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

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Lebkuchen Cookies.

Friday 22nd December 2017.

I love spicy and aromatic Lebkuchen cookies.  My mum used to buy a special packet of them every year at Christmas from Sainsburys.  The biscuits were small and in traditional shapes like trees, stars and hearts covered with a crisp royal icing and sprinkles.  When I moved up to Yorkshire I discovered Betty’s own version of Lebkuchen cookies which they sell in their shop. The cookies are usually of a seasonal design and covered in a thin, white royal icing and finished with piping detail.

According to the recipe introduction Lebkuchen is “a classic German Christmas delight, these are a little bit like gingerbread, but with a deeper, more treacly and spiced flavour.” 

It was the last day of term but as a supply teacher on day to day work I thought there would be no work available that day.  Not only that, but with the last day of term being so close to Christmas Day I didn’t have enough time to get everything done.  I normally make some foodie gifts for friends and family but this had to be cut down a lot this year.  Anything I did make would have to be quick to make and bag up!

The recipe used a star cookie cutter but I chose to use another winter/ Christmas themed cutter, a mitten one.  I’d not used that one before and thought with white details piped on then that would make the cookies look pretty.

To start with I heated runny honey, black treacle and sugar with some butter in a pan.  When the sugar had disolved and the butter had melted I took the mixture off the heat while I weighed out and mixed the dry ingredients together.

In a large bowl I sifted self raising flour, bicarbonate of soda, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground ginger and some mixed spice together. This was combined with the melted butter mixture and then a beaten egg. I then added in some grated orange zest.  Finally I could combine the dough in a ball.  The dough had to be chilled in the fridge for about half an hour while I got on with other baking.

When the dough had chilled sufficiently I rolled it out to a 5mm thickness and cut out the mitten shapes.  I lost count of how many mittens I cut out but there was enough to go on 3 baking trays. I can bake two trays of cookies at the same time so I had to put the 3rd tray in after the others had finished.  The kitchen smelled wonderful.  Baking gingerbread is one of my favourite smells of all time.

The cookies didn’t need long in the oven.  They usually take about 12 minutes for me.  When I took them out of the oven I left them on the tray before transferring them across to the wire rack.  I bet if I didn’t, they would have fallen apart! Later on, when they were completely cooled I put them into a plastic box overnight until I was ready to decorate them.

The following day, which was Saturday I finally got round to icing the lebkuchen cookies.  I chose to ice them differently instead of the traditional egg white, icing sugar and lemon juice mixture.  Instead I made up royal icing so I could pipe on the details, like spots, stripes and zig zags, etc.  I’m not really that confident at piping the icing on as sometimes I find the bag splits and the icing explodes all over the work top! I think I had three goes this time!  Anyway I got there in the end.

After the cookies dried for a few hours I was able to put them into their gift bags and tie them with some pretty Christmas ribbon.  There were two spare ones so I kept them back and ate them for my breakfast on Christmas Eve!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Jamaican Gingerbread Loaf.

4th December 2017.

Today being a Monday I really struggled to get out of bed this morning. I’d had a good night’s sleep until something woke me up at 4.30am. That was it, I was wide awake for an hour. The alarm was due to go off at 6am but of course I drifted back off to sleep just as I’d got back into the land of Nod! Then, could I get myself moving? Course I couldn’t. I’m not a morning person at the best of times. There’s only one type of work that would get me out of bed early and that’s when I’m baking! It doesn’t seem like work to me when you’re in the kitchen with music playing in the background.

But needs must. I love being a teacher though some mornings I wish I could be beamed direct from my house to the school I’m at, especially with the horrendous traffic congestion I have round near where I live. This morning was no exception. My journey to school should have taken me 35 minutes. It took me nearer 50.

Back home this afternoon I got out the mixing bowl and scales to test out another recipe from The Great British Bake Off Christmas. I love the spicy aroma of gingerbread at any time of the year but Christmas definitely lends itself to these flavours. I was really keen to try out the Jamaican Gingerbread loaf which was a perfect way of using up some treacle left over in a tin after baking some Parkin and also putting it in my Christmas cake. The loaf is an ideal bake to have as a standby, say if you have people popping over for a cuppa and it was really easy to make.

To begin with you melt butter in a saucepan with some dark brown muscovado sugar, some treacle and some golden syrup. When this has melted you take it off the heat and leave it to cool. In another bowl you weigh out some plain flour, bicarbonate of soda, ground ginger and some mixed spice. Add the melted mixture to it, along with a beaten egg and then fold in the flour mixture. Finally add in some chopped stem ginger pieces.

I always use pre made loaf tin liners which save me a lot of faffing about. The mixture was poured into the prepared loaf tin and put in the oven at about 160oC for about 45-50 minutes. Unfortunately I set the oven timer to 45 minutes but promptly forgot to switch it on. I suddenly remembered about the loaf when I could smell gingerbread coming from the kitchen. Luckily it came out of the oven just in time and although had sunk slightly in the middle, it looked wonderful.

After about an hour of cooling I cut the loaf up into 8 generous slices. It took all my willpower not to scoff a slice there and then. I boxed up the loaf and decided to take it with me to work tomorrow to leave in the staff room.

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

Clandestine Cake Club “A Year Of Cake” December Bakealong- Nordic Spice Cake.

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I love being a member of the internationally renowned Clandestine Cake Club.  I’ve made lots of lovely friends through chatting over cake. I can honestly say that cake club has changed my life in lots of ways and I wouldn’t be without it.  I haven’t been able to get along to any events for a couple of months due to work commitments but I’m excited to be getting back to it in January!

For those who can’t always make the events and meet up with friends there are a couple of other options.  Members can join in a virtual cake event or a bakealong.  I have joined in with several of these in the past, including the CCCBook Club “A Year Of Cake” bakealong.  These events are monthly and by the end of that month those who want to take part choose to bake a cake which features in that particular chapter of the Year Of Cake book. You take photos and email this with a short description of the cake and why you baked it, etc for Lynn Hill founder of the Clandestine Cake Club to put into a write up or blog post of the event. Though sometimes I’ve forgotten to post the photos by the deadline and missed it a couple of times!

Anyway, being December it was the last of the Year Of Cake bakealongs.  There were twelve scrumptious recipes to choose from all of which I would love to have baked.  I had to go with something I know everyone would eat at home.  I decided on the Nordic Spice Cake.  It is a cake typical of the flavours in Scandinavian cooking which is shared at the time of St. Lucia’s Day (the Swedish festival of lights) Baked in a circular bundt pan it could be resplendent of an Advent wreath or a St Lucia crown.

I chose to bake my version in the Gingerbread House Bundt pan instead of a wreath shape.  This is because I’m absolutely rubbish at making gingerbread houses, they always collapse on me no matter how much icing I throw on them. So I could have a cakey version instead.  It was 8.30am on December 23rd and I had so much to do. The gingerbread house was only one of a few things I was going to bake.

First things first- to grease the gingerbread house pan.  This was a complex job as it had lots of nooks and crannies.  Lots of Cake Release needed here! Then I made sure the oven was on and preheating with the top shelf removed so I could get the tin in without knocking it.

Then for the cake itself. I creamed together butter and brown sugar until it became light and fluffy.  Next I beat eggs, natural yoghurt and the zest of a large orange together in another bowl.  Finally in another bowl I measured out sifted self raising flour and three teaspoonfuls of my friend Heidi’s special Christmas Spice.  Lynn Hill’s recipe also uses 35ml of mulled wine in the mix.  I didn’t have mulled wine so instead I added in the juice of the orange I had taken the zest off first. The aroma coming out of the kitchen smelled wonderful and I couldn’t wait to try it.  Nothing smells as nice to me as the smell of baking gingerbread.

With the gingerbread house bundt pan being an uneven shape I usually put it on a flat baking tray in the oven so it can bake flat. Nothing worse than the gingerbread house’s chimney sticking through the gap in the oven tray and the mixture all falling out on the bottom of the oven. Believe me, I’ve been there.

As luck would have it the cake baked perfectly and came out of the pan in one piece. I couldn’t decorate it straight away as I had other things to do. So the gingerbread house went into a corner of the kitchen for a few hours while I started on some fudge.

Decorated with piped glace icing and some Wilton Gingerbread house sugar shapes as well as some M&Ms the cake looked really festive.  It made a beautiful centrepiece on Christmas Eve and also tasted fantastic.  Not everyone likes fruit cake or marzipan and this was a perfect alternative.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Pumpkin Bundt With Ginger Cream Filling.

A week last Sunday was Pudsey and West Leeds’ Clandestine Cake Club event. The theme was Harvest Time and it was a great opportunity to bake with fruits or vegetables which are abundant at this time of year.  I don’t have green fingers or the space to grow vegetables in my garden though it’s something I would love to be able to do if I had a bigger back garden.  Instead I used a tin of Libby’s Pureed Pumpkin which had been in my cupboard for a few months.  My friend Linda had bought me a couple of tins when she was out shopping in Waitrose for herself and I thought a Pumpkin Bundt cake would be perfect for cake club.

I keep telling myself I have enough Nordicware Bundt pans.  I’ve lost count of how many I have.  Then again, I see a new one or one I’ve coveted for a while and I think !I just have to have that! On my day off from work I went over to TKMaxx thinking I could do with a couple of nice cake boxes and ended up coming out with the cake boxes, a mini chopper, some Christmas cupcake cases and the Nordicware Kugelhopf pan.  Did I need it? Did I heck? But it’s a beautiful pan and will last forever.  Being as it’s a traditional design it will get used all year round, too!

My baking inspiration came from a Bundt recipe book bought a few months back. It’s a Nordicware publication entitled “Best Of The Bundt” and I was very impressed with the quality of the recipes.  Even though it’s an American publication with measurements in cups, etc. thankfully there are metric equivalents given as well.

Last Sunday morning I started on the Pumpkin Cake with a Ginger Cream Filling.  The bundt contains a filling of cream cheese, ginger, sugar and flour which is baked into the middle of the cake. The cake itself was a delicately spiced pumpkin bundt infused with cardamom and cinnamon and then flavoured with buttermilk. It sounded too mouthwatering for words and perfect for an Autumn cakey gathering.

I’d left it a bit late to start on the baking. Normally I bake my cake the day before but we were out and about, so I ran out of time.  So last Sunday morning it was. I greased and floured the Kugelhopf pan which is quite a narrow and tall tin.  I hoped this wouldn’t affect the bake.  I reckoned I would have to stick the tin onto a flat baking tray so it wouldn’t tip over in the oven.

First I opened up the tin of pumpkin puree and reserved 2 tablespoonfuls of the puree towards the frosting.  The rest was going into the cake itself.  In a large bowl I creamed together butter and sugar.  As I weighed out the sugar I couldn’t believe how much was going into the cake.  Then into the bowl went 4 large eggs, followed by the pumpkin puree.  This got mixed well together. In another bowl I sifted together some dry ingredients which included some plain flour, ground cardamom, cinnamon and baking powder.  Then, I measured out some buttermilk.  The dry ingredients and the buttermilk got folded into the creamed mixture bit by bit until I ended up with a delicious and aromatic mix.

Then it was time to make up the ginger cream filling.  I’d bought a large tub of full fat Philadelphia cheese especially for the cake.  I was really angry when I got the tub out of the fridge and found it had been opened! Mr SmartCookieSam must’ve nicked some to go on his crackers! It can’t have been my daughter, the other cheese lover in our house as she has been at uni for the past month!  About 2 tbsp had gone which wasn’t much but it meant I didn’t have enough for the frosting. I hoped it wouldn’t spoil it but I wasn’t going to make a fuss over 2 tbsp of cream cheese!

The cream cheese, ground ginger, light brown sugar and 2 tbsp of plain flour all got mixed together to make the ginger cream filling.  I then started to fill the cake tin, starting with 2/3 of the pumpkin mixture. I followed that with the ginger cream cheese mixture, taking care that it wouldn’t get mixed in with the pumpkin flavour or to touch the sides of the pan. Finally, I finished off the cake with the remaining pumpkin mixture.

The bundt was meant to be baked for 65 to 70 minutes but after this time it still felt like the cake wasn’t cooked. I tested it with a skewer but there was still soggy mixture stuck to it in about three places.  After about 80 minutes the cake looked like it had cracked on the top and was ready to come out of the oven.  I had to give it about 10 minutes before I was able to turn it out onto a wire rack. I always panic at this point. This is when all your hard work can be undone in seconds if the cake won’t come out of the tin or it comes out in several pieces.  Thankfully the cake slid out in one piece which made me feel so relieved. Usually I find if the cake is meant for a special occasion or for cake club it turns into a disaster area!

While the cake was cooling down I had to make a glaze cum frosting for the top of the cake. I whipped cream, icing sugar and a little bit of milk together to form the frosting. To this I added finely chopped pecans.  The frosting was then piped onto the top of the bundt with my large star nozzle. To finish off I added whole pecans to decorate the top.

When I cut the cake at cake club later that afternoon I was bitterly disappointed. Despite the cake being in the oven longer than needed and presumably I did stick it in at the right temperature, it came out looking like the middle was uncooked.  I thought it looked disgusting inside but it still got eaten.

Would I bake the cake again? I’d like to try it out again but will have to watch the baking time and the oven temperature.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Banana Cake from the Nordic Bakery Cookbook.


Today was a day off from work. All very quiet on the supply teaching front when it’s SATs week so I took the chance to catch up with jobs at home and to relax a bit. 

When I was ironing this morning I looked across at my fruit bowl and spotted some bananas that were so ripe I’m surprised they didn’t grow wings and run away! My kids are going through a refusing to eat fruit phase and there’s no way I’d eat six bananas in one sitting. So there was one thing for it- bake a cake with them in!

A few weeks ago I found a lovely book in my local Waterstones called The Nordic Bakery Cookbook by Miisa Mink. I had never heard of The Nordic Bakery before but it is in London, Soho to be precise. I love Scandinavian baking and regularly sample the delights of a local Norwegian cafe in Harrogate called Baltzersens which makes the most gorgeous cinnamon buns. I’ve always wanted to have go at some Nordic baking myself, so I was pleased to find this book!

The recipe for Banana Cake on page 66 was a perfect way to use up my ripe bananas and also some ground cardamom I’d bought and needed to use before it went out of date. As the recipe introduction states: “Everyone loves banana bread or cake as we call it. Ours is packed with the spices that typify Nordic baking: ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Throw in some ground cloves and really ripe bananas and you have a delicious and very easy cake for any time of day,”

Being a Bundt addict and an avid collector of Nordicware bundt pans, the accompanying picture showed the banana cake as a bundt ring cake. That’s what did it for me, I had to get out one of my pans and bake the banana cake there and then.  I chose my Heritage bundt pan which is a very pretty swirl design and makes an ordinary cake look special.  I love banana cake anyway and it would be perfect served plain with a cup of tea or as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream.

My favourite Nordicware Heritage Bundt pan was greased with some Wilton Cake Release.
Six small , ripe bananas were mashed with a fork.
Butter and sugar were creamed together in a mixing bowl.
To the creamed butter and sugar I added two beaten eggs.
All the dry ingredients were added to another bowl: plain flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, ground cardamom and mixed spice.

All the dry ingredients were sifted together and added to the creamed mixture.

The flour mixture was folded in, then I added in the mashed banana.
The mixture was then spooned into the bundt pan and put in the oven.
The finished Banana Cake cooling down and smelling wonderful.
A piece of cake cut to try out.

I love the array of different spices used in Nordic baking and the aroma permeating around my kitchen smelled wonderful. I love the smell of ginger and cinnamon in baking but it was great to experiment with a spice I don’t know as much and that’s cardamom. It’s hugely popular and a staple of Scandinavian baking so when I found some ground cardamom in a local shop, I had to try it out. It saved me messing about crushing cardamom pods with a mortar and pestle! Another spice in the recipe called for using ground cloves. I didn’t have any so I substituted a teaspoonful of ground mixed spice instead.

When the cake was baking, the smell was so tempting. I’m trying so hard to keep off the sweet stuff at the moment but when you are faced with temptation all around you, it’s fatal. Luckily it was near dinner time and I had to make do with a plate of chilli and rice instead!  The cake got put into a box and is now hiding away from me. Though I know I might succumb to it tomorrow night after a long, busy day at work! I’ll let you know!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx