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

Pecan and Maple Bundt Cake- Nigella’s Kitchen.

Once again I’ve lost my way a bit with my blogging.  I have all these posts in draft on my laptop but that’s as far as they’ve gone during the last month. A lot has happened in the past month. I’ve been on a trip to visit my brother, sister in law and their gorgeous family including my four month old niece who completely stole my heart. Auntie Sam was in her element and as my niece is very similar in temperament to my own daughter, it really did take me back to twenty years ago when my brother became an Uncle to my daughter. What special times. With all this in my mind I chose to bake a Canadian inspired cake for the last Clandestine Cake Club event I went to. This was a few days before I was due to jet off over to Alberta but the theme was Around The World In 80 Cakes Although there weren’t 80 cakes there, there were definitely a delicious array of cakes representing lots of different countries.

I chose to bake a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s book “Kitchen” which is a maple and pecan nut bundt cake.  Although I’m a huge Nigella fan and I bake lots of her recipes, it’s been a while since I baked from Kitchen. It’s such a huge book too, wouldn’t like to drop that on my feet or I’d be in agony.  It was also a great excuse to get out one of my bundt pans off the shelf and to use it again.  My Crown Bundt pan also has a Canadian connection as I bought it last year on my first visit to Canada.  We went shopping and I got carried away in Williams Sonoma.  But it was worth it.  The pan was half the cost of UK prices!  Nigella uses the Fleur de Lys Bundt pan in her recipe and says: ” The reason I chose this particular shape for this cake was that it seemed to show it’s nutty, gooey stuffing off to maximum effect once sliced,”

The bundt cake has a separate maple pecan filling which is swirled into the vanilla batter once in the cake tin and looks really pretty when the cake is cut into.  So, as Nigella says you really need a tin which looks great when it’s cut up into slices.

I baked the cake the night before Cake Club as I was working a full week.  It had to be done in the evening once we’d had tea.  I normally love baking but it had been the first day back at work after the summer holidays.  I’d had a lot of running around and standing on my feet to do so the last thing I wanted to do was to stand up in my kitchen baking. But at least it was the first episode of the latest series of The Great British Bake Off!  So I set up my Ipad in the kitchen and watched it as I was weighing out, mixing and chopping nuts up.  I soon forgot my legs and feet ached and immersed myself in my hobby.

I always grease my bundt pans with Wilton Cake Release.  Once this was done, I pre-heated my fan oven and set myself going with the filling part to the cake.  For this I mixed flour, soft unsalted butter, ground cinnamon, chopped pecan nuts and some maple syrup. This formed a slightly more fudgy version than a crumble topping.  When this was done I put it aside and made up the rest of the cake mix.

In another mixing bowl I weighed out plain flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Though it took  me 5 minutes to find my pot of bicarb as it had somehow managed to hide itself behind everything else in the cupboard.

In yet another bowl (lots of washing up tonight!) I creamed together butter and caster sugar using my hand held mixer.  Following this I put in 2 eggs and then in went the flour mixture.  Finally, I folded in some sour cream before putting about half the mixture into the bundt pan.  The pecan mixture went in next followed by the remaining cake mixture.

The cake baked for about 40 minutes or so. I kept on checking it through the oven door and it seemed to be fine after the allotted 40 minutes.  I always panic that the bundts are going to fall apart or not come out of the tin.

Sheer relief!  A few crumbs had stuck inside the tin but not enough to worry about and the cake slid out effortlessly.  I let it cool down on the rack in the kitchen while I cleared up.  When it was cool, I dusted it with icing sugar and hoped that the cake would be ok in it’s box in my car boot while I was at work the following day.  Thankfully, even though I drove over loads of speed humps going to the venue in Leeds, the cake was intact!

I really love going to cake club events. I’ve made loads of friends through cake club and we regularly meet up for a chin wag and a catch up over cake and coffee. I can’t wait for the next one in October which is to be a Hallowe’en themed one. Better get my thinking cap on!

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.


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.


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.


Be warned, they are moreish!


Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Chocolate and Pistachio Cupcakes using Whynut Pistachio Nuts.

Last week I blogged about my fantastic goodies which Whynut sent me and how excited I was to receive them.  After trying out the early harvested peeled pistachio kernels I wanted to try out the other products as soon as I could.  My mum, like me adores pistachio nuts and I thought I could incorporate the packet of lightly salted pistachio nuts  I was sent into a cake or cupcakes to celebrate her birthday last weekend.

 Inspiration came in the end from a cupcake book I have and love:   Making Cupcakes With Lola.  There is a recipe in the book for chocolate and pistachio cupcakes.  The cupcake itself has chocolate chips inside it and is topped with a chocolate swirl icing and finished with chopped pistachios.  I didn’t have enough spare chocolate to make the icing as well so the icing became an experiment.  I took a large spoonful of the pistachio paste that was also part of the goodie box and swirled it into some buttercream icing instead.  This tinted the icing the gorgeous pastel green hue that pistachios are.  The cupcakes were then topped with whole pistachio nuts.  I thought these looked pretty as well, the nuts had a beautiful rose pink tint to them which contrasted well with the green.

The packet of Lightly Salted Pistachio nuts included in my goodie box. These nuts earned a Gold Star Great Taste Award in 2012. I’m not surprised as they were the nicest pistachio nuts I had tasted!

Here’s how I made the cupcakes:

Pure Non-Dairy Spread and caster sugar creamed together.
I used plain brown cupcake cases as they contrasted well against the green of the pistachios. I reckon silver foil ones would look pretty as well.
Two eggs were added carefully, one by one to the creamed mixture.
Finally, some sifted self raising flour was added into the mixture.
A large bag of dark chocolate chips was folded in before being spooned into the cake cases.
The cupcakes all ready to be popped into the oven!
The cupcakes came out of the oven about 20 minutes later smelling delicious!
The tub of Pistachio Paste that Whynut sent me.

I must admit I had a giggle when I first opened the tub of pistachio paste.  I was expecting the paste to be a delicate green colour but to my surprise it was a funny dark green colour.  Do you know what it reminded me of?  It reminded me of the colour of meconium stained pooey nappies that newborn babies produce!

Here is the buttercream all whipped up with the delicate green colour showing.

Straightaway I got my piping bag and large star nozzle set up, piping a giant swirl on the top of each cupcake.  Before they had a chance to set, I opened the pack of pistachios and sprinkled an equal amount onto each cupcake.

The finished chocolate and pistachio cupcakes.
The colours of the pistachio nuts were pretty.

Off we went down to Nottingham to stay with my Mum for a couple of days and I took the cupcakes with us.  We ate one on the Monday afternoon with a cup of tea and we both loved them. Mum kept some back when we had gone home and they were still fresh for her to serve when she had some friends around for afternoon tea. My kids weren’t keen as they don’t like pistachios but Mum and I were tucking in.  To be honest I usually find buttercream on cupcakes a bit sickly but this was fine with the added paste.  I still have some paste left to use so I’m wondering what I can make with it next. Watch this space!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Pistachio, Ginger and Lemon Cookies.

A few weeks ago I was asked by Whynut if I would like to try out some of their gorgeous nut products. I was sent a beautiful package of four different products to try out in my baking.  This I was really excited about as I love pistachio nuts and anything that they contain! My Mum loves pistachio ice cream as much as I do, so I thought all my Christmases had come at once when the parcel arrived.  

Whynut provides their customers with the finest quality nuts at great prices and these can be ordered via their website:  They sell two different varieties of pistachio nuts; the early harvested peeled green kernels and a lightly salted version.  These are roasted and won a Great Taste Gold Award in 2012.  They also have a shelf life of 6 months.  The nuts can be ordered in sizes ranging from 100g up to 2.5kg.

Also apart from the packets of pistachio nuts, Whynut also make nut pastes which are 100% pure.  I had never come across pastes such as these before so I was thrilled to be able to test them out!  There are three varieties, their pistachio paste,  hazelnut paste and an almond paste. Both pastes are natural with no additives, E numbers or preservatives.

As well as selling their products online, Whynut also sell to other food manufacturers such as Simply Ice Cream. Another fan is Brendan Lynch who you will know as one of the finalists in The Great British Bake Off 2012. He also uses their nuts for his baking and says “There is no comparison to Whynut products on the High Street,”  I totally agree with that.

Here is the beautiful selection of Whynut products- a packet of early harvested peeled pistachios, a packet of roasted pistachios, a tub of pistachio paste and a tub of hazelnut paste.

So, what could I bake with this array of goodies?  It was difficult to choose but I wanted to make something that would go down well with everyone I knew.  I looked through my recipe books for inspiration and came across a cookie recipe in Signe Johansen’s Scandilicious Baking Book.  This was a book I had treated myself to a few weeks back but not got round to trying anything from it.  Then I found it, a recipe for some Lemon and Ginger cookies.  I always think Lemon and ginger works well with pistachios so thought that the packet of peeled early harvest pistachios would be a great addition to these cookies.

Here’s how they were made:

Here is the packet of early harvest peeled green pistachios that I used in the cookies. They were a pretty dark green colour which was a lovely contrast to the light colour of the cookies.
These cookies were made via a creaming method where the butter and sugar were creamed together first.
An egg was added to the mixture and beat in.
Then, flour, baking soda, vanilla extract, chopped stem ginger and the peeled zest of a lemon were folded in to the creamed mixture. Finally, the pistachios were added to the dough.

This cookie dough appeared a lot wetter than the cookie dough I usually make.  I wondered if it was because I usually use a rubbing in method.  Thankfully the dough did harden up a lot when it was in the fridge chilling for about half an hour.  I ended up making the cookies far too big, completely forgetting that they do expand a lot in the oven.  The recipe should have made about 20-30, I got about 16 out of the mixture!  Serves me right!

Here are the finished Pistachio, Ginger and Lemon Cookies. They tasted more cakey than cookie like to me and to be fair I didn’t like them. I think I would like to try this recipe combination again but to bake it as a rubbing in method to see if the texture changes. 

So, the verdict?  I tasted a couple of pistachio kernels before I tipped the rest in the dough and they were delicious.  I just wish I had baked them in a different recipe.  In the end, sadly the cookies did not get eaten.  My children don’t like pistachios (though that’s a good thing or I would NEVER get to try anything in our house!) My hubby just didn’t touch them and they went all soggy.  I had to throw them out which was a shame. I couldn’t eat them as I am on a diet (again!)

I am looking forward to baking with the other Whynut products I received, so watch this space for further blog posts!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx