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

Icelandic Marriage Cake.

Whenever I go on holiday I like to find out if there are any traditional local cakes either to try  or to recreate at home.  Last month we went to Iceland for four days as a stopover on our way to Canada.  I didn’t eat any cake or sample any Icelandic baking but was curious to know if Iceland has any traditional cake recipes.

On our flight back from Edmonton to Keflavik flying with IcelandAir I was looking through the menu card for the inflight meals and snacks.  They were offering what looked like a flapjack bar with jam in the middle called a Marriage Cake.  Although I didn’t eat one, I thought I’d Google it when I got home and see if I could make one myself.

Looking up about the marriage cake was interesting, there were lots of recipes around but nothing mentioned the origins of it and why it was called marriage cake. Maybe in years gone by it might have been one of the first things a newly married wife would bake for her husband to please him. It seemed quite an easy recipe so, maybe if the new wife wasn’t used to cooking.  I don’t know.  Maybe it contains aphrodisiacs?!!  Anyway, most recipes I came across had a few things in common. They tended to be baked in a circular cake tin with a crumble type base. There would be a layer of mixed raspberry jam with rhubarb, then the remains of the crumble mixture would be sprinkled on top.

Eventually I came across this recipe on the Delicious Magazine website:

http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/happy-marriage-cake/

The recipe uses a mixture of rhubarb and strawberry jam in the filling. I didn’t have any of that jam in my cupboard, although Mr SmartCookieSam sometimes loves MacKays Rhubarb and Ginger Jam on his toast for breakfast. I used some Bonne Maman Blueberry Jam instead. It wouldn’t have been that authentic but I didn’t want to go out buying more jam when I had plenty in the cupboard.

I chose to bake the Marriage Cake in a square tin instead of in the circular loose bottom tin like other recipes suggested. I wanted it to be cut in bars instead of slices so I used a tin I use a lot for when I bake brownies and shortbread. To prepare the tin, I greased it with some Wilton Cake Release, which I swear by.

In a large mixing bowl I creamed together some softened butter and light brown muscovado sugar. I thought that if this was meant to be a crumble type mixture then you would need to rub the butter into the dry ingredients. Instead this sounded more like baking biscuits! I followed the recipe anyway and then added a beaten egg to the creamed mixture. Once this was added in, then I put in some plain flour, bicarbonate of soda and some porridge oats. This did look more like a cookie dough at the end of it.

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Two thirds of the crumble mixture was pressed into the tin to form the marriage cake’s base.

The middle of the cake was made up of blueberry jam, although this was a bit runny!
The final layer was the topping which was the last third of the crumble mixture. Very rustic looking but it was all in the taste.
The Marriage Cake cooling on the rack before being cut into bars,
Cut into 12 bars, the Marriage cake was a little too sweet for me.

 On the day that I baked the Marriage Cake I was in a funny mood.  The weather was lousy and every time I tried to start something I would get interrupted.  Not by my kids, though, they were both out at the time but by cold callers phoning!  Then as soon as I got the cold caller off the phone,  the phone went again.  The warmth of my kitchen is my sanctuary, where I go to relax and unwind.  It was having the opposite effect today.  Soon though, the delicious smell wafted through the house from my oven.  I was meant to be dieting but with the rubbish weather I felt like I needed something full of carbs. I could hardly wait for them to cool down.

To be honest I was a little bit disappointed.  The blueberry jam made the Marriage Bars far too sweet. Maybe if I had used the rhubarb jam, which is more tart then it wouldn’t have been so sickly.  I took a bite out of one of the bars and that was all I had.  This is unheard of for me, I began to wonder if I was ill! Me finding something too sweet?  I left the bars out on the worktop and when my kids came back in they had one each.  Funny how they would usually turn their noses up at most things but they enjoyed these.

What was so funny was that I posted a photo of the bars on Facebook later and then put the bars into a plastic tub in the fridge.  Mr SmartCookieSam who only goes on Facebook to spy on me and the kids saw the post about the Marriage Cakes  a couple of days later and commented “I haven’t seen these!” Funny how the man I’m married to was the only one  who hadn’t seen the cakes. I told him to look in the fridge but found a completely empty box!  My kids never wash out empty boxes, they just leave them there for me to clean! Such is life!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Syrniki from the Great British Bake Off Celebrations.

I’m a bit at sixes and sevens with my blog posting recently.  I started writing this post last week but the WordPress app kept crashing on my ipad. I had nearly finished it too and the whole thing was lost.  I was fuming and ended up giving it up on the night.  Now I’m trying to type it on my laptop while crossing my fingers at the same time.

Anyway, you’ve all probably gathered I’m a real Bake Off fan and I love watching the series.  I did apply for series 2, the one that Jo Wheatley won back in 2011.  But looking back I could never put myself under that pressure. I would cry my eyes out if Paul Hollywood said my cake tasted like wallpaper paste or like rubber. So I have immense admiration for all the contestants who take part in the series.  I’m content with baking from the book and trying out new recipes without Paul and Mary commenting on it.

Instead I have the critical eye and tastebuds of my family. My son is usually the one who comes out with all the comments, like “That looks like a giant turd” or “It tastes like cat wee!” Then again he is fifteen and being nice to Mum isn’t what he does!  The same went for when I tried to make Syrniki the other day for breakfast.

Syrniki? Well I wondered what they were, too!  According to the recipe in The Great British Bake Off Celebrations book on page 68, they are “a treat for Easter morning” and are “the festive version of the thick Russian breakfast pancakes popular also in Ukraine and Poland.” They are usually made with local soft cheese to produce a thick pancake batter.  The recipe in the book used Quark.  I had bought a tub of Quark the week before to go in a recipe but ended up not using it. The recipe also was quite fiddly because you had to separate the eggs.

First Quark was mixed in a large bowl along with some sugar and a little lemon zest.  After that I added in some plain flour and then some egg yolks.  The egg whites were whisked separately and then folded in to the mixture. Finally I added some raisins to the batter.

The batter came out really thick, even thicker than American pancakes or drop scones.  I fried two of them at a time and asked my children to stand with a plate ready to get one as they were being cooked.  My son took one look at them and said “I’m not eating them, they’ve got raisins in!” My daughter ate one and said the cheese made it taste “wierd”. So I cooked a couple for myself and tried them out.

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Syrniki-a type of thick Russian pancake.

I served the Syrniki with some blueberries. You could also have them with yoghurt, jam or maple syrup. I found them filling and the taste did not put me off like it was with my children.  I guess it’s what you’re used to, these had less sugar in them.

Would I make Syrniki again? Probably not as my family weren’t keen on them and I found having to separate eggs a bit of a faff first thing in the morning when everyone is hungy and wanting their breakfast.

Happy Baking.

Love Sam xx

Rum Babas from The Great British Bake Off -Showstopper Bakes.

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Last year when the Great British Bake Off was on I was tempted by the Rum Babas that the contestants were asked to make for their Technical Challenge in the very first week. Who can remember John Whaite accidentally putting salt in the rum babas instead of sugar because the glass jars weren’t labelled?  Luckily though it worked out for him in the end becoming the series winner! I was keen to try out making rum babas, they are something I think of as a 1970’s dessert trolley invention.  I had only tasted a rum baba once, about three years ago when my hubby bought one.  It was stale and tasted funny.  I only had one mouthful of it which is rare for someone like me who is a sugar addict!

To make the rum babas you need some small savarin moulds, these are the ones I bought last year in Lakeland: http://www.lakeland.co.uk/16019/4-Small-Savarin-Rings

I noticed that Lakeland started stocking them after the Bake Off had been on which is great. They came in packs of 4. They have also started stocking the silicone chocolate dome moulds which are for making the chocolate teacakes which were another very tricky technical challenge bake from Series 3.  As a regular shopper at my local stores (either Harrogate, York or Northallerton) I was pleased as I knew my hubby would want me to try them.

But did I get round to using them? No I didn’t! Well over a year later I had forgotten about the moulds and found them in my cupboard still in the packaging.  Guilt overcame me and I thought I must try them out as promised.  My hubby talked about rum babas saying he would love to have one for pudding.  We had rum, I had yeast so I decided to get baking.

Last Sunday morning was a quiet day at home at the beginning of half term week.  I had all day to spend on the rum babas between other jobs but there was lots to do.  I’m still underconfident when it comes to anything involving yeast.

Here’s how it was made and what happened:

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First, flour, sugar, yeast and salt were put in a large bowl. They were put at different sides to one another.
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A beaten egg in the measuring jug.
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The dry ingredients are gently mixed together, then the egg was poured into the same bowl.
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The eggs were mixed in with the dry ingredients to form a wet dough.
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The wet dough was placed in my Kitchen Aid mixer bowl and mixed on a very slow setting for 8-10 minutes with a dough hook.
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After the kneading time.

At this point I began to panic.  The dough was very wet and I really struggled to knead it by hand.  In the end I had to stick it in the mixer as I just couldn’t work with it.  It just stuck to my hands and the more I tried to knead, the more it stuck.  I don’t know if I was meant to use the mixer but I thought it would be better than my hot hands touching the dough.  I managed to get it into the bowl, I washed my hands and then tried to search on YouTube to see if they had the original episode where they made the rum babas.  Then I could watch it back and see where I was going wrong.  Lo and behold there was a clip showing the rum babas and it was mentioned that the dough did appear wet.  Thank heavens for that!

If you want to see the original clip, then here is the link to it here:

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The dough was placed in my Utility room on the work surface. The bowl was covered in cling film. I chose the utility room as I had the tumble dryer on and the room was quite warm at the time.

After all this messing about my kitchen surface looked like a scene of destruction.  It took some scrubbing to get the dough of the surface, it felt stickier than Superglue, if that’s possible!  I left the dough to rise in the bowl for about an hour and a half which was enough time for me to get on with the ironing.

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Here are the 4 savarin moulds bought from Lakeland.
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The moulds were lightly greased with flour and a sprinkling of caster sugar.
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The dough was meant to be piped carefully into the savarin moulds, taking care that each one held an equal amount of mixture.  I spooned it in with a teaspoon and wondered why it was so messy!

Then for a second proving, this time in the savarin moulds. They had to rise to the level of the hole but not be too overproved.  This was easier said than done!

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After baking, I turned the rum babas out onto a mat to cool down. Before they were fully cooled I needed to soak them with the rum sugar syrup.
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Each rum baba was so big it only just fitted inside my dessert bowls.
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Here is the cream mixture all whipped up. I swear by the Get A Grip piping bags from Lakeland. To help me fill these bags easily I use a pint glass to support the bag.
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Each rum baba got a swirl of cream piped in the middle of it and was then topped with some berries. I used blueberries and strawberries but I reckon chopped kiwi fruit would look pretty too!
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All ready for our pudding! What a massive rum baba as well. We all really enjoyed them and our eyes were bigger than our stomachs!

So, would I make the rum babas again?  Yes, I would.  Despite them being quite labour intensive in short bursts they were a massive hit with the family and a perfect treat.  Very naughty but nice!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Mary’s Angel Food Cake With Lemon Curd- The Great British Bake Off Week 1(Series 4)

Last week the latest series of The Great British Bake Off got off to a cracking start!  In Cake week the contestants had to make a sandwich cake as well as a showstopper chocolate cake. But what of the Technical Challenge, the bake that has everyone worried and panicking that it will pass muster from Paul and Mary.  I know I couldn’t have managed the Technical Challenge. I would have been like Ruby, the youngest contestant in this series.  It all got too much for her and she burst into tears. In the end Toby left, which was sad to see. I liked him, he seemed a crazy kind of guy but genuinely nice.  There were lots of disasters this time and a huge abundance of blue plasters being used!

The Technical Challenge this week was a cake that I’ve heard of and tasted but never attempted myself.  An Angel Food Cake is an American recipe, I believe where the rise comes from whisking egg whites to make them light and airy. The cake does not contain any fat but lots of sugar!  It isn’t something I would choose if one was on a menu in a cafe or something I would bake. Judging by the experiences of the GBBO bakers, ranging from raw cakes to a cake containing salt instead of sugar, it sounded like it was tricky.  I was determined to have a go myself though.

Some plain flour and about 1/3 of the caster sugar was weighed and sifted into a bowl.
Some plain flour and about 1/3 of the caster sugar was weighed and sifted into a bowl.
In another bowl I separated 10 egg whites, the yolks were put to one side to add to the lemon curd for later.
In another bowl I separated 10 egg whites, the yolks were put to one side to add to the lemon curd for later.

Separating eggs is one of those skills I either get right or wrong. I find if I don’t need the egg to be perfect it comes out neat or if I need a perfect separated yolk everything leaks and the eggs don’t come out right.  Today though they did work out, I separated them by hand easily enough.  You need 10 egg whites for the cake but luckily the egg yolks get used in the lemon curd. I hate recipes that involve waste like that!

The egg whites were whisked on a high speed until they were frothy.
The egg whites were whisked on a high speed until they were frothy.
The egg whites whisked up! Can you guess what crucial stage I missed out on?
The egg whites whisked up! Can you guess what crucial stage I missed out on?
I added lemon juice, cream of tartar and salt to the egg whites.
I added lemon juice, cream of tartar and salt to the egg whites.
Whisked again for a few minutes.
Whisked again for a few minutes.
The sugar and flour mixture was folded in gently. This was done in 3 stages.
The sugar and flour mixture was folded in gently. This was done in 3 stages.
Not the effect I was expecting. I tried folding the flour in carefully but it seemed to knock all the air out.
Not the effect I was expecting. I tried folding the flour in carefully but it seemed to knock all the air out.
There doesn't look to be much mixture in the pan!  This is where I thought, where have I gone wrong?
There doesn’t look to be much mixture in the pan! This is where I thought, where have I gone wrong?

I came to realise at this stage that this isn’t a cake you can make when you have lots of distractions.  Not long after I started getting the ingredients out, my teenage daughter decided to saunter down for breakfast and she began to make pancakes for herself and her brother.  Normally I don’t mind them doing this on a Sunday but the timing was completely out.  Then I left the ingredients out on the side as my mum phoned for a catch up.  As I got to the whisking stage I was distracted by nagging at my children for not putting things back in the cupboard. I realised when my cake didn’t look like other angel cakes I had seen that there must have been something wrong. One of my friends on Twitter asked if I had added the sugar?  I remembered I had about 200g to add that was still on the counter! Back to the beginning I went. Of course I couldn’t use the first attempt cake, it went in the bin and the tin went in the sink to soak!  As the mix was stuck to it (you don’t grease the tin but I think you should do it lightly!) I had no luck. I had to use my other ring tin, a Bundt style one.

I forgot to add the sugar!  This is what happens when you are distracted!
I forgot to add the sugar! This is what happens when you are distracted!
Skip an hour, extra ingredients later and carefully read instructions. Now here is version 2, this time made in my fluted ring tin. I didn't grease it like the instructions said!
Skip an hour, extra ingredients later and carefully read instructions. Now here is version 2, this time made in my fluted ring tin. I didn’t grease it like the instructions said!
I should have greased the pan!  This is what was left when the cake came out of the tin.  Not very easily, I hasten to add!
I should have greased the pan! This is what was left when the cake came out of the tin. Not very easily, I hasten to add!

There are two distinct camps here- the Greasers and the Non-Greasers.  IF and this is a big IF, I make this cake again I will grease the tin lightly. Unless I buy a special tin marketed as an Angel Cake tin. It’s just I didn’t want to go out and buy a tin to make a cake I might not bake ever again!

The "naked" Angel Cake.  It actually broke in half as I wrestled with it but it's amazing how I managed to stick it back together!
The “naked” Angel Cake. It actually broke in half as I wrestled with it but it’s amazing how I managed to stick it back together!
Straining the lemon curd through the sieve.  I had been worried it wouldn't set but it did eventually!
Straining the lemon curd through the sieve. I had been worried it wouldn’t set but it did eventually!

Making the Lemon Curd wasn’t stress free either.  The remaining egg yolks, caster sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest went into a pan and was heated on a medium heat. It didn’t seem to want to thicken up. I added the butter to it but it still seemed to take ages. I wasn’t convinced.  I felt like cheating and running up to the supermarket for a ready made jar!  In the end it got taken off the heat and about an hour later it looked more like it should do. It then had to be strained through a sieve. At least there was some spare to put in a jar for toast!

The remainder of the lemon curd was put into a jar and will be used for toast!
The remainder of the lemon curd was put into a jar and will be used for toast!

Then I realised I hadn’t got any double cream to decorate the cake with. I was doing really well here, so organised or what? I had to go up to our local Morrisons and grab a pot. It ended up being a shopping trip for several items we were low on like milk and bread!  I certainly wasn’t sticking to the 2 1/2 hour time limit that they had on the Bake Off! I had started this at 10am and it was now about 2.30pm!

To decorate the cake I whipped a 300ml pot of cream gently.
To decorate the cake I whipped a 300ml pot of cream gently.

The cream was whipped up but I think I whipped it up too much.  It just wouldn’t spread properly and it didn’t look very much.  You could still see the crumbs through the topping.  What a mess!

The cake was decorated with the whipped cream  and drizzled lemon curd. The GBBO version had passionfruit on it. I couldn't find any passionfruit in the shops so I used some yellow and white Dr Oetker wafer daisies to complement the colours of the cake.
The cake was decorated with the whipped cream and drizzled lemon curd. The GBBO version had passionfruit on it. I couldn’t find any passionfruit in the shops so I used some yellow and white Dr Oetker wafer daisies to complement the colours of the cake.

So what was the verdict?  My hubby found the cake to be very sweet and sickly. He didn’t like it and fed it to our dog!  The children didn’t fancy it because they didn’t like the lemon curd on it.  I had a small piece, the sponge tasted light and airy but it wasn’t worth all the faffing and the effort. If I make it again I will make it when I have no distractions or time constraints!

I would love to know how you’ve got on if you have baked the cake .

Here is the recipe if you are brave enough to have a go yourself:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/angel_food_cake_with_04002

A slice of Angel Cake cut up for pudding.
A slice of Angel Cake cut up for pudding.
The rest of the cake.
The rest of the cake.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx