tin and tried to put it onto the plate.  I scoffed a piece right away with my soup at lunchtime. It should have been a sandwich but I couldn’t help myself, they smelled so good!

As for my family my hubby has spotted them in the tin and has enjoyed them, the children weren’t impressed as they had almonds, and dessicated coconut  in them.  Never mind, all the more for us as they say!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Banana and Chocolate Chip Bars from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.

I’m now well under way with baking from this month’s Cooking The Books Challenge.  This morning was time to get started on the second recipe, which sounded good in theory being the school holidays.  But in practice probably not a good idea to bake when you’re in a hurry, you need to be somewhere else and you need to be on hand somewhere to be a taxi service to your children.  We had been up to Edinburgh the day before on a trip and I had not slept well on Sunday and last night, probably managed 4 hours sleep.  Coupled with an uncomfortable train ride in a “quiet” carriage full of mobiles ringing, iPads playing films out loud and a screaming baby on the way to Edinburgh yesterday I was ready for my bed.  But sleep just wouldn’t come.  Maybe tonight?  Here’s hoping!

Anyway, enough of me prattling on.  Back to the job in hand.  Baking.  I shouldn’t be baking after letting my diet slip over the past few weeks and yesterday I ate loads of rubbish.  At least my family like banana and chocolate so these flapjack type bars should go down a treat.  It was time to bake the Banana and Chocolate Chip Bars from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.  Mary says in the introduction that these are “a really healthy snack.  The banana in the middle could be replaced by ready to eat dried apricots,”  Both my daughter and I like dried apricots so that’s a great variation to try in the future.

As I began to get the ingredients out to start baking, my son came downstairs and asked what I was making.  I told him what they were and he said “Eww, gross!”  Funny how the recipe was in the Baking For Children chapter.  This obviously doesn’t extend to grumpy teens who only eat breakfast when nagged to!

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So first things first, I got a square cake tin greased. Mary says to use a shallow 7″ size one, my smallest one was 8″ square and deep.  Oh dear.  After that I mixed together self raising flour, porridge oats and brown sugar.

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Some butter was then added into the bowl and rubbed into the porridge oats mixture to make it turn out a bit like breadcrumbs.

Some butter was then added into the bowl and rubbed into the porridge oats mixture to make it turn out a bit like breadcrumbs.

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This is what the mixture looked like when the butter had been rubbed in.

Now this is where I was distracted and didn’t read the recipe properly.  This was my fault as the recipe was a simple one and I should have read it carefully.  The porridge mixture was meant to go in the tin like a sandwich with the sliced banana in between.  I made a complete mistake and put all the mixture in at once like you do with a flapjack!

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The porridge mixture in the tin before adding the banana topping.

 

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The sliced banana and chocolate chips sprinkled on the top in the wrong way!

The bars were baked in the oven for about 25 minutes.  I was worried about the banana burning but that wasn’t a problem.  After the right time out came the bars and I let them cool down.

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The chocolate was meant to be drizzled on but it ended up being thrown on instead!
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The bars were cut up once cooled down and turned out of the tin. 

I really enjoyed baking these bars and they would have looked a lot more attractive if I’d read the recipe properly.  I could have got away with the rustic look with the extra chocolate on but because I was rushing (why do I always have to bake when I’m short of time?) I ended up with a very messy finish. I’m sure Mary Berry would have said “Could do better,” if she had seen them.

The appearance didn’t put me off, I ate one with a cup of tea in the afternoon and to be honest it tasted much better being kept in the fridge.  Even my son who had turned his nose up at them enjoyed the bars and they had all disappeared by Wednesday!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Fruity No Bake Granola Flapjack Bars

Last week I felt really tired, exhausted and hormonal.  I just wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep for a week yet at night I really struggled with my sleep. It took  me ages to drop off, then I was waking up at 3am  and 5 am.  I couldn’t understand why.  When I feel like this I just want carbs and comfort food and to bake stuff like flapjacks. So I got in from school and after the dog had his walk and I made myself a cup of tea, I got out the scales and looked through the cupboards.

I came up with these Fruity Granola Flapjack Bars which are full of dried fruit, pumpkin seeds and dessicated coconut.  They aren’t very healthy as they have lots of butter, sugar and golden syrup in them but taste fab and ideal if you need a burst of energy when you have had a rough day.  I think they would make a quick grab as you go breakfast as well if you are in a rush.

Ingredients:

100g dried fruit (just chuck in anything you have up to this weight you have in your cupboards- currants, raisins, sultanas, apricots, cranberries, cherries, mixed peel) I used what was left of a bag of mixed dried fruit

100g porridge oats

50g Rice Krispies

85g dessicated coconut

50g pumpkin seeds (you could add in sunflower or sesame seeds if you want instead)

50g of chopped nuts (I used walnuts)

100g light brown soft sugar

125ml golden syrup

100g unsalted butter

001First you need to tip all the dried fruit, nuts, seeds, oats, coconut and Rice Krispies into a large bowl.

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Give everything a really good stir so that it is evenly mixed through. Then in a large saucepan melt the butter and add the sugar and golden syrup.  Heat through until dissolved and like a syrupy mixture. Tip this into the large bowl with all the dry ingredients in and mix together thoroughly, ensuring that everything is well coated.003

When this is done, grease a 20cm/ 8cm square tin.  Then spoon the mixture into it carefully, pressing it down into the corners. I use the back of a spoon or a potato masher to level it out evenly.004

This flapjack bar is a no bake one so it goes straight into the fridge for about 2 hours to set instead of being cooked. Once set, you can cut it up into 12 bars or 16 square pieces.

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Be warned, they are moreish!

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Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx