My Favourite Brownie Recipe

I just love baking brownies and they’re one of the first things to go when I have a stall.  Not that I’ve done many stalls recently.  My family love my brownies and they’re always popular when I’ve taken them into schools where I teach in the past.  I still laugh my head off from the marriage proposal I got once from a man who bought a pack of my brownies from my stall.  He came back about half an hour later having eaten the brownies, bought another pack and asked if he could marry me!  Sorry, but I’m already taken!

Anyway, it’s always fun baking brownies and I bake loads of different versions.  My most popular varieties are the plain ones, my Maya Gold ones and the Oreo cookie ones.  I experimented with using Green and Blacks Maya Gold chocolate in them a couple of years back and loved the taste.  I now have a baby niece called Maya so one day maybe I can teach Maya to bake them!  The Oreo cookie ones are so naughty but nice as well, though.

SmartCookieSam’s Favourite Brownies

100g  good quality chocolate of your choice

150g unsalted butter

125g plain flour

15g cocoa powder

300g soft light brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pinch of salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 large, free range eggs

100g chopped nuts/ chocolate chips/ dried fruit, Oreo cookie pieces/ Smarties or similar.

This recipe is so adaptable.  For instance if you want to have mint brownies, use a good quality bar of mint chocolate.  I recommend Lindt Intense or one similar where the mint flavour comes from crispy bits, not fondant like an After Eight Mint.  Instead of vanilla extract, use a good quality peppermint extract. Just remember to keep the quantities the same.  Let your imagination run wild!

Preheat the oven to 180oC/ 350oF/ Gas 4.  Grease and line the base of a loose bottom square baking tin (mine is about 8″ square). I swear by Wilton Cake Release available from Lakeland to help here!

Break up the chocolate into squares and add the butter in cubes. Melt the butter and chocolate over a saucepan of barely simmering water or if you prefer use the microwave.  I must admit I use the microwave. I put the chocolate to melt for 1 minute, then take it out, stir it and put it back in for 10 second intervals. Works for me.

Allow the chocolate to cool slightly and then sieve the cocoa powder, plain flour, baking powder and salt into another mixing bowl.

In yet another mixing bowl, beat the eggs and add the brown sugar in, along with the vanilla extract.  Stir the ingredients together but until they are just combined. Make sure there isn’t any flour visible.

Finally, fold in the melted chocolate along with any additional ingredients, such as Oreo cookies.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about 20 minutes.  Brownies should be chewy and gooey inside, so don’t overbake them.

Let the brownies cool in the tin before you cut them into squares.  I usually get 16 squares from a batch.  Now try to keep them from being scoffed all at once!

Happy Baking.

Love Sam xx

Hummingbird Cake- Mary Berry Everyday.

As soon as I saw Mary Berry’s new book Everyday I had to bake the Hummingbird Cake recipe from the book. A while back I’d made some Hummingbird Cupcakes which had been very popular with everyone who tasted one.  So I was keen to test out a big cake version of this “Southern US classic which takes banana cake up a notch,” according to Mary’s recipe introduction.  Mary also states that “It makes for a moist, substantial cake, beautifully offset by the tangy cream cheese icing,”

Baking the Hummingbird cake would also be a great way of testing out some Sugar and Crumbs Banana Split icing sugar I had got in my baking cupboard. I had bought it before Christmas and wanted to use it in something but not had the chance. As banana is one of the key flavours in a Hummingbird Cake, along with pineapple, this banana flavour would be a perfect additional dimension to the cream cheese icing.

Into a large mixing bowl went all the dry ingredients. Self raising flour, baking powder, cinnamon, caster sugar all went in as well as some chopped walnuts.  I mixed them all up together and then put them to one side to prepare the rest of the cake.

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In another bowl I mashed up two large, ripe bananas. These were then added to another mixing bowl along with some drained and chopped pineapple chunks, two beaten eggs, a spoonful of vanilla extract and some sunflower oil.

Both bowls were combined together and dry mixture was folded in carefully.  The mixture reminded me of a muffin batter.  This was then divided between 2 greased 20cm/ or 8″ diameter circular tins.  The cake baked for about 25 minutes in my fan oven. When it came out it had risen beautifully and smelled fabulous. I went off to put some laundry away and to do some hoovering.  By the time I’d finished that job it was time to take the cakes out of the tin and put them on a wire rack to cool down.

The Hummingbird cake does not need much decoration.  It’s all in the taste of the cake.  In the illustraion Mary uses a cream cheese frosting for the filling and the top of the cake. I wanted to add a little bit more yet I didn’t want to overdo things.  In the end I chopped up some more walnuts and sprinkled them on top to finish off.

