Florentines- The Great British Bake Off Christmas.

Friday 22nd December 2017.

Yet another new favourite from The Great British Bake Off Christmas book.  I love Florentines but have only ever made them once before.  They’re another perfect treat to make for foodie gifts at Christmas as well as handy for having around for visitors who don’t like mince pies!  I don’t know why I’ve only made them once before, maybe because if I did make them more often they wouldn’t even get to the serving plate or into the box!

The last and only time I made Florentines was about 3 years ago.  That year my mum, auntie, cousin and his wife came up to stay in a nearby holiday cottage in Yorkshire.  They came over to our house on Boxing Day but before we had lunch and went home to open the presents, we went out to the pub.  Normally I don’t leave anything food related under the Christmas tree  because our greedy Labrador would have the lot. Anyway I made the mistake of putting all the presents out under the tree for when we got back. I though I had shut the door into the lounge but obviously not. We left our dog at home for about an hour but when we came back we noticed that he had eaten half the Florentines and ripped open the cardboard gift box they were in.  It was a wonder he wasn’t ill, what with all the chocolate and glace cherries on them.  So my mum, auntie, cousin and his wife ended up sharing what was left of the Florentines between them! They didn’t look that marvellous anyway, quite rustic looking but I heard they tasted lovely.

This time I was planning on Florentines but this time I would bake them for my three step-sisters and their families.  I definitely wouldn’t be putting them under the tree!  I’d keep them up on the work top in my utility room with the door firmly closed.

The recipe introduction to the Florentines says: “These sticky little sweet treats are half biscuit and half chewy caramel goodness. They have become a classic at Christmas, probably thanks to the candied peel and glace cherries that are so beloved at this time of year,”

The recipe said it made 16-18 biscuits so I prepared two baking trays with lining paper.  I know that Florentines spread out quite a lot when they are in the oven so you need to leave plenty of space between each biscuit.  I wondered whether to set out a third baking tray just in case.

First, I melted butter and sugar in a small pan on the hob. When this was melted and turned into a paste, I stirred in plain flour and double cream.  This was kept on the heat until smooth and the sugar had dissolved.

After this I folded in flaked toasted almonds, candied peel, dried cranberries and glace cherries.  I love all the different jewel like colours in Florentines which does add to their seasonal prettiness.

When it was time to bake them I put teaspoonfuls  of the mixture spaced well apart on the two baking trays. They only just fitted on two trays.  Both trays went into the oven at the same time and baked for about 10 minutes.

A word of warning! Do not move the Florentines onto a cooling rack until you have given them time to cool first and harden up a bit on the baking tray.  Like with any cookies, if you move them before you need to, they will break!  That happened to two of mine so I left the rest for about half an hour and then moved them with a pallette knife.

To decorate the Florentines I chose to melt two different types of chocolate. I melted a pot of white chocolate and the other dark chocolate.  I turned each Florentine over so that the flat bases were uppermost and spread either the white or the dark chocolate on the top of it with my small pallette knife.  I then left them to set before putting them into gift bags, alternating white chocolate ones with dark chocolate ones.

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- Beef and Beer Pie.

Friday 15th December 2017.

In the run up to Christmas my head was all over the place and I was so disorganised.  I was trying to be organised but it just didn’t happen.  I planned to cook a steak and ale pie for Mr SmartCookieSam,  our son and I but I completely forgot to switch on the slow cooker.  And I was feeling pretty smug as I put the meat into the slow cooker thinking here goes, we’ll have a delicious pie filling!  No way! I wondered why I’d got to 5pm and realised the cooker was stone cold and the meat inside was raw! It serves me right.  So we ended up with a takeaway that night and the beef filling went in the fridge overnight.

Instead of putting the filling into a casserole dish and cooking it in the oven I usually find my slow cooker does it for me when I’m out leaving the meat deliciously tender.  This I did on Saturday morning, keeping the meat on the low setting throughout the day as I was going around doing all my chores.  I put browned braising steak, a chopped onion, bacon lardons, some ale, some beef stock, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, rosemary, button mushrooms and a bay leaf into the slow cooker and left it to do all the work.

Just before the pie was ready to go into the oven I transferred the meat to a pie dish and then made a shortcrust pastry lid for our meat pie.  The recipe in The Great British Bake Off Christmas book also has a shortcrust pastry lid but uses beef suet in the ingredients.  I hadn’t got any so I had to make my pastry with all butter and plain flour.  It didn’t change the taste or the effect though.  I decorated the top of the pie with leftover cut out pastry stars and then brushed the pie top with some beaten egg. It was baked in the oven for about 45 minutes until the top was golden and the filling was piping hot.

On Saturday we became a family of four again as my daughter came back from uni for the Chrismas holidays. We had a perfect first night back dinner as she loves steak and ale pie. I served it with some mashed potato, carrots and cabbage, along with a jug of extra gravy.  It was so delicious there were clean plates all round!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Tunis Cake

Friday 15th December 2017.

I must admit I hadn’t a clue what the origin of a Tunis Cake was.  Mary Berry had made one on one of her and Paul Hollywood’s original Great British Bake Off Masterclass programmes from a couple of years back.  I remember having a go at making one myself after seeing the pretty impressive chocolate topped almond  and lemon sponge which was finished off with marzipan holly leaves and berries.

The definition of a Tunis cake according to Wikipedia is that it’s “a madeira cake topped with a thick layer of chocolate and decorated with marzipan fruits,”  The origin of the cake dates back to Edwardian times.

I had been at work in the morning and was back home just after lunch time to get jobs done.  Not much had got done this week at home and don’t even ask about the Christmas shopping. But baking would relax me and I fancied baking a cake for my daughter coming home from uni the next day!

When I had my last go at baking the Tunis Cake I used the wrong size tin and therefore the cake was wider and shallower than it was meant to be.  Also, the icing didn’t look as neat as it should be.  Didn’t spoil the taste though!  Traditionally, the decorations are marzipan but I used sugar paste both times.  I needed to save the marzipan for our Christmas Cake!

First of all I started to bake the Madeira Sponge.  I love madeira sponges and this one is full of flavour from ground almonds and grated lemon zest.  All the ingredients were weighed out and mixed together in an all in one method.  The mixture was then put in the greased and lined deep cake tin.  While this was baking I made myself a well needed cup of tea and did the washing up!

The topping for the Tunis Cake is a very deep chocolate ganache.  I heated double cream in a small pan on the hob, then once it was starting to boil I took it off the heat and stirred in the chocolate pieces until they melted.  The ganache was left to cool a little and then poured on top of the cake still in the tin.  It was left in the tin until the chocolate was set. I was worried that the cake wouldn’t come out of the tin properly but it did.

The holly leaves were made simply by using ready made and coloured sugar paste.  I had a holly cutter and put the veins on the leaves using  a mini roller. I also rolled mini red balls for the berries.

Before the cake completely set, I arranged the holly leaves in a wreath pattern around the edge of the cake.  I didn’t dare eat a piece there and then but by the following lunchtime I caved in and ate a piece instead of eating a healthy lunch.  Too much temptation. Over the next few days the cake got eaten.  It’s definitely one you would have as an alternative to Christmas Cake or pudding if you’re not a great dried fruit lover.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

 The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Peanut Butter, Popcorn and Chocolate Fudge Torte.

Monday December 11th 2017.

Gosh, this seems like a long time ago now but the last two weeks before Christmas were so busy.  I didn’t have time to get updated with my blogging.  Anyway, here we are just after Christmas and I’m sat on the sofa typing this feeling like a beached whale.  I haven’t stuffed myself silly full of Celebrations and mince pies but I’ve not eaten well all through December.  Roll on the New Year!  Though when I go along to one of my Clandestine Cake Club events I don’t feel guilty about eating and enjoying cakes.  

The aforementioned Clandestine Cake Club recently celebrated its seventh birthday at a special event in Leeds.  The event was held in the restaurant on the top floor in the new John Lewis store.  I always like going to cake club events there because of the car park next door so that I haven’t got to cart my cake too far through the city centre.  This time, though was funny as I had my cake in a clear plastic container so various people were looking at me walking through the store carrying a cake.  I was so worried I was going to trip up on the escalator!

The cake I chose to bake was yet another recipe from The Great British Bake Off Christmas recipe book which was one of John Whaite’s own creations.  John won series three back in 2012 and his Peanut Butter, Popcorn and Chocolate Fudge Torte sounded absolutely mouthwatering.  The recipe introduction says: “Christmas is undoubtedly a time of indulgence or rather overindulgence (you’re telling me!) This torte is not only a feast for the stomach with its layers of soft cake, sweet mousse and decadent fudge but because of those defined layers, also a feast for the eyes; perfect for a Christmas Eve treat,”  We tend to go out for dinner on Christmas Eve but usually there isn’t cake involved, we’re far too full up!

 Although there was a lovely photo of John himself in the book posing with what looked like a peanut butter cake, there wasn’t a photo of the whole cake.  I had to guess from the recipe instructions to see how it would turn out like. 

So, on with the actual baking.  Mr SmartCookieSam had gone off to work and my son had left for college, it was just me and the animals.  My dog sloped off to have a snooze in his bed and I put the radio on to listen along while I was baking. I felt really happy and content as I got out my ingredients and the cake tin needed for the recipe.

The main part of the cake is a chocolate genoise.  I am not that familiar with baking genoise cakes but I know that they involce whisking eggs and then sugar together to get the air into the cake,  I did whisk for the full five minutes as the recipe asked me to do, even looking at the clock to check.

After the eggs and sugar had been whisked together I sifted in some plain flour and some cocoa powder along with some melted butter. I’m glad I remembered about the melted butter.  Last time a recipe asked for melted butter I melted it in the microwave and then forgot about it.  It wasn’t until the cake was in the oven baking that I realised I’d forgotten to add the butter! Eeeek!!

The cake mixture was then poured into a springform cake tin and put in the oven for 25 minutes to bake.  I then took it out of the oven and let it cool down on a wire rack until it was completely cold.

Meanwhile, I got the filling for the cake ready.  This was where all the calorific and indulgent ingredients came out.  I started with blitzing some Butterkist Toffee Popcorn in my blender until they became like coarse sand. I then added in double cream until it started to thicken up slightly.  After this, in went some smooth peanut butter, some condensed milk and some mascarpone cheese.  How does this taste sooo good?  Once this was mixed again so it was thickened up but not so much that it couldn’t be spread with a pallette knife. It was then put aside in a bowl and left until the cake was ready to be iced.  

The topping was a chocolate fudge affair and was made with even more condensed milk, more peanut butter, more double cream and some dark chocolate.  I can’t remember what sort of dark chocolate I used, probably what was on special offer in Morrisons that week.  

Now this is where I’d fail miserably if this had been a Bake Off Technical challenge.  I didn’t read the recipe properly and missed out the step where I was meant to put the cake back into the tin once I’d cut it in half horizontally, filled it and then added the fudge topping when it was in the tin.  I didn’t do that.  I took the cake out of the tin and then put it onto a cake board to decorate.  When I’d decorated it, it went into the fridge to set but not in the tin.  It did make the finish of the cake a bit messier.

When the cake was setting in the fridge for an hour, it was lunchtime by this stage.  I sat down and had some soup while the remaining toffee popcorn had been put into a pan with some brown sugar to caramelise.  It took about 10 minutes to do this and then I let them cool down completely before putting them on the top of the cake.  To finish I found some champagne bottle candles left over from a birthday cake and stuck them on the top of the cake.  

The cake was very big and rich so a small slice was all that was needed.  It seemed to go down well, along with the other cakes at the event.  I went home with one of my sugar rush headaches feeling that I could never eat another cake again.  This was very short lived as the following day I was out having Afternoon Tea with my friends!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Coconut Traybake.

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Coconut and Marshmallow Traybake.

 I’ve been testing a few recipes out of a favourite book of mine this month: The Great British Bake Off Christmas.  There’s been loads of different things to choose from and we’re not just limited to cakes and biscuits here.   I was tempted to have a go at Cathryn Dresser’s own recipe featured in the book, her Snowy White Coconut Traybake. Cathryn was one of the contestants on the Bake Off from the third series in 2012. I liked her and who can forget her catchphrase “Oh my giddy aunt?” Her coconut traybake is bound to be a big hit with young and old alike as you can add optional marshmallow snowmen to the top of the cake. I didn’t do this as I didn’t have any marshmallows in.  I had completely forgotten to blog about this bake as things became so hectic in the run up to Christmas.

Sunday 9th December 2017.

After dropping my son off at work and catching up on the ironing, I fancied some baking. Anything with coconut in goes down really well with me and I had the perfect excuse to use some Sugar and Crumbs Marshmallow Natural Flavoured Icing Sugar in the frosting. I thought coconut and marshmallow would work really well together. As stated in the introduction “this sweet, simple cake is a delicious treat to enjoy with your visitors during the festive season,”  Or a great recipe to try out with children as it’s so easy and fun to bake.

After preheating my oven to 170oC (fan oven) I weighed out all my ingredients and greased my traybake tin.  Butter and sugar were creamed together with my electric whisk.  After that I mixed together some sour cream, buttermilk and eggs in another bowl.  Finally, these were combined, along with some desiccated coconut.  I could have added some ground cardamom pods to the mixture but I didn’t have any.  

Once all added together I poured the mixture into the prepared tin and baked it in the oven for about 25-30 minutes.  As usual I got distracted and ended up forgetting to put the oven timer on. I went off upstairs to put some washing away and forgot I’d put the cake in the oven.  It wasn’t until I smelled coconut coming from the kitchen that I remembered! Luckily I got the cake out in time.  Aftter another half an hour or so it was ready to be flipped out of the tin. Thankfully I had no problems with that coming out and falling to bits.

The frosting or icing for the top of the traybake was a combination of butter, icing sugar and soured cream.  As I said before, I was keen to try out one of Sugar and Crumbs’ new winter flavours which was a Marshmallow one.  The ingredients were simply added together in one bowl and then spread on top of the cooled cake.  My final flourish was to sprinkle some snow themed sprinkles on top of the cake.  I thought I had some snowflake themed ones but I found some pale blue, white and lilac hundreds and thousands to decorate instead.  I could have used some more dessicated coconut and/ or some edible glitter but the other choice worked well.  

To decorate the top I found some winter themed hundreds and thousands.

I’m definitely going to add this to my baking list for next year at Christmas.  Though the coconut bake being reminiscent of snow could be linked to Christmas and winter, I think that you could bake it all year round.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Seedy Flatbread Crackers.

Sunday 10th December 2017.

Mr SmartCookieSam loves cheese and biscuits. He loves a plate of cheese and crackers washed down with a glass of wine more than a piece of cake or some chocolate. Normally I’d buy in a couple of packets of cream crackers or oatcakes to put in the tin for whenever he fancies some cheese.

But looking through The Great British Bake Off Christmas book which I’m baking a lot from this month, I noticed a recipe for some crackers. I don’t really bake savoury biscuits that often but I was keen to have a go. After all, it might stop me stuffing my face too!

On Sunday afternoon I just didn’t fancy going out. It had started snowing (not settling though) but was still freezing. The fire had been lit in the lounge and Mr SmartCookieSam was on Dad’s taxi duty collecting our son from work and taking him over to a friend’s house. Me being the baking addict I am, started twitching and thinking right what can I bake now?

The seedy crackers contain polenta which luckily our local Morrisons had. It took me a while to find it, though. Was it going to be with the baking stuff? Or with the Italian food? Not with the flours in the baking aisle and the only polenta I could find was the ready made stuff along with the pesto sauce and the like. I almost gave up until I walked past where there were some lentils! Lo and behold, I could find some! Not only that but this recipe needed pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. There was a gap on the shelf where the pumpkin seeds were meant to be but in the end I bought a mixed bag of seeds to save buying three separate bags. I had some milled flaxseed left over from the other week when I baked a vegan banana loaf for a family get together.

The recipe introduction makes these delicious sounding flatbread crackers a perfect idea for presents wrapped up in a gift tin as they are “easy to make and keep exceptionally well,” The recipe also, to me sounds really adaptable as you can “experiment with different seeds, such as poppy, hemp and chia or you could try brown mustard seeds, cumin or coriander,” Not sure if I’d get that far, to be honest but I like poppy seeds.

All the seeds, polenta and flaxseeds were tipped into a large bowl and mixed up, along with some sea salt, some olive oil and some boiling water. I then stirred everything together so that it became a big dough.

On my work top I laid down two rectangular pieces of baking parchment. Half the dough went on each piece. Then, I cut two more identical sized pieces of baking parchment and put them on top of the mixture. Out came the rolling in and I rolled the dough, which was sandwiched between the baking parchment. This was to get the dough as flat as possible without it sticking to the rolling pin and the work top! When it was rolled flat, I trimmed the rectangle of dough neatly and then scored it into neat little rectangles. I ended up with two baking trays full of crispbreads.

My oven was set to 200oC and the crackers were baked for about 45 minutes until they came out crisp. They broke easily along the scored lines and were left to cool down on a wire rack. When Mr SmartCookieSam came back he wondered what they were. We still had a while to go until our dinner was ready and he ended up having a couple of crispy flatbreads with some Stilton cheese. He wasn’t that impressed with them, to be honest. I think he’s not a seed lover. He’ll eat cream crackers but he’s not keen on water biscuits or anything with “bits in” I couldn’t see my son eating them, either. Maybe if I experiment and keep out the big chunky seeds then he won’t notice. I wondered if I didn’t put enough salt in them, I suppose homemade crackers are a lot different to shop bought ones.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx