Pistachio Sablés 

 

As I type it’s now a very wet and rainy September morning.  Most of the country’s children have gone back to school. I’m a supply teacher in my day job, which I love but as there’s no work around at the beginning of term I’m finally managing to catch up on my very neglected blog.

It seems ages ago now we’re back into school mode. Well in our house I have my older one back off to uni today.  She’s driving down in her car for the first time and my younger one doesn’t start back at college until next week. Time flies and before we know it we’ll be mentioning the dreaded “C” word!!  But for now I’ll still think about summer and our holiday.

When we were on holiday in the south of France a couple of weeks back we did a lot of our food shopping in the local Carrefour.  I always feel stressed and wound up in supermarkets at home.  I reckon it’s because I’m always in a hurry, they move things around and you end up forgetting half the things you came in for in the first place.  But in this Carrefour, even though it was a massive “grandes surfaces” it felt like a pleasure to shop there.

Of course wherever I go on holiday I have to search out their baking aisle.  I don’t always buy things from the baking aisle but I couldn’t help myself here.  The selection of nuts, dried fruits, flavoured baking powders, extracts and the usual cake decorations were amazing.  Seeing different flavoured baking powders was a new one on me.  I love pistachios so I bought a packet of ground pistachio nuts hoping to use them in a recipe somewhere.  Of course when I buy goodies to take home, my family make snide comments about how I’m going to make us go over the baggage allowance.  I think we had about 500g spare this time, thank God!

Two days after we got back from France I had invited my lovely Clandestine Cake Club friends over to my house for afternoon tea.  It was a great excuse to bake for them so I thought about how I could use my pistachio nuts in a recipe.  In the end I plumped for a biscuit recipe which I adapted from a recipe in The Great British Bake Off Everyday”  The original recipe was for Coconut Sables.

Pistachio Sables

Makes 20-24 biscuits

160g plain flour

a pinch of salt

75g icing sugar

160g unsalted, cold and diced butter

2 medium free range egg yolks

100g ground or crushed Pistachio nuts (I used Vahine Eclats de Pistaches Torrifiees)

First, put the pistachios, flour, icing sugar and a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl and combine them evenly.

Then add in the cubes of butter, rubbing them in until you get fine bread crumbs.

Next you add the egg yolks to the bowl until the mixture becomes like a ball of dough.  I then take the ball of dough out of the bowl and roll it into a disc that’s about 2.5cm thick.

 Wrap your dough in some cling film and leave it to chill in the fridge for about half an hour  until you are ready to use it.  Or if you are like me, you run out of time, leave it longer and then you find it is too hard to manipulate!

When you have the dough out of the fridge, sprinkle a little flour onto your work top and then roll out your dough to the thickness of a pound coin.  Cut out circles with a cutter (either plain or fluted) which is 7.5cm in diameter.

Put the biscuits onto greased baking trays and pop in the oven for about 10-15 minutes.  Oven temperature: 180oC/ 350oF/ Gas Mark 4. In the original recipe the biscuits should have been pricked with a fork before being baked but I forgot!

I found that once you ate one of these cookies, you didn’t want to stop.  So I had to hide them away until my friends came over. I could just imagine eating a massive bowl of pistachio ice cream with one of these little treats.

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Afternoon tea at SmartCookieSam’s. It’s also the perfect excuse to use my late mother in law’s china.
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Afternoon Tea at SmartCookieSam’s. Don’t look at the creased tablecloth!!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Walnut, Gorgonzola and Pancetta Fusilli.

My family and I love travelling (money and time permitting, of course). So when Ingham Lakes and Mountains asked me if I would like to create a recipe inspired by one of their holiday destinations for their #InghamsFoodieFinds campaign, I jumped at the chance.

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Nearly five years ago Mr SmartCookieSam took me to Italy for my 40th birthday.  He kept the trip a surprise until a week or so before the trip. We went to Venice, Lake Garda, Lake Como and up into the Italian Alps. One day we had a memorable and breathtaking road trip up along the Stelvio Pass and stopped for lunch at a roadside hotel called La Fontanella. It was near the town of Madonna de Campiglio.  In the winter it was a ski resort but as this was July we sat outside on the terrace enjoying the stunning views of the Dolomites.  Our lunch was delicious and I remember the starter we had to this day.  I’ve recreated it and adapted it at home many times and is a perfect summer weekend lunch. Preferably sat outside with a huge glass of wine on the side (here’s hoping!)

The starter was a very filling Walnut and Gorgonzola Fusilli.  Mr SmartCookieSam is not a big pasta fan but he loves this.  I sometimes add pancetta to mine at home to appease the carnivores in my house. It is very quick to make and makes a perfect weekday supper if time is short.  Not an everyday treat though as there is a lot of butter, cream and cheese in the recipe!

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter.

WALNUT, GORGONZOLA AND PANCETTA FUSILLI

Ingredients:

200g fusilli fresh or dried (whatever you prefer)

125g creamy Gorzonzola

100g walnut halves

50g butter

150ml single cream

1 packet of cubed pancetta

First you  need to cook the pancetta in a frying pan.  I dry fry it as it contains enough fat.  Preheat your oven to 180oC/ Gas 4 ready for toasting the walnuts.

While you have the pancetta frying, cook the fusilli in a large saucepan of boiling water according to the packet instructions.  Or if you are like me who was in a rush, you’ll end up chucking the pasta in the cold water and hoping for the best!

When the pancetta is crisp, remove from the frying pan and put to one side.  Chop the walnuts up into bite size pieces and lay on a baking tray.  Toast them in the oven for about 5-8 minutes checking them regularly so they don’t burn.

Next, melt the butter in the frying pan.

Then add the cubed Gorgonzola to the melted butter.

Add the pancetta and the toasted walnuts into the pan.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  When the pasta is ready, drain carefully and toss with the sauce.  Serve immediately.

My family love this dish with chunks of toasted ciabatta bread to dip in olive oil and balsamic vinegar or with a side of mixed salad leaves.

 

Empire Biscuits on The Isle of Mull.

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Empire biscuits, a UK treat but especially popular in Scotland.

Over May half term week my family went on holiday to the Isle of Mull. It’s a place very special to  me and to my hubby.  We had loved trips to the island before we met, he watched the Isle of Mull Rally which takes place every October and I had been to Mull a couple of times before as a student on travels around the UK.  So when we first started going out together about 18 years ago,  we chose to spend a week on the Isle of Mull as our first holiday together.  We always said we would go back and visit when the kids were older and that’s what we ended up doing.

We stayed in a very remote, midge infested, but beautiful part of the island near Lochbuie in the south.  Our cottage overlooked a loch and was absolutely stunning.  It was comfortable, immaculately clean and was definitely a home from home.  The only thing that spoilt it was all the midges which swarmed round the front porch and somehow managed to get in through the bathroom and our bedroom window.  I was covered in bites and one became infected when I came home.  But apart from that we had a fantastic time, wandering around Tobermory, playing on the beaches at Calgary Bay and on Iona, exploring Duart Castle and eating of course!

Now whenever I have a UK holiday I love to try out the local baking delicacies.  I don’t really think about sweet stuff when I go to Spain or something like that but in the UK it’s definitely about the cakes!  There was one bake I couldn’t get enough of and that was the Empire Biscuit.

I’ve had Empire Biscuits before and I’m sure they used to sell them in my local Sainsbury’s years ago on the bakery counter.  They are shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with jam and have glace icing spread on top with a cherry to finish.  But they’re very popular in Scotland and according to Wikipedia you can also get them with Jelly Tots on.

On the ferry over to Mull I had the 4 o’clock munchies and we went up to the Coffee Bar on the top deck.  I ended up buying a cup of tea and an Empire biscuit for myself.  It was just what I needed and kept me going until we had dinner that evening.  But throughout the week all I could think about were Empire Biscuits.  We enjoyed some Selkirk Bannock which I bought from a local Spar shop but I wanted more Empires!  On the last day of our holiday we were in Tobermory and I popped into the bakery on the High Street.  They had some scrummy looking Empires for sale and they were massive!  I bought four to take back to the cottage with us to have with a cup of tea and they were absolutely delicious.  The shortbread was perfect, which melted in the mouth and the icing wasn’t too sweet and sickly.  A perfect treat and ever since I’ve wanted to bake some Empires for myself.

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The mouthwatering Empire biscuits which I bought in the Tobermory Bakery. Absolute heaven!

Last Friday was my usual day off work and I had been really busy all day catching up on chores.  I hadn’t baked anything for nearly three weeks, apart from a quiche  for last Sunday lunch and I was having serious withdrawal symptoms.  So I got Googling and found out all about Empire biscuits through Wikipedia.  I decided to use my usual shortbread biscuit recipe but my biscuits would come out smaller as I couldn’t get in the garage to get my big circular cutters out.  We had a workman putting a new back door on and it was chaos. So I used my small circular cutter I found in the kitchen drawer from last time I baked cookies.

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Plain flour, sugar and salt is mixed in to a large bowl.
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Cold, small cubes of butter are weighed out and added in to the mixing bowl.
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After rubbing in the mixture and adding a large free range egg, I formed the dough into a large ball. This was then put into the fridge wrapped up in cling film to chill for about half an hour.

My daughter, who is on study leave at the moment doing her GCSE’s came downstairs and asked what I was doing.  She asked if she could roll out the dough and cut out the biscuits.  I let her as she is a great baker.  I just wish she would use a pallette knife to put the biscuits on the tray, not her hands!  Grrr! Anyway, she rolled the biscuits out beautifully and we looked forward to them being ready to ice.    The workman, as if on cue asked if I knew where the nearest cafe was for when he finished.  He was probably hoping for a biscuit but they weren’t ready then.

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The biscuits laid out and spaced well apart on baking trays ready to be put into the oven.

The biscuits were left on the tray to cool while I went out to walk the dog.  Then out came some seedless raspberry jam and the biscuits were sandwiched together.

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The biscuits now sandwiched together with seedless raspberry jam.

When this was done, I made up a quick glace icing but in my usual rush I made it a bit too runny.  It still spread ok and made the biscuits look presentable.  Finally, for the finishing touch I added half a glace cherry to each one.

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The finished Empire biscuits, left on the cooling rack so that the icing would set.

So the verdict?  These biscuits were just absolutely divine.  We all had one each, hubby and I had one sat outside in the sun with a cup of tea before I got on with the dinner and he said they were lovely.  That’s a compliment from him!  The rest got hidden away in a biscuit tin!

Now, if I ever realise my dream of owning a tearoom then Empire biscuits will definitely be on my menu!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx