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

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Tunis Cake

Friday 15th December 2017.

I must admit I hadn’t a clue what the origin of a Tunis Cake was.  Mary Berry had made one on one of her and Paul Hollywood’s original Great British Bake Off Masterclass programmes from a couple of years back.  I remember having a go at making one myself after seeing the pretty impressive chocolate topped almond  and lemon sponge which was finished off with marzipan holly leaves and berries.

The definition of a Tunis cake according to Wikipedia is that it’s “a madeira cake topped with a thick layer of chocolate and decorated with marzipan fruits,”  The origin of the cake dates back to Edwardian times.

I had been at work in the morning and was back home just after lunch time to get jobs done.  Not much had got done this week at home and don’t even ask about the Christmas shopping. But baking would relax me and I fancied baking a cake for my daughter coming home from uni the next day!

When I had my last go at baking the Tunis Cake I used the wrong size tin and therefore the cake was wider and shallower than it was meant to be.  Also, the icing didn’t look as neat as it should be.  Didn’t spoil the taste though!  Traditionally, the decorations are marzipan but I used sugar paste both times.  I needed to save the marzipan for our Christmas Cake!

First of all I started to bake the Madeira Sponge.  I love madeira sponges and this one is full of flavour from ground almonds and grated lemon zest.  All the ingredients were weighed out and mixed together in an all in one method.  The mixture was then put in the greased and lined deep cake tin.  While this was baking I made myself a well needed cup of tea and did the washing up!

The topping for the Tunis Cake is a very deep chocolate ganache.  I heated double cream in a small pan on the hob, then once it was starting to boil I took it off the heat and stirred in the chocolate pieces until they melted.  The ganache was left to cool a little and then poured on top of the cake still in the tin.  It was left in the tin until the chocolate was set. I was worried that the cake wouldn’t come out of the tin properly but it did.

The holly leaves were made simply by using ready made and coloured sugar paste.  I had a holly cutter and put the veins on the leaves using  a mini roller. I also rolled mini red balls for the berries.

Before the cake completely set, I arranged the holly leaves in a wreath pattern around the edge of the cake.  I didn’t dare eat a piece there and then but by the following lunchtime I caved in and ate a piece instead of eating a healthy lunch.  Too much temptation. Over the next few days the cake got eaten.  It’s definitely one you would have as an alternative to Christmas Cake or pudding if you’re not a great dried fruit lover.

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

Orange Chocolate Chip Shortbread.

Excuse the dire photography in this post.  Taking photos isn’t my strong point.  The photos didn’t do these tasty morsels justice.

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I baked these shortbread pieces for my family to eat at home while I was away staying away in Canada visiting my brother and his family.  I don’t think they remembered they were there as they were still in the plastic box I’d put them in over a week later when I got back home!

They’re adapted from a recipe in Mary Berry’s “Cooks The Perfect…Step By Step” which I’m really enjoying cooking from at the moment. The original recipe is for individual shortbread round biscuits but I chose to put all the dough together in a square loose bottomed tin and cut it into pieces instead.  I had some Sugar and Crumbs Natural Flavour Chocolate Orange Cocoa powder which I love using so instead of using plain cocoa powder, I used that instead.  Absolutely delicious and the smell of chocolate and orange was heavenly.

The recipe introduction says: ” Buttery and very moreish, few can resist these delicious cookies.”  Mary’s original recipe also contains semolina of which she states “brings a lovely crunch,”  I didn’t have any semolina so I added cornflour instead which I use in my normal shortbread recipe.

Here’s my adaptation of the recipe.  The original recipe can be found in Mary Berry’s book.

Makes 12-16 pieces depending on how big or small you like your pieces of shortbread.  Use an 8″ square loose bottomed tin and pre-grease it with either butter or Cake Release.

Ingredients:

75g cornflour

140g plain flour

75g caster sugar

25g Sugar and Crumbs Natural Flavoured Chocolate Orange Cocoa Powder

175g butter

100g plain, dark chocolate chips/ dark chocolate chunks or alternatively chop up your own bar of chocolate.

First, pre-heat your oven to 1600C/fan 140oC/235oF/Gas 3.

Put all the cornflour, flour, sugar and cocoa powder together in a bowl.  Mix well so that all the ingredients are evenly distributed.

When this is done, add the butter in and rub it in with your fingers.  I find it easier to cut the butter up into small cubes first so it takes less rubbing in and handling. It needs to be at room temperature too, so take it out of the fridge in good time!

Make your mixture up into a ball of dough.  Press into the square baking tin and make sure it is evenly covering the bottom of the tin. It helps to press down with the back of a spoon.  Prick the surface of the shortbread with a fork.

Bake in the oven for approximately 40-45 minutes until firm to the touch.  Transfer the shortbread to a wire cooling rack and cut into squares or pieces as soon as you can.

 

Spiced Dorset Apple Traybake.

Another tried and tested favourite from Mary Berry’s “Cooks The Perfect..Step By Step” recipe book,  Mary says in the introduction: ” As well as being a good coffee or tea time cake, this makes a comforting pudding, served warm with clotted cream or creme fraiche. I often make it in Autumn when I have a glut of apples,”

This was the very reason I bake this traybake often.  I get lots of beautiful apples given to me and although we like crumbles and pies in our house, sometimes you always want to make something different.  Traybakes are great as you can use them like a pudding or a slice of cake but a little goes a long way.  I also find them so easy to make, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to bake.

My dad and step mum gave me two huge bags of apples from their tree in their garden. I’m sure they said they were Pink Lady apples.  Not only did they look really pretty on the outside, but the inside had a lovely pink hue to them too.  They always tasted delicious so I knew they would taste incredible in this bake.

I have a well used and loved Alan Silverwood traybake tin which came out of the cupboard again on this wet and cold Sunday afternoon.  It doesn’t need a lot of greasing but I used a small amount of Wilton Cake Release to stop any stubborn bits sticking to the tin.

Once all the apples were peeled, cored and cut into thin slices, I put them into a shallow dish and sprinkled them with some lemon juice to stop them going brown.

Next, I mixed together butter, light brown muscovado sugar, self raising flour, baking powder, ground cinnamon, eggs and milk into a large bowl.  So easy being an all in one method and I made sure everything was well mixed.

Now this is where I lost concentration.  I got distracted and put all the apples in a layer on the bottom of the tin and then topped them with all of the sponge mix.  In the recipe you are meant  to put half the apples on the bottom, then half the cake mixture, then to repeat it. Rather like making a lasagne!  In the end my cake turned up a bit like an upside down cake and didn’t have the defined layers that Mary Berry mentions in her “Keys To Perfection” part of the recipe.  My motto is well if it tastes fine, then who cares what it looks like?

We had Toad In The Hole for Sunday lunch followed by a slice of the traybake and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I love the smell of apples and cinnamon as they’re cooking. Definitely an aroma of Autumn there! As the traybake was so big, the rest of it got cut up into slices and put in the freezer for my family to eat in weeks to come.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spaghetti Carbonara- Midweek Meal. 

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I’m all on for a quick mid week meal. As with any working parent, the last thing you want is to have to make something complicated and time consuming when you’re exhausted after a long day.  I’m very lucky in that when I have full time work placements in my role as a supply teacher, Mr SmartCookieSam is great at cooking and having dinner on the table.  But even then there are times when he’s late himself or away working. Or there are days when I’m not working myself. On working days I love meals like Spaghetti Carbonara as it’s quick to make and everyone in our house likes it.  I know it’s one of my son’s girlfriend’s favourites as well.

I’ve tried lots of different carbonara recipes but it was the first time I tried Mary Berry’s version in her “Cooks The Perfect Step By Step” book. Her “My New Spaghetti Carbonara” had added mushrooms and bacon to it, as well as garlic. So it wasn’t an authentic Carbonara, but it still tasted amazing.

While my spaghetti was cooking in my large saucepan, I fried a packet of bacon lardons in their own fat.  Once these had started to cook and crisp up, I removed the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and added a tablespoonful of olive oil to the pan.  Then I fried two crushed cloves of garlic and some quartered closed cup mushrooms.  (Mary suggested chestnut mushrooms, but I don’t like them!) These were then cooked for about 3-4 minutes.

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When the pasta was nearly ready, I combined  2 large beaten eggs and some parmesan cheese, along with  4 tablespoonfuls of double cream in a measuring jug. The pasta was then drained and added to the frying pan with the mushrooms, garlic and the bacon all at once. At the last minute I tipped in the egg mixture, taking the pan away from the heat so that the eggs didn’t become scrambled.

The result was delicious and made four very generous servings of Carbonara.  The whole thing only took about 20 minutes to make from preparation to putting on the table.  Quicker than ordering a takeaway around where I live!

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Love Sam xx

Leek and Potato Soup

I love a good bowl of soup. I don’t make it often enough and I should do.  It’s cheap to make, filling and keeps you warm on a cold day.

One of my favourite soups is Leek and Potato and thankfully it’s one that the rest of my family will eat, too.  Though in the past I didn’t tell my son it had leeks in it, I just used to say it was vegetable soup to him in case he turned his nose up at it.

About  three weeks back I made this delicious, comforting soup. (see, I’m really behind with the blogging at the moment). Anyone fancy buying me a new laptop? No, I thought not. My laptop is slow and keeps disconnecting from the Internet. Not a serious problem in the scheme of things but it does slow work down somewhat.

I adapted the recipe from Mary Berry’s Cookery Course, which is a well used book on my shelf.  First the leeks and onions were chopped up and fried gently in butter. After that, in went some thinly sliced potatoes.  To this I then added some hot chicken stock.  Unfortunately it wasn’t home made, sorry Mary! The soup was then seasoned and left to simmer.  Mary Berry’s recipe also suggests a few gratings of nutmeg. I didn’t have any nutmeg but I sprinkled on some parsley instead.

After about 20-30 minutes simmering I took the pan off the heat and allowed the soup to cool down for a couple of minutes. Out came the stick blender to puree up the soup. Finally. I added in a swirl of half fat creme fraiche. Mary’s recipe uses single cream but I didn’t have any so, creme fraiche had to do.

A perfect lunchtime bowl of soup for myself and Mr SmartCookieSam with a chunk of crusty bread.  There was enough left for me to have for lunch on two days during the week either at home or at work.

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