A couple of weeks back I was on holiday in France and spotted these scrumptious sounding bars of chocolate in the local supermarket. I love anything with pistachios in them and slipped two of these 100g bars in my trolley. Once back at the villa I had to put them in a cool place as it was so hot. Then when I was packing my case to go home I was wondering if the chocolate would last the flight home! Thankfully it did. Both bars were intact and nothing had melted!
I was wondering what to do with the bars and then last week I chose to bake Blondies with them. I bake brownies a lot but have only ever tried peanut butter and white chocolate ones before. They were delicious and didn’t last long in our house. I adapted My Favourite Brownie Recipe by substituting the two bars of white chocolate for the dark chocolate and the nuts/ chocolate chips. Instead of cocoa powder I made up another 15g of plain flour instead.
I have to tell you but these Blondies were heavenly. As soon as they came out of the oven I was tempted to get chomping on one. Thank heavens I had to wait until they had cooled down. They were devilishly gooey inside, just as Brownies and Blondies should be. With treats like this they get snaffled up in no time and I was worried they would go before they were meant to be eaten at Sunday lunch when we had family round. Luckily we had enough!
These Blondies are perfect as a pudding with ice cream or on their own with a cup of tea or coffee. I’ll definitely be making them again if I can find white chocolate with pistachios like this in the UK.
A couple of weeks ago I was in one of those I want to bake moods. This happens quite a lot as baking takes my mind off everyday worries and is pure escapism from my busy job. When I have times like these I love to bake cookies. They are quick and simple to make and taste fab too. Not that I’m allowed at the moment. I’m doing Slimming World and I can’t even begin to think about how many Syns are in some of my baking creations.
I was in one of those moods where I wanted to try out something new so I went online and came across these stunners. Hilton Doubletree Cookies. Now, if you have ever stayed in a Hilton Doubletree Hotel they give you a fresh and warm cookie when you check in. I stayed at one in London near Tower Bridge about five years ago with my family and my son for one thought this was amazing to get a cookie. We had set off early down to London from Yorkshire and were just checking in late in the morning so the cookie staved off the hunger pangs until we could stop for lunch later.
From what I remember of my Hilton Doubletree Cookie, it was soft and chewy inside, just how I like a cookie. So when I saw the recipe online, I wrote it down and attempted to have a go at making some. The recipe was in American measurements so I got out my set of baking cups. I’m always nervous of adapting American recipes as I’m worried they won’t be as accurate because I’m not used to them. Especially as this recipe called for a cup of butter. I had to scoop up the butter and put it into the cup which was quite messy. Usually when I bake cookies you just weigh out the butter!
The cookies also asked for chopped walnuts in the mixture. I added pecans to mine as I didn’t have any walnuts in at home. Of course due to nut allergies, etc. you can omit the nuts. I used chopped chocolate chunks as well.
It was torture not being able to eat a cookie. Why do I do this to myself? I don’t like cooking Slimming World friendly cookies. The one time I did this I was not impressed at having to use artificial sweetener and low fat spread in my baking. All those chemicals and the bake felt wrong. So it’s better to abstain and give the baking to someone else who can indulge. And this is exactly what happened here…. until the following day when I’d been so busy I’d not had time for lunch and got home from work. Who wanted a banana or an apple then? Oh no, not me! I ate one and very gorgeous it was too. Now a few months back I would have eaten another and another but guilt stopped me. So I stuck at one!
Now if you want to try baking the DoubleTree Hilton Cookies yourself, then this is where I found the recipe. Head over to fabulous The Little Kitchen blog and you will find it there:
Not only do I have a Nordicware Bundt pan addiction, I also love collecting cookie cutters. I’ve hundreds of them in themed plastic boxes on shelves in my garage. I’ve kept them from when I ran my small cake and cookie business and hope to put them to good use again in the near future. A couple of weeks back we were down in Southampton visiting my daughter who is now at uni there. We went out shopping while we were in the city centre and my daughter showed me The Steamer Trading Company cookware shop. We have a couple of branches near where I live in Harrogate and also in Northallerton but it was the first chance I’ve had to look inside. I was so pleased to see a set of cookie cutters which I could use to bake traditional British favourite teatime biscuits. Not only would I get the right shape, as they were plunger cutters they would also imprint the pattern which gives the biscuits an authentic look. The set of four cookie cutters are for Bourbon Biscuits, Custard Creams, Party Rings and Jammy Dodgers. I’ve baked Jammy Dodgers and Custard Creams before but was looking forward to trying out the other two recipes.
For recipe inspiration I used Miranda Gore Browne’s book Biscuit to help me recreate the perfect Bourbon Biscuit, Custard Cream and Jammy Dodger. I used my own Shortbread recipe and adapted it to make the Party Rings and the Empire Biscuits.
On Friday I ended up getting an unexpected day off. I hadn’t baked for ages and I really miss it. I wanted to immerse myself in a bit of baking therapy so on went my Ipod and I lost myself in making up batches of biscuit dough and cutting out the shapes. I tried out Miranda Gore Browne’s recipe for Bourbon Biscuits first. This dough came out quite sticky as it used golden syrup to bind the dough together instead of an egg. I had to heavily flour my rolling pin and the worktop. Miranda’s recipe doesn’t use a cutter as such but you cut out neat rectangles. The chocolate dough smelled wonderful and my will power caved in when I got a bit of dough stuck to my hands!
My second bake of the day was the Jammy Dodgers. I’ve baked different versions of these over the years. Miranda’s recipe is similar to one I’ve used before and she says you can substitute 50g of the flour in the recipe for the same quantity of ground almonds. I went with this although I felt that the cutter didn’t make a clean edge as it came out. The picture shows the edge of the cookie was a bit jagged and there were tiny bits of dough caught in the ridges between the scallops.
The messy effect of the Jammy Dodgers didn’t detract from its taste though. I must admit I succumbed. Third recipe on the list was the final one from Miranda’s Biscuit Book. Custard Creams: another favourite in my house. My teenage son loves custard creams and he must have inherited that from me. I haven’t bought any for ages as I know that once I open the packet, that’s it! If you taste this recipe though, you will never want to buy a shop bought one ever again. Not only do you get a lovely custard flavour, by using Birds’ custard powder in the biscuits and the filling but it gives the biscuit a golden yellow colour.
For the fourth batch of biscuits I created my own version of Party Rings. I used to love Party Rings when I was a child and I bet there isn’t one single person who hasn’t enjoyed these at a party and some stage in their lives. I always used to love the pink ones and loved all the different pastel colours of the rings but as it was time consuming to colour all the icing I decided to stick with one colourway. A couple of weeks back I was over the moon to win a Twitter competition from Sugar and Crumbs where the prize was a £25 voucher to spend on their website. I was going to put in an order to test out the company’s new limited edition Winter flavours, anyway. As well as the new flavours I reordered a couple of favourites, including their Lemon Drizzle natural icing sugar. The Lemon Drizzle icing sugar ended up flavouring my Party Rings. I coloured a quarter of the icing in a bright yellow colour but left the rest in white. Decorating the cookies was quite messy and I left the cookies to drip dry with a couple of plastic mats underneath my wire rack.
My fifth and final bake of the day was to bake Empire Biscuits. These are a huge favourite of mine and every time I go up to Scotland on holiday I can’t get enough of them. I wasn’t intending to bake them with the other cookies to be honest but the cookie dough for the Party Rings made up a massive quantity. I decided to use half the dough to make party rings, the other would make Empire biscuits. I used the Party Ring cutter to make the circles for the Empire biscuits but to make them into Party Rings involved cutting a centre out with a tiny hexagonal cutter.
To sandwich the Empire Biscuits together I used the remains of the jam I’d used to stick the Jammy Dodgers together. Instead of plain glace icing, I chose to use another favourite Sugar and Crumbs flavour of their natural icing sugars. This time I used the child friendly Strawberry Milkshake icing sugar which is quite a sweet icing but very popular. To finish off I sprinkled lots of hundreds and thousands on top of them and left them to dry.
I then divided all the finished biscuits into four and put them into a cupcake box (without the cupcake inserts in the bottom) to share with my friends who I’d be seeing that weekend. There were a few biscuits left over which I put in a tub for Mr SmartCookieSam and my son to eat.
The next few weeks are going to be very busy in SmartCookieSam land so I doubt I’ll have much time for baking as I’m going to be working full time up until Christmas. I might have a go at my Christmas pudding or cake next Sunday if I have time, though.
When you’re on a diet you find all the yummy goodies on special offer in the supermarket. Either that or you see tempting treats you haven’t seen in the U.K before. During October half term week a couple of weeks back, I was in Morrisons with my son. I was meant to be buying some dishwasher tablets but on the spur of the moment we decided to get a DVD for a movie afternoon. My son wanted some Pringles and some Oreo cookies to eat. This was torture to me as once I eat one Pringle, that’s it! It’s fatal with me. The same goesn for Oreos. Anyway, polish my Halo! I bought some mini packets of Sunbites popcorn and also a packet of Maltesers. I counted my Slimming World syns and stuck to it. But, I’m not all that perfect and saintly. A packet of Mint Flavoured Oreos found their way into my basket. I told my son they were not to trough, they were for my baking stash.
Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon of half term week. I’m at home feeling like I want to bake something. But I know I can’t eat it. I want to try something out. I’ve done my jobs, well as much as I can because my Hoover’s broken and I’ve got to wait in until my new one arrives. I try to keep my hands busy doing cross stitch but I want to bake. My son gets up late, eats his breakfast just before I’m about to eat my lunch and half way through the afternoon says he’s hungry. He looks in the cupboard and spots a giant tub of Haribos which I’ve bought in for Trick or Treaters. He nags and pleads me to open the tub so he can have one. I know that if he has one there will be none left for Hallowe’en. He tries to run off with the tub but I grab it off him. He then spots my Mint Oreo cookies. In my present mood, I cave in and let him have a couple to test out. I now have to bake something with it, or he will eat the rest of the packet when I’m not looking.
Brownies are a massive favourite of mine and it would take iron willpower not to eat one. I knew it would be hard not to resist them, especially as I was bored and fed up. But I kept telling myself I’ve lost nearly a stone since I came back from my holiday in Canada last July and half a stone on Slimming World. I just have to keep focussing on fitting into clothes that haven’t fitted me for years. This has been my goal as my favourite red dress fits me again, although it is a bit tight.
MINT OREO COOKIE BROWNIES
275g softened butter
375g light brown soft sugar
4 large, free range eggs
75g cocoa powder
100g self raising flour
1 tsp natural peppermint extract
100g coarsly crushed Mint Oreo Cookies
Grease and line a 30 x 23cm traybake tin with butter and with baking parchment. Preheat your oven to 1800C/ 160oC fan or Gas Mark 4.
Measure all the ingredients except for the cookies out into a large bowl and beat together until the mixture is evenly blended. Fold in half the crushed cookies.
Spoon the mixture into the tin, making sure it is evenly spread and level. Sprinkle the remaining crushed cookies on top of the brownies.
Bake in the centre of the oven for about 40-45 minutes or until your brownies begin to get a crusty top.
Leave the brownies to cool down in the tin then cut into pieces. I usually cut brownies into 12 pieces if they are for a dessert or 24 for a cakey treat.
When the brownies had baked my kitchen smelled heavenly. I didn’t try one but Mr SmartCookieSam and my son said they tasted gorgeous. Another one to try in the future.
Last week my Dad and step mum gave me a bag of beautiful looking apples from the tree in their garden. I was delighted with them as the apples on my own tree in my front garden aren’t quire ready yet. The apples are a bit small and hard at the moment. To top all that, Mr SmartCookieSam had to prune the tree a couple of weeks back as our greedy and nosy Labrador worked out a way that he could shake the tree to make apples fall down. He had a great time doing this until he ended up hurting his tail after jumping up at the tree! I’ll have to see if they are worth using in a couple of weeks time.
Every year I think about what I could bake with the apples and I get fed up of the same things. Of course crumbles and pies work well and I did make a few different apple cakes. But sometimes you just want to try something different. I gor out my recipe books and looked for all the apple recipes I could find.
One simple but delicious recipe is one I’ve baked before but never actually made it at home. In my previous post about Cheesy Feet I mentioned about working in a school and running a Cookery Club. This was a big success and wherever possible we tried to use fruit and veg that was grown in the school garden. We did have an apple tree which on one year only produced two apples. So we made a big thing of using the two apples in a yummy apple scone round.
The original apple scone round recipe comes from the very first Great British Bake Off recipe book published back in 2010 to accompany the first series: The Great British Book Of Baking.
It’s a great recipe and I found it perfect for baking with children.
I love the beautiful rosy colour of the apples my Dad and step mum gave me from their tree.
Two apples chopped up and ready.
First, you need to peel, chop and core some apple. I used two medium sized ones. I put the chopped apple to one side in a bowl but worked quickly so that the apple didn’t start to turn brown. Then in another bowl I rubbed in butter, self raising flour, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon to create a breadcrumb texture. Then some demarera sugar was added to sweeten the mixture. When this was done I added a little bit of whole milk bit by bit until it formed a manageable ball of dough.
On a large baking sheet covered in baking parchment, I put the dough but flattened it out gently until it was about 20cm in diameter. I then got a knife and divided the scone into 8 by scoring the lines on the top of the dough. Into the oven it went for about 20 minutes.
To get the best out of the flavour and taste, as with all scones it is best to eat them warm and fresh. As I’d baked the scone round on a late Saturday afternoon and was going out for dinner, we didn’t eat any til the following day. It was ok but probably should have been eaten straightaway. A great serving suggestion popular round my way is to serve it with a slice of cheese: something like Cheddar or Wensleydale would work well. Failing that, it would also be delicious with a good dollop of clotted cream on the side.
I’m so excited that The Great British Bake Off is back. What do you think of it so far? In the first couple of episodes I spend most of the time getting confused as you begin to find out who’s who. I get muddled up with what each contestant bakes to begin with but after this week’s programme I felt ravenous. I’d already had my dinner but all I could think about was eating a great big piece of drizzle cake, followed by some Jaffa cakes and finished off with a slice of a mirrored chocolate cake! Much too tempting and as someone who really struggles with dieting, it’s going to be hard not to succumb!
Anyway, Bake Off mania started the day before the first episode came out in SmartCookieSam’s house. My copy of the brand new Bake Off book arrived. The book to accompany this series is called Perfect Cakes and Bakes to Make At Home. I wasn’t disappointed and this year the book wasn’t too heavily bread and yeast bakes biased as last year’s one was. I was impressed with the layout and the introduction featuring all the bakers too. The recipes in this year’s book are also ones which I can see myself baking so I think I’ll be having a go at a few over the next few weeks- watch this space!
It didn’t take me long to plan out what my first bake from the book would be. Week 1’s Technical Bake was for Jaffa Cakes. Not only that but it was the theme for this week’s #GBBOTwitterBakelalong. This was perfect as they’re my son’s favourites as well. He has always loved Jaffa Cakes and once came home from school at Christmas with one of those giant metre long packets. His mate had bought him it as a Christmas present. We were allowed to have some but I think it was me who gave him the taste for them! When I was pregnant with him, I loved eating Jaffa cakes. Then again I had a craving for mushy peas when I was expecting my daughter and she hates them!
The thing is though, when you have a much loved shop bought biscuit or cake, you never know what a homemade version will turn out like. I never forget my one and only time trying to make chocolate teacakes and faffing about with making homemade marshmallow! I’ve never made them since, only bought Tunnocks instead! The same applies to Jaffa cakes, could I make them taste like McVities ones and would they be too much faff?
Last Saturday afternoon was typical August Bank Holiday weather. I’d done my cleaning and was about to go outside to start hoovering out my car. It’s in a terrible state as my dog sat on the back seat after a muddy walk and I’d forgotten to take a towel with me. But just as I was about to get the Hoover out, it started raining. Secretly I thought this was great as I could do some baking.
Baking the Jaffa Cakes didn’t take that long even though it was broken down into stages. Once the jelly was setting in the fridge I got on with the sponge bases. These are a fat less whisked sponge mixture, where you whisked sugar and eggs together for five minutes and then some self raising flour was folded in. To bake the sponges I used a shallow 12 hole tart or mince pie tin which was greased before with Wilton Cake Release. The sponges didn’t take much baking, only 9 minutes. I took them out when the sponges sprung back when I touched them.
After a few minutes the sponges were ready to come out of the tin. This is where I always panic as I didn’t want anything sticking. Thankfully apart from one cake which was a bit on the small side, they came out ok. By the way, the recipe says that there is more than enough mixture and when spooning it into the tin, you only need to fill it three quarters full! There was a bit left over but I wouldn’t have had enough chocolate to cover any extras.
I left the sponges to cool down but as it was a day when I was trying to catch up on everything I was desperate to get on with the next stage. I poked the jelly setting in the fridge and it seemed alright. So I thought I’d try and cut out the jelly circles. The recipe says you are meant to turn out the whole jelly rectangle onto a piece of baking paper and cut circles out of it. I was rushing so much that I realised the jelly wasn’t properly set and it slid out onto the baking paper in a massive orange blob! So there was one thing for it, I had to pile teaspoonfuls of orange jelly on top of the sponges, not neat little circles!
I then melted some dark chocolate and spooned it on top of the jelly blobbed sponges. Of course this wasn’t going to be a neat job with the mess I’d made with the jelly! The jelly began to move about as I spread the chocolate on. As for doing the criss-cross pattern on top of the Jaffa Cakes- forget it!
Would I bake the Jaffa Cakes again? They tasted wonderful and not as sweet as the shop bought ones. They were quite faffy to make though but I might try again when I’m not rushing things.
Over May half term week my family went on holiday to the Isle of Mull. It’s a place very special to me and to my hubby. We had loved trips to the island before we met, he watched the Isle of Mull Rally which takes place every October and I had been to Mull a couple of times before as a student on travels around the UK. So when we first started going out together about 18 years ago, we chose to spend a week on the Isle of Mull as our first holiday together. We always said we would go back and visit when the kids were older and that’s what we ended up doing.
We stayed in a very remote, midge infested, but beautiful part of the island near Lochbuie in the south. Our cottage overlooked a loch and was absolutely stunning. It was comfortable, immaculately clean and was definitely a home from home. The only thing that spoilt it was all the midges which swarmed round the front porch and somehow managed to get in through the bathroom and our bedroom window. I was covered in bites and one became infected when I came home. But apart from that we had a fantastic time, wandering around Tobermory, playing on the beaches at Calgary Bay and on Iona, exploring Duart Castle and eating of course!
Now whenever I have a UK holiday I love to try out the local baking delicacies. I don’t really think about sweet stuff when I go to Spain or something like that but in the UK it’s definitely about the cakes! There was one bake I couldn’t get enough of and that was the Empire Biscuit.
I’ve had Empire Biscuits before and I’m sure they used to sell them in my local Sainsbury’s years ago on the bakery counter. They are shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with jam and have glace icing spread on top with a cherry to finish. But they’re very popular in Scotland and according to Wikipedia you can also get them with Jelly Tots on.
On the ferry over to Mull I had the 4 o’clock munchies and we went up to the Coffee Bar on the top deck. I ended up buying a cup of tea and an Empire biscuit for myself. It was just what I needed and kept me going until we had dinner that evening. But throughout the week all I could think about were Empire Biscuits. We enjoyed some Selkirk Bannock which I bought from a local Spar shop but I wanted more Empires! On the last day of our holiday we were in Tobermory and I popped into the bakery on the High Street. They had some scrummy looking Empires for sale and they were massive! I bought four to take back to the cottage with us to have with a cup of tea and they were absolutely delicious. The shortbread was perfect, which melted in the mouth and the icing wasn’t too sweet and sickly. A perfect treat and ever since I’ve wanted to bake some Empires for myself.
Last Friday was my usual day off work and I had been really busy all day catching up on chores. I hadn’t baked anything for nearly three weeks, apart from a quiche for last Sunday lunch and I was having serious withdrawal symptoms. So I got Googling and found out all about Empire biscuits through Wikipedia. I decided to use my usual shortbread biscuit recipe but my biscuits would come out smaller as I couldn’t get in the garage to get my big circular cutters out. We had a workman putting a new back door on and it was chaos. So I used my small circular cutter I found in the kitchen drawer from last time I baked cookies.
My daughter, who is on study leave at the moment doing her GCSE’s came downstairs and asked what I was doing. She asked if she could roll out the dough and cut out the biscuits. I let her as she is a great baker. I just wish she would use a pallette knife to put the biscuits on the tray, not her hands! Grrr! Anyway, she rolled the biscuits out beautifully and we looked forward to them being ready to ice. The workman, as if on cue asked if I knew where the nearest cafe was for when he finished. He was probably hoping for a biscuit but they weren’t ready then.
The biscuits were left on the tray to cool while I went out to walk the dog. Then out came some seedless raspberry jam and the biscuits were sandwiched together.
When this was done, I made up a quick glace icing but in my usual rush I made it a bit too runny. It still spread ok and made the biscuits look presentable. Finally, for the finishing touch I added half a glace cherry to each one.
So the verdict? These biscuits were just absolutely divine. We all had one each, hubby and I had one sat outside in the sun with a cup of tea before I got on with the dinner and he said they were lovely. That’s a compliment from him! The rest got hidden away in a biscuit tin!
Now, if I ever realise my dream of owning a tearoom then Empire biscuits will definitely be on my menu!