The cream cheese frosting is made with softened butter, full fat cream cheese, vanilla extract and icing sugar. As mentioned before I substituted the plain icing sugar for the Sugar and Crumbs’ Banana Split icing sugar. I left out the vanilla extract.  This gave the cream cheese mixture a delicate banana flavouring. It was wonderfully creamy and so easy to spread on the cake.

As the icing contained cream cheese I chose to put the cake in the fridge to keep and this helped enormously.

A huge hit with everyone but the worst thing was that I kept craving more. I longed to have another slice and having the cake in the house tested my weakening willpower to breaking point.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

Welsh Cakes/ Pices Ar Y Maen- The Great British Bake Off Big Book Of Baking.

Who else is excited by the return of The Great British Bake Off?  Me, me, me!  Though I’m the only one in our house who watches it.  My husband nicknames it “The Great British XXXX Off” but who cares?  I love it and enjoy baking recipes from the accompanying book.  Series 5 this year is no exception and I was pleased to get my hands on a copy of The Great British Bake Off Big Book Of Baking!

There are lots of interesting and innovative recipes in the book but sadly some recipes are repeated from the very first book The Great British Book Of Baking.  To those who have just got into the series this is fine but for me who has followed GBBO from the very beginning you do feel a little bit cheated.

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So excited to get back from my holiday to find this book waiting for me when I got home!

One such recipe was the one for Welsh Cakes.  I have previously blogged about Welsh Cakes as I adore them in a post about Welsh Baking on our holiday in Ceredigion last year.  To me, they are utterly addictive and the rest of my family feel the same.  I first tried them when I was a student in Bangor back in the early 1990s and have loved Welsh Cakes ever since.

So as it was my daughter’s GCSE results day I wanted to make Welsh Cakes for breakfast as a special treat.  They were simple to make: cubes of butter rubbed into sugar and plain flour with a hint of mixed spice added for flavour.  Currants or raisins are then added along with an egg yolk and milk to turn them into a dough.

After the dough is made you roll out the dough on a floured work surface and cut out circles with a fluted cutter.  Then, when you are ready you cook them on a griddle or flat frying pan. You usually cook them for about 2 minutes or so each side so they are golden brown.  The Welsh cakes puff up a little when they are cooked.

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Here are four of the Welsh cakes in my flat griddle frying pan. You don’t need to grease the pan.

As soon as my kids realised I was making Welsh Cakes they flew downstairs.  I couldn’t cook them fast enough, it’s like Pancake Day in our house.  They definitely are addictive! I got about 18 cakes out of the dough and when I got ready with the camera I found they had disappeared!

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That’s all that was left for me,slightly burnt too as hubby was asking me something at the time I was cooking them!

Happy Baking!  Or should I say Pobi Hapus?

Love Sam xx

Chocolate Amaretto Cake from The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook

Last Monday was the Harrogate Clandestine Cake Club event which was held at The Mitre Inn in Knaresborough.  I had chosen the theme of Boozy Cakes as we were going to be in a pub in the middle of Knaresborough next to the station.  This, funnily enough didn’t bode well with my Sober For October challenge with Macmillan though.  Having said that, there was only two tablespoons of alcohol in the whole of my cake.

I had had a very busy weekend, the Saturday was spent in Liverpool with my Mum and my daughter and my mum was with us the whole weekend.  By the time I got to Sunday night I was feeling dreadful.  I had started off with a sore throat that morning and it had developed into a tickly, niggly cough.  I thought, that was all I needed with a busy week at work and cake club the following day as well as two other nights out!

So, by the time I got round to baking my offering it was about two o’clock on the Monday afternoon, four hours before it was going to be served at the Cake Club. After a lot of chopping and changing I eventually chose to bake a cake that I had really enjoyed eating a slice of at a previous Clandestine Cake Club event where Lynn Hill (The Clandestine Cake Club’s founder) had baked the cake. It is the Dark Chocolate and Amaretto Cake which is featured in The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook.  Mine turned out totally different to the way Lynn had made it and how it looked like in the book.  I was in a right old rush as I made the cake!

Here’s what happened:

First I melted some butter and put it aside.
First I melted some butter and put it aside.  Putting it aside meant I clean forgot about it! More of that later!
In a large bowl I put in flour, baking powder and ground almonds.
In a large bowl I put in flour, baking powder and ground almonds.
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Mixing baking powder with vanilla extract.

Carmela Hayes’ recipe in the Clandestine Cake Club cookbook calls for “pane degli angeli” which is a special Italian vanilla flavoured raising agent.  If you are unable to get hold of this, you can substitute 1 teaspoon of baking powder mixed in with vanilla extract instead.  I had to do this as I didn’t have chance to look for the pane degli angeli anywhere.

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A whole packet of these delicious Amaretti biscuits were crushed in my food processor.
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Everything is combined together, even the chocolate (which was Green and Blacks 70% cocoa solids)

I got to this stage and thought, this mixture is a bit stiff!  Is it meant to be like that?  It seemed to stick to the wooden spoon and I tried my hardest to tip it into my greased cake tin and spread it evenly.  Never mind, I thought. Let’s hope it’s ok once it’s in the oven.  Off it popped into the oven.  It was then when I saw it!  The bowl of melted butter was still on the side by the microwave!  I’d completely forgotten about it!  I quickly whipped the cake out of the oven, tipped the mixture back into a clean mixing bowl with the melted butter and stirred it in.  I then re-greased the tin as fast as I could and popped the cake back into the oven, while saying a huge prayer.

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The finished Dark Chocolate Amaretto Cake.

When the cake came out of the oven about an hour later it didn’t look very appealing.  The chocolate had melted in to the mixture instead of staying in chunks as it had on the picture.  I had also forgotten to switch my timer on and didn’t note the time it went in the oven as I was rushing.  I just did it on guesswork with a large skewer! To be honest I wasn’t impressed with my effort and I really felt disappointed in myself that I didn’t take more care.  I had no time to make another cake as I had to walk our dog and prepare some dinner for my family before I went out to Cake Club.

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The cake cut up at the Cake Club event.

At Cake Club I took a small piece and so did everyone else. As I cut into the cake it began to crumble whereas the other two cakes there cut perfectly. I was really embarrassed and even though it wasn’t being judged and it isn’t a competition I felt ashamed of it.  The other members still ate it out of kindness though!  I felt the cake was a little bit dry but it had a lovely crunchy effect.  I will definitely make it again when I have more time so I can get the recipe right!  Serves me right for rushing.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Honey and Courgette Loaf- The Great British Bake Off Everyday

As mentioned in my previous post, I had to reluctantly cancel going on a family picnic last Friday due to a stinking cold. I just wanted to stay at home and vegetate!  I had managed to bake the three things I wanted to take as my contribution to the picnic before finally admitting I was just too ill to go.

I wanted to try out the Honey and Courgette Loaf from the new Great British Bake Off Book- The Great British Bake Off Everyday.  I knew my kids wouldn’t eat courgettes if they were served up on a plate sliced up as part of a meal but I was sure they would eat them grated up within a cake made with honey and chocolate chips!

This recipe was very simple to make and ideal for a picnic or an afternoon tea. It’s a wonderfully moist cake and didn’t need any accompaniment to it.

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Whole, blanched hazelnuts are chopped into small pieces in the food processor.
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Runny honey, sunflower oil, eggs and light brown muscovado sugar are put into a bowl and mixed together carefully.
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A medium sized courgette was prepared for the cake by washing it, topping and tailing it and then grating it into a small bowl.
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In another bowl wholemeal flour, baking powder, and mixed spice were weighed out.
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All the ingredients were combined gently with the addition of a packet of dark chocolate chips as well as the courgette and the chopped hazelnuts.
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The chocolate chips get added last of all!
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When making loaf cakes I always like to use loaf tin liners bought from Lakeland. They save me greasing and lining the tin with parchment.
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The loaf cake was baked in the oven for about 45 minutes.
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After about 10 minutes cooling down in the loaf tin, I then removed the cake from the tin and left it in the wrapper until it was completely cool. I warmed through a tablespoon of runny honey to drizzle over the top of the cake.
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The loaf cake sliced beautifully into several slices. They freeze well, although in my house some cakes don’t even get into a cake tin!

Although I didn’t get to go on the picnic with feeling ill, my mum asked if the cake would freeze as she would like to try some.  I told her it would and that we would save some for her.  Unfortunately for my mum, the cake got scoffed over the weekend.  Once my kids realised there was a cake with chocolate chips and honey in it, it vanished.  I lied about the courgettes though as I’m the only one who eats them in our house. Purely psychological as they happily munched the cake not knowing about the courgettes. I can’t convince them to eat them in savoury meals though!

I’m definitely going to bake the Honey and Courgette Loaf again and again.  It had a delicious taste to it and I have promised some to my mum.  It was a real treat.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Paul’s English Muffins , The Technical Bake From The Great British Bake Off Series 4

I was really excited to be watching episode 2 of The Great British Bake Off.  We’re beginning to get to know the faces of the contestants of this new series and what they are capable of.  As Week 2 was bread week and one area of baking I really struggle with, I was glued to the TV to see if I could pick up any tips or advice.  The breadsticks looked amazing and my mouth was watering at the thought of a pile of breadsticks washed down with a large glass of red wine. I had to make do with a cup of tea and I had already had my dinner.   I was totally gobsmacked by the over-the-top bakes of the showstopper bread.  It seems as if they are doing really taxing things this year and upping their game. I’m sorry to say this but I wasn’t impressed by the Octopus football bread . However I was amazed by all Kimberley’s bakes and was very surprised when she wasn’t made Star Baker.  Ruby though did extremely well and I was pleased to see her being recognised for all her efforts.  It was sad to see Lucy go, though. I thought she could have got further in the competition.

So, the technical bake for this week was English Muffins. As it was a bread bake it would be one of Paul Hollywood’s recipes.  I had to explain this to my children that I meant the sort of muffins you had at McDonalds with bacon and egg for breakfast, not ones with chocolate chips in!  I for one love English Muffins and my favourite dish on the menu at Betty’s in Harrogate is their delicious Eggs Benedict. So, I thought I would try it out on Saturday to see how I got on.  I was dreading it.

So on Saturday morning, my hubby was out working and the kids were still in bed (well they are teenagers!) I decided to get on with it so we could have the Eggs Benedict for lunch.  I always make a mess of Hollandaise sauce though, so I cheated and bought a jar of it from Tesco. I wish I hadn’t though, the list of additives on the label was shocking!  It was a Finest one but even that had glucose-fructose syrup in it? Why?  Totally not necessary but because I’d ordered it as part of an online shop I hadn’t checked the ingredients list first, yuck!

Strong white bread flour, yeast and salt are put into a large mixing bowl.
Strong white bread flour, yeast and salt are put into a large mixing bowl.
Sugar, small pieces of butter, a beaten egg and some mlik at room temperature are added to the bowl.
Sugar, small pieces of butter, a beaten egg and some mlik at room temperature are added to the bowl.
The dough is mixed together by working it with your hand.
The dough is mixed together by working it with your hand.
The dough is made into a big ball and kneaded for about 10 minutes.
The dough is made into a big ball and kneaded for about 10 minutes.
After kneading the dough is put in an oiled bowl, covered in cling film and left to rise on the worktop.
After kneading the dough is put in an oiled bowl, covered in cling film and left to rise on the worktop.

At this stage I thought I would get the kettle on and make myself a cuppa.  It was great to sit down for 5 minutes before the kids surfaced.  I didn’t get much time for sitting down as there was washing to hang out and some  ironing to get on with.  Why is it that on a day when I try out a Technical Bake, it ends up being a day where you have loads to do?

After about 1 1/2 hours the muffin dough was doubled in size.
After about 1 1/2 hours the muffin dough was doubled in size.
The dough is rolled out to a 1.5cm thickness and left on the worktop to relax for 1/4 hour.
The dough is rolled out to a 1.5cm thickness and left on the worktop to relax for 1/4 hour.
Some semolina was tipped onto a baking sheet and the muffins were dipped in this.
Some semolina was tipped onto a baking sheet and the muffins were dipped in this.

At this stage my hubby got in from work. He had been out to get a few jobs done that he needed to catch up with and came in absolutely starving.   I said if he wanted the dinner a bit quicker he could poach the eggs for me while I did the muffins.  He agreed to this thankfully as his poached eggs are sublime! This is the bit where I wanted it all to go right as when you make something for the first time, especially when you are making it for your family, you want it to go right.

The muffins are cooked in a griddle pan for about 6 or so minutes.
The muffins are cooked in a griddle pan for about 6 or so minutes.
Cooking the muffins on the other side.
Cooking the muffins on the other side.
Eight Muffins all ready to be split in half, toasted and eaten.
Eight Muffins all ready to be split in half, toasted and eaten.]

Fortunately, the muffins turned out really well. I’m not sure if they would be Great British Bake Off standard but I was pleased with them. If my family eat the lot, then that to me speaks volumes!

Two halves of a muffin to make one of my all time favourite meals- Eggs Benedict!
Two halves of a muffin to make one of my all time favourite meals- Eggs Benedict!

This is a Technical Bake I would definitely try again for a winter Sunday teatime if I have enough time to make them.

If you bake English Muffins, it would be great to know how you get on with them.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx