baking with marmalade :: 1

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I first made Nigella’s Store-cupboard Chocolate-orange Cake many years ago, and was a little disappointed by the results: it was too sweet, lacking the bitter kick I had expected from the marmalade. But, with several jars of ‘vintage’ marmalade to finish up, I decided the recipe was worth revisiting. And I’m so glad that I did. I think the mistake I made first time round was using a jar of cheap Golden Shred-type stuff from the corner shop.

This version, made with homemade Seville orange marmalade, is exactly what I was after: rich and chocolatey, with that distinctive bitter orange finish, and studded with soft chunks of peel. It smells fantastic as it cooks and it tastes delicious, especially when eaten warm. It’s quite a grown up cake and apart from Matilda the girls were not at all enthusiastic about it. But all the adult guinea pigs wolfed it down, which is why the only photos I have are rather dark ones from my phone.

IMG_2411I will certainly make this cake again, not least because it’s so easy. All the ingredients are mixed in a saucepan, starting with the butter and ending with the flour and the molten mass is poured straight into the baking tin. And, though I hate to mention the C-word so early in the year, with a little tweaking this cake has real possibilities as an alternative to Christmas cake and/or Christmas pudding.

For those who want to have a go …

INGREDIENTS: 125g unsalted butter*; 100g dark chocolate broken into pieces; 300g good marmalade (Nigella says thin cut, but I think chunky could work too as long as the chunks are soft); 150g caster sugar; pinch of salt*; 2 large eggs, beaten; 150g self raising flour.  1 X 20cm Springform tin, buttered and floured — if this is done thoroughly there is no need to line it. Preheat oven to 180 C/ Gas 4

METHOD: Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan and then once nearly melted add the chocolate and stir to ensure that it melts too — you may need to take the pan off the heat at this point. Next add the rest of the ingredients in the order above (taking particular care with the flour which you should add a bit at a time), stirring in each addition until you have a lovely thick, gloopy, glossy mass. Pour the mixture into the tin and place it in the oven for around 50mins. Worth checking after 45 minutes and then at 5 min intervals until a skewer comes out clean. I have found that almost all the recipes in How to be a Domestic Goddess are slightly off time-wise; I’m guessing that it’s because Nigella has some form of industrial blast furnace in her kitchen.

* I always cook with Lurpak slightly salted butter and simply omit the pinch of salt in any recipe that demands one.

homemade marmalade

P1270176When it comes to making marmalade, you are either a whole-fruiter or a juicer it seems. Whole fruiters boil the fruit before scraping out pips, pith and pulp and then slice up the peel. Juicers attack the fruit first, doing all the above once they’ve juiced their oranges.

P1270177Having read through a number of versions of both approaches I think they probably come out neck and neck in terms of time and faff; I doubt you could tell the difference in a taste test*. So although you will no doubt have someone telling you emphatically that their method is best, it just comes down to a matter of whether or not you prefer to slice your peel before it has been boiled or afterwards, when it is softer, but also stickier.

IMG_2364I find mucking about with hot, sticky fruit a pain, so I juice my oranges and lemons, then quarter the ‘shells’ and scrape out the pips and pith and finally, with a sharp knife, shred the peel. This is quite time-consuming and, if the knife isn’t sharp enough, it can hurt too.

IMG_2366This year, however, I had a moment of divine inspiration when I looked up from my slicing and spied the kitchen scissors. The rest of the pile of peel was cut into neat little matchsticks in no time at all. Why I hadn’t thought of this before I’ll never know, but really, it has transformed marmalade making for me.

P1270181And finally, before I give the recipe, one or two notes on preparation before you start.

1) I collect jam jars throughout the year, washing them in the dishwasher as I go. If I think they’ve been sitting around too long I tend to put them all in the dishwasher at the start of my marmalade session so that they are clean and ready to use around halfway through the simmering stage. I then put the oven on its lowest setting and stand the jars upside down on the racks. Depending how far along in the process I am, I sometimes put the sugar in the oven at this point too – though warming the sugar is not necessary.

2) I don’t have a jam thermometer so I test my ‘set’ with a cold saucer. Once I’ve got my jars in the dishwasher, I put a couple of saucers in the freezer so that they are really, really icy by the time I want to check how my marmalade is doing.

Seville Orange Marmalade (from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course with quantities doubled)

Ingredients: 4lbs /1.8kg Seville oranges; 8 pints/4.5 litres water; 2 lemons; 8lbs/3.6kg granulated sugar** (warmed – I like to do this, but I doubt that it’s really necessary); 1tsp butter (again, not sure that I always bother with this, it help’s clarify the mixture, but it’s not a disaster if you don’t bother or you forget)

Method

1) Measure the water into the pan along with the juice from all the oranges and lemons. Place all the pips and pulp in a muslin placed over a bowl or wide-mouthed jug to keep everything in place as it fills up.

2) Next, cut the orange and lemon halves into half again — quarters, really — and with a sharp knife scrape out the rest of the pith, pips and pulp and put it in the muslin. Incidentally, I never bother tying the muslin bag to the pan handle, it bobs about and is easily fished out when you need to. You don’t need to be too obsessive about the pith as much of it will dissolve during the boiling stage, just get as much as will come away easily.

3) Next, slice up the peel to create the shreds which are characteristic of English marmalade — thick or thin according to taste. This can be time-consuming as the peel is tough so a sharp knife is key. Better still, use kitchen scissors!

4) Tip the shredded peel into the pan with the water and juice and bring it all to simmering point and then turn the heat down so that it simmers gently for around 2 hours, or until the peel is soft enough to mash with a fork or squish between your fingers. (Towards the end of this process I put the sugar in the bottom of the oven).

5) At this point remove the muslin from the pan and set it aside to cool. I place mine in a sieve over a bowl so that the juice and pectin can start to drain out. When the bag is cool enough to handle you need to squeeze it in order to release as much pectin as possible. Delia suggests pressing it between two saucers. I tend to twist the top as tightly as I can, round and round, so the soft pulp and pith strains against the muslin and then I scrape at the surface with a spatula. It is oddly satisfying watching the pale jelly-like substance ooze out. Once you have all that you can get (or that you can be bothered to get), add it to the pan and stir it in.

6) Now whack up the heat and get everything to a rolling boil, and then set the timer for 15 minutes. I tend to stir the mixture occasionally to make sure that none of the peel gets stuck to the bottom of the pan and burns (this has happened to me before and I ended up having to ditch half the batch).

I find that the time my marmalade takes to reach setting point varies quite dramatically and is probably affected by the quantity of fruit I have used and also by how much pectin I’ve managed to squeeze out of the muslin bag. The last time I made marmalade I had a set after 15 minutes, this time it was closer to thirty minutes. The key is to check at regular ten minute intervals after the first fifteen minutes, taking the pan off the heat each time while you spoon a little of the marmalade onto one of the saucers from the freezer. Put the saucer in the fridge for a few minutes so that the marmalade can cool and then test it by pushing slightly with your finger. If the splodge of marmalade has formed a thin skin which wrinkles when pushed it’s reached setting point. And this is why it is important to take the pan off the heat when you test: you could find that the five minutes spent waiting for your sample to cool is all it takes for your marmalade to go from soft and spreadable to solid rubber. I know this from bitter experience.

7) So, you’ve reached setting point. Turn off the heat and get your jars out of the oven. This is also the moment when you can stir in a little butter if the mix looks a little scummy. It does seem to do the trick, but I don’t always have any scum and even if I do I often forget this stage. You can make yourself a cup of tea at this point (or pour yourself a glass of wine), as it is worth waiting five minutes or so before ladling the marmalade into the jars — apparently this stops the fruit rising to the top, a problem I had with a batch of lime marmalade. I kept turning the jars over in the hope of redistributing the peel!

IMG_23718) Be warned, bottling the marmalade is always sticky and messy. I tend to put my jars on a large tray, which I place on the stove top as close as possible to the pan. I do have a funnel somewhere, but always end up using a smallish ladle instead.

9) Once the jars have been filled, place wax discs on the marmalade and screw the lids on while hot. I use a damp tea towel for this or a wad of damp kitchen roll: it makes it easier to handle the hot jars whilst also cleaning off any sticky drips.

And that’s it. It might seem complicated, but really it isn’t, it’s just time-consuming. But on a cold January day, making marmalade is the perfect excuse to stay indoors. It is also worth noting that you can pause production between the two main stages — A) cooking the fruit (whole or shredded), and B) adding the sugar and boiling to setting point.

And finally, a huge thank you to everyone who commented on my last post. I have added Chloe’s brandy and Ruth’s Vodka to my list, which also includes a Seville orange Ice-cream and a bitter orange curd. I’ll also try make another batch of marmalade using Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe, here, which features Demerara sugar and whisky (the Seville orange meringue pie looks good too). And I expect I’ll pop a kilo of oranges in the freezer just in case.

For now though, I am off to make a chocolate cake with one of my very old jars of marmalade and I also have plans for marmalade bread and butter pudding with vanilla sugar, as suggested by Sue.

* some swear that the taste in the whole fruit method is more complex, though how this can be when both methods make use of the entire fruit just in different states, is a mystery.

** sugar – much debate about what you can and can’t use. The generally accepted rule is that you should use granulated sugar for marmalade. Of course a quick look online threw up a number of recipes which stipulate Demerara sugar and also Muscavado.

I don’t bother with jam sugar which has added pectin, I don’t think pectin is ever an issue with Seville oranges and lemons. I don’t tend to bother with it when making jam either.

elderflower

P1220575Last year was such a wash out I didn’t even try to pick any elderflowers for cordial or champagne — there was no point, the flowers were always wet and the sun was rarely out. But this year the crop has been fantastic despite the odd shower.

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I followed the recipe in Diana Henry’s Salt Sugar Smoke, which produced enough cordial to fill three small-ish bottles and several ice-cube trays for the freezer. The frozen cubes will be used as floral ‘stock cubes’ to add to cooked fruit such as gooseberries and apples.

Ingredients: 25 heads of very fresh elderflowers;1.5kg granulated sugar; 3 large unwaxed lemons; 75g citric acid; 1.5 litres of water.

MethodPut sugar and water into a large pan and bring to the boil, stirring all the time to ensure that the sugar dissolves. Meanwhile peel off the zest of the lemon in broad strips (I used a potato peeler), and put into a large bowl with the elderflower heads. Next slice the  lemons into thin discs and add them to the bowl. By now the sugar syrup should have come to the boil — pour it over the lemons, flowers and zest and then stir in the citric acid. Cover with a cloth or cling film and leave the mixture in a cool dark place for 24 hours. (Some recipes suggest 48 hours, which is what I did).

Once the 24 or 48 hours are up, test the cordial — you may want to add a little more lemon. Next, strain the liquid through a muslin-lined sieve into a wide-necked jug. And finally pour the cordial into clean, sterilised bottles. According to Diana Henry, the cordial lasts up to five weeks in the fridge

In the past I’ve bought my citric acid from Brewer’s Droop, the home brew shop on the Gloucester Rd, this year I tried the chemist at the bottom of the road where I was interrogated for a good five minutes or so about how I intended to use the citric acid. Satisfied that I would be using it to make cordial and not cutting it with cocaine, he still refused to sell me more than a tiny 50g box. I explained that I needed 75g, and in the end, after much pleading, he agreed I could have a second packet in a separate transaction.

simnel cake :: 2

cakeHere it is, this year’s Simnel cake basking in the only sunshine we’ve had this Easter.

According to Jenny Baker, who cites The Art of British Cooking, by Theodora Fitzgibbon, as her source, Simnel cake derives its name from the Roman siminellus which was a special bread eaten during spring fertility rites. Later, the name attached itself to a fruit cake enriched with marzipan which girls in service were allowed to take home to their mothers on Mothering Sunday. Perhaps the Roman bread was transformed over the years, and it became the enriched cake. Who knows? Either way, the cake has become associated with Easter and, like its Christmas cousin, it is a cake that keeps well. So although Easter Sunday has been and gone, for most families the school holiday has only just begun, which means that there is plenty of time to bake and consume this cake.

So here is the recipe I use, from Jenny Baker’s Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool,  though I imagine that there are many other versions out there online.

This one calls for an 18cm (7inch) tin with tall sides, and I think the dimensions are important as the cake doesn’t rise much — there is no raising agent.

Ingredients:

350g marzipan (the recipe in the last post will give you more than enough, I roll the scraps into balls and dip them in melted chocolate as you can see here if you scroll to the end of the post); 100g butter or margarine; 100g soft brown sugar; 3 large eggs, beaten; 150g plain flour, sifted; 1/2 tsp mixed spice; 350g mixed dried fruit; 50g chopped mixed peel;1 lemon, grated rind and juice; Apricot jam;1 egg white for the glaze.

Heat oven gas mark 3/325/160. Grease and line tin.

Take one third of the marzipan and knead it and roll into a disc the same size as the cake tin. Set to one side

Cream butte and sugar together and once it is light and fluffy add the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the sifted flour, mixed spice , dried fruit, mixed peel, lemon juice and zest.

Pour HALF the mixture into the tin, level it and then place the marzipan disc on top. Pour the rest of the mixture on top, smoothing it over.

Bake for 1 hour at gas mark 3 / 325/160 and then lower the temperature to gas mark 2/ 300/150, and bake for another hour.

Allow cake to cool and turn it onto a rack after about ten minutes. Once totally cold, brush the top with apricot jam, roll another third of the marzipan into a disc and place this on top. With the remaining marzipan make eleven balls (to represent the eleven faithful apostles). Brush with egg white and then return to the oven for ten minutes until the top is lightly browned – gas mark 4/350/190.

Simnel cake :: 1

P1210316I first ate Simnel cake when I was a teenager, whilst on holiday in Wales. I still remember the thick layer of marzipan buried in the middle of the cake coming as a delicious surprise. A surprise twice over, as I was never really a fan of marzipan: I’ve always found it tooth-achingly sweet, though this does ease off during cooking.

I don’t think I came across Simnel cake again until I started making it myself, nine years ago, shortly after Martha was born. I’m not sure what prompted me to make the cake — possibly the discovery of this simple recipe for marzipan — but I have made one every year for the last eight years. Tomorrow I will make my ninth, but today I made the cake’s key ingredient: marzipan.

This recipe is so easy, so satisfying, and frankly, so delicious, that I’ve never bothered with shop-bought packets since. Be warned though, the flavour is far more subtle than the gritty, bright yellow blocks available in the supermarket: gently lemony and not especially sweet and the texture is softly grainy. I’ve blogged about the ease of making marzipan before, but here is the recipe again, this time with step-by-step pictures to prove that it really is a cinch to make. First gather your ingredients …

350g ground almonds; 225g icing sugar (sifted); 3 egg yolks; juice of one lemon.

P1210318Next, mix the almonds with sugar and beat the egg yolks with lemon juice. Then combine the two mixes, and knead together into a ball with your hands, rather like making pastry.

P1210321And voila! Marzipan. It’s quite a sticky mixture, so if you find your hands are still coated with mix, dip them in a little icing sugar, rub together and let the ‘crumbs’ fall onto the ball of marzipan and then dab them in.

The recipe comes from Jenny Baker’s marvellous book Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool.

Now I’m off the make the Simnel cake itself.

a good egg

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On Thursday night I went to a lovely party at Tart, on the Gloucester Road, to celebrate the publication of A Good Egg — A Year of Recipes From an Urban Hen-Keeper

Genevieve Taylor is the hen-keeper of the title, and her book is a charming and inspiring diary of a year in her kitchen, her garden and her hen-house. When not tending her hens, she is also a very talented food stylist and cook (you’ve doubtless been inspired by something she has created without realising it, as her work has appeared in many magazines and ad campaigns), and the book grew from Genevieve’s blog, The Urban Kitchen, which she started when her first batch of chickens arrived and surprised them all with their dedicated laying: 3-4 eggs a day, every day, all year. That’s a lot of eggs.

P1210185But Genevieve is clear that A Good Egg is not an egg cookery bible (neither is it a how-to for prospective hen-keepers), explaining that it’s “a seasonal diary of all that I did with my eggs, and the food that I grew and gathered to eat alongside them.” In fact it is Genevieve’s passion for seasonality that is at the heart of the book, informing her writing as well as her recipes. A point she proved with a lovely reading from the 14th March which was all about wild garlic; as she read we were treated to slices of wild garlic flamiche (the wild garlic had been gathered locally, that morning), followed by mini mocha eclairs and tiny rhubarb pavlovas. Delicious.

P1210186And the recipes — nine or ten for each month — despite coming from the kitchen of a very talented cook, are by no means complicated or fussy; rather they are dishes designed for busy family life: delicious, wholesome and speedy. Of course the temptation is to say “Pah!” to seasonality and leap ahead with the help of the supermarket — which in the case of Crisp cannellini bean and Courgette Fritters is exactly what I intend to do. Other recipes to whet your appetite include a Peach and Almond cake with lavender syrup; English Nicoise of Smoked Trout, Jersey Royals and Asparagus; Courgette and Lime muffins; Broad bean, Feta and Mint Omelette… I could go on… and on!

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The book is a rather beautiful object in its own right — a Tiffany-blue-green cloth cover, with an (egg yolk?) yellow ribbon for marking favourite pages — illustrated throughout with wonderful, hunger-inducing photographs, taken by Bristol-based photographer, Jason Ingram (his blog is over there to the right of the screen and well worth exploring).

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This last image I include, because it sums up for me, Genevieve’s un-fussy, straightforward approach to cooking: for who hasn’t failed on the planning-ahead at some point? I am  regularly caught out by the dastardly line, hidden in many a recipe, which runs something like “… and now leave in the fridge for 12 hours, preferably 24.” No! No! No! My friends are arriving in four hours’ time, not tomorrow, goddammit! Though I must stress, this particular recipe does not offer a clever route around the protracted process of making a Christmas Pudding. It’s just that I liked her admission that tradition and rules don’t dominate her kitchen or her recipes — in this case it’s her failure to make the Christmas pud on Stir Up Sunday. Her Carbonara with cavolo nero is probably a better example, not least because she describes it as “inauthentic in the extreme,” though it sounds heavenly.

And finally, as I have already said, although A Good Egg is not a guide to keeping chickens, be warned, it will certainly tempt you to have a go. Last night, as I thumbed through my copy, I found myself considering all manner of bizarre constructions — tree house!? — in order to add a chicken or two to our household even though I know our garden is far too small.

mother’s day

P1210147 Last week I went to London for a very personal version of Mother’s Day: the opening of my mum’s first solo exhibition: A Personal Landscape in Collage at the Piers Feetham Gallery.

Having studied illustration at Wimbledon School of Art, my mother has variously worked in textiles, ceramics and, more recently, collage, and the show includes a selection of her current abstract works which, despite the title, fall roughly into three categories: landscapes, still lifes and interiors. Unlike many other artists who work in collage, my mother doesn’t use found materials. She prefers to work with paper and card onto which she applies paint — sometimes in solid layers, sometimes in washes — which she then stipples, scrapes or scores to create the textures she wants.

P1210151Although she doesn’t work directly from life, her landscapes are frequently drawn from her memories of time spent in certain places, in particular the Charente Maritime in France. Similarly, many of the interiors and still lifes in the show were inspired by old rural French houses. Her more abstract works, however, were created for “the pure pleasure to be had from playing off shapes and colours against each other.”

I think her recent works are incredibly beautiful, and my photographs really do not do them justice. It is impossible to capture the texture of the pieces: the layers of card and paper, the grain of the paint.

It was wonderful to see her work gathered together in a formal setting — I see it in progress in her studio whenever we visit, and of course I have a few of her works at home here in Bristol (she has made each of the girls a stylised image of a house and garden with their names above or below), but it’s not quite the same as seeing a year’s worth of work en masse. Needless to say, I am incredibly proud of her.

The show runs until the 28th of March, and if you happen to be around Fulham Broadway or the Lots Road end of the Kings Road do pop into the gallery and take a look.

Clare Packer: A Personal Landscape in Collage, 8th — 28th March 2013                      Piers Feetham Gallery, 475 Fulham Road, SW6 1HL , Tues – Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10-1pm