Nostalgic Bakes from Paul Hollywood’s “A Baker’s Life”

The recent spate of snow days has made me want to stay in my warm kitchen and bake comfort food.  Never mind me trying to diet.  Forget that! When you feel cold and tired, all you want to do is to hibernate with a giant piece of flapjack in each hand!

I ended not being able to work for three days due to the snow last week but then again I wasn’t the only one.  Then again it gave me chance to catch up with jobs and to try out some recipes from Paul Hollywood’s latest book A Baker’s Life.  I had got it at Christmas last year and had my eye on several things I wanted to test out.

The book spans the five decades of Paul’s life so far from his childhood as the son of a baker in Merseyside right up to the present day as a judge on The Great British Bake Off.  Each chapter in the book concentrates on recipes from a certain time of life.  I wanted to start with the first chapter: Nostalgic Bakes from Paul’s early years.

There were loads of recipes to choose from, including traditional favourites that we would all remember from our own childhoods.  Some of the recipes are perfect for actually making with children, such as Cornflake Cakes and Jam Tarts.  As well as these, there were also recipes for bakes that your grandma or mum may have made in years gone by.  The first recipe in the book was actually called My Mum’s Ginger Biscuits.  I absolutely love ginger biscuits and they remind me of the Yorkshire Ginger Biscuits my Nana Margaret would buy.  She would never bake them as she was a walking disaster in the kitchen.  If she could buy it in Marks and Spencer’s food hall, she would have it and pass it off as her own.

Paul says in his recipe introduction: ” Not only are they a doddle to make, but they’ve got the right balance of being crispy and chewy.” The recipe was an old-fashioned melting method one, where the butter or margarine is melted in a saucepan on the hob with golden syrup and caster sugar. Then once the melted mixture was cooled enough to handle, then self raising flour and a beaten egg were added to the mixture.

The mixture was then gathered up into a ball and made into a dough.  I separated the dough into about 24 pieces and spaced them out carefully on lined baking trays.  I put two trays in the oven at a time and watched them like a hawk. They could easily burn quickly after about 10 minutes.

I always like my cookies on the chewy side and to be honest I would add tiny pieces of chopped stem ginger to the dough.  This version has the ginger flavour coming from ground ginger and wow, did my kitchen smell wonderful! I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep them from being scoffed instead of taking them into work.

When the biscuits were cooling down on the rack, I decided to have a go at another recipe from the Nostalgic Bakes chapter.  This time it was for a Tea Loaf.  I have baked countless tea loaves in my time, including my own version of a Welsh Bara Brith which recipe is featured in the second Clandestine Club Cookbook A Year Of Cake.  I can’t resist a slice of tea loaf, slathered in butter and with a cup of my beloved Yorkshire Tea.  The recipe doesn’t feature any spices or citrus fruit zest but is crammed full of raisins, sultanas and currants.  I did not have any currants but made up the difference in weight with extra sultanas and raisins.  The dried fruit had been previously soaked in some strong Yorkshire Tea and to this I added self raising flour, demerara sugar, milk and a beaten egg.

Once this was mixed up, I lined my 2 lb loaf tin with a special loaf tin liner and put it to bake in my fan oven.  I completely forgot that I also needed to bake some potato wedges to go along with the Cajun Chicken breasts cooking in the slow oven for our dinner that night.  So half way through the baking time I had to whip the oven door open and stuff the tray of wedges in on the shelf underneath the tea loaf.  Luckily they were both ready at the same time as I didn’t want the cake sinking.

I left the cake to cool on the side with the ginger biscuits and then took them along to work the following day.  I left them in the staff room and found that half the biscuits had gone along with a couple of slices of cake when I popped in at lunchtime before going home.

Next week I’m thinking of trying out some Millionaire’s Shortbread if I have time.

Happy Baking

Love Sam xx

Welsh Honey and Camomile Bara Brith- My Own Recipe Featured in The Clandestine Cake Club A Year Of Cake.

Last year myself and the other Clandestine Cake Club members were invited to submit recipes to be included in a brand new cookbook due to be published in September 2015. It was to be called “A Year Of Cake” and members were asked to contribute recipes which celebrated both festivals and famous people’s birthdays from all over the world.  I had joined the Clandestine Cake Club just after all the recipes had been submitted and shortlisted for the hugely popular first book The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook which came out in February 2013. It is one of my ambitions to write a recipe book so I was tempted to have a go but wasn’t sure if it was what they were looking for. I was a bit nervous about sending in my own recipes but I chose three that I had tried out and worked well enough for me. Lynn Hill, founder of the Clandestine Cake Club was to have some recipes in the book herself and the rest of the book would be made up of members’ own recipes.

A few months later I was absolutely thrilled when Lynn emailed and told me that I was to have not one but two out of the three recipes included in the book!  All the recipes are scrupulously tested out so I’m glad the testing team thought they would work ok! I was so excited when the email came through on my phone I shot through to where my hubby was sat watching telly in the lounge and upstairs to tell my two teenage children. They couldn’t see why I was so excited though, which dampened it down a bit.

We had to keep the nature of our recipes secret until the book was published but as soon as we got our copies of the books my cakey friends and I were looking excitedly at each other’s recipes and wondering what we’d bake first out of the book.

The first recipe I submitted was my Welsh Honey and Camomile Bara Brith.

This is the recipe introduction in the A Year Of Cake book: Bara Brith means speckled bread in Welsh and is a delicately spiced fruity tea bread. It is sometimes made with yeast to make it more like a bread but this version is firmly anchored in the cake category with the use of self-raising flour which keeps it wonderfully sticky and moist. As a tea bread, soaking the fruit in a brew is obligatory and Sam has chosen to steep hers in a camomile and honey tea giving it a unique aromatic flavour.  It’s an easy recipe to bake with children and the perfect cake to celebrate the feast of St David, the patron saint of Wales who died on this day in 569AD.  Mwynhewch eich bara brith! (Enjoy your bara brith!)

The inspiration for this recipe came from lots of happy memories of childhood holidays, my time at uni in Bangor in the early 1990s and more recently holidaying in Ceredigion where my husband lived as a child. On one holiday we visited NewQuay Honey Farm and ate delicious honey bara brith made with the honey from the farm.  I always stock up on the honey to take back home with me so I was really keen to replicate the recipe myself at home.

The idea is with a bara brith or other fruit bread is that you soak the fruit in the liquid the night before so that the fruit absorbs the flavours.  I wanted to choose a tea which complimented the honey flavour in the bara brith and inspiration came to me when looking in my cupboard.  I often drink camomile tea to relax me at night and found some Twinings Camomile and Honey teabags. So i tried it out with my recipe in place of the usual builder’s tea.  The result tasted gorgeous.

After you have soaked the fruit overnight (and again I am not one of those who sticks to a certain type of dried fruit in my bara brith, I just go with what’s left in my cupboard!)

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The dried fruit is soaking in a large bowl with the camomile and honey tea, stirred in with runny local Welsh honey and boiling water. This was left to soak overnight though I took the teabag out after 10 minutes.
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The following day I strained the liquid out of the dried fruit mixture but kept it just in case I needed moisture in the cake mix.

After straining the liquid I added beaten egg to the dried fruit and then afterwards added the remaining ingredients.  These were soft light brown sugar, a grated zest of a lemon, some self raising flour and some ground mixed spice.

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Here is the mixture about to go into the oven. You can line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with baking parchment or you can buy special loaf tin liners in specialist bakeware shops.

The loaf is baked in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours but if it looks like it is going brown well before the end of cooking time then you need to cover the top of it with a bit of foil.

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The finished Bara Brith. all ready and waiting to be boxed up and taken to the Cake Club Launch party so other members could taste it for themselves.

I hope lots of people will try to bake the Bara Brith for themselves as it is such a delicious tea loaf.  It freezes well too! I baked it again as I was invited to a book launch party last weekend and took along both bakes from the book. It was also easy to carry in a tin- no cake wrecks here with it being a loaf cake and easy to transport!  It’s also a fab recipe to bake with kids, as a teacher in my “day” job I have baked this with children and they adored it.

The excitement about A Year Of Cake being published was amazing amongst our community of cake clubbers and we couldn’t wait for our own special copies of the book to arrive just prior to the official publication date. On Saturday 5th September my own copy arrived and I was so emotional at seeing my own name in print.  Though sharing the same name as a famous singer who also happens to be singing the new James Bond theme means I do see my name a lot now, but this was to do with me and not Sam Smith the singer!

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Not every recipe in the book has an accompanying picture. This can be annoying to some who would like to see how the recipe is meant to turn out but usually it is down to the sheer cost of printing. My Bara Brith recipe did have a picture to go with it. Picture courtesy of Quercus Books.
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Here it is! My very own recipe in print!
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My Bara Brith on display at the launch party along with just some of the other mouthwatering cakes we all got to taste.

Please note I have not given out my recipe on the blog- you will have to buy the book to be able to see the full recipe. Not my rules, I’m afraid.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx