baking with marmalade :: 1


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.

the january plot

P1270237The garden looks bleak today. But when I ventured out in the pouring rain to take a few (slightly blurry) photographs, I was pleased to see plenty of signs of life. This little olive tree is looking pretty perky. I repotted it in the autumn and then planted god-knows what around the base: the rounded leaves are ranunculus I think, but the strap-like leaves could belong to anything. A nice surprise, I hope, when spring arrives.

P1270240Now that the Euphorbias have filled out and the Cistus have fattened up, the plot has an evergreen centre which is vital, I think, in a garden without a lawn. I am trying to overlook the fact that this lush patch of greenery has also made the path virtually impassable; I’ll deal with that later. I also realise that this photograph doesn’t look especially lush — the Cistus plants are not in view and neither are two other Euphorbias — but you’ll have to take my word for it. (My desk overlooks the street, and it occurs to me that the Euphorbias look much like the people I’ve seen walking past: heads down with shoulders hunched against the rain.)

P1270244The Clematis armandii is rampaging along the new fence and its strong stems are not only filled with promising buds, but one or two of the star-like flowers have been brave enough to open. I am looking forward to the first warm, dry day when the air will be filled with their heady scent. I will dig out the label as it is a cultivar, Snowdrift, maybe.

On the other side of the garden the Solanum jasminoides ‘Alba’* is still in flower and, according to my photographs, has been since late june. I will try to tempt it towards the lower end of the garden so that I have a sprinkling of white flowers the length of the fence.

P1270241Last autumn I barely touched a thing in the garden, holding onto the romantic idea that one morning my laziness would be rewarded with a magical hoar frost clinging to the dead runner beans and skeletal fennel. But we’ve had non-stop rain so it’s all looking decidedly manky**. But there is beauty to be found here and there if you look hard enough — this is what remains of a clump of Echinops …

P1270242The bottom of the garden is a problem and with the help of the plant catalogues that arrive on a daily basis, I am starting to formulate a plan. I have begun to realise, however, that I’m not very good at visualising my garden until I am stuck into the physical act of gardening, and I doubt that I’ll be doing much of that for a month or two.

* According to the Gardeners’ World, the name has been changed recently, details here.  ** Just spotted that manky was auto-corrected to manly, only just changed it back. Anyone who read this post earlier must have wondered what on earth I meant by the garden looking manly!

super sophie

P1260233There appears to be a bit of an orange theme to my current posts, and today the colour comes to you in the form of maple roasted carrot and ginger soup.

This is the perfect soup for what is proving to be the greyest of Januarys: not only is it completely delicious but it also provides a much needed blast of colour. It’s from Sophie Grigson’s Country Kitchenand is incredibly easy to make.

P1260226The vegetables are roasted in the maple syrup and sunflower oil for about 45 minutes and then blitzed in a blender along with the stock. The ginger gives the soup a subtle kick, though I tend to leave it out if it’s for the children.

It’s a brilliant Saturday morning standby: I sling everything in the oven on a low heat, and then get on with whatever I need to do until the whining about lunch starts up, by which time it’s usually pretty much ready. The soup can be eaten as it is, but also works with all manner of toppings — Sophie Grigson suggests chopped chives or lovage. The girls like it with grated cheddar, I love it with chives, crumbled feta and a sprinkle of smoky paprika. We’ve experimented with garlicky croutons and also greek yoghurt. When we have no maple syrup I’ve substituted honey which has worked well, and I can imagine that adding cumin to the baking tray would make a nice alternative to ginger.

I expect it freezes well, but I’ve haven’t tried as we never have any left over. Though if I had a larger freezer I might be tempted to make it in bulk from time to time.

INGREDIENTS: 1kg/2lb 4oz carrots, cut into chunks; 2 onions cut into eighths; 4cm/1.5 inch chunk of root ginger cut into matchsticks; 4 cloves garlic peeled; 3tbs sunflower oil; 4 tbs maple syrup (Sophie says dark, grade B, but I used what I had in the cupboard); 1.5litres/2.5 pints chicken or vegetable stock; salt and pepper.

METHOD: Pre-heat oven to gas mark 7/ 220 C/ 425 F

Mix all the ingredients in a roasting tray (or two if you are increasing the quantity), making sure that everything is coated with oil and syrup. Best to use your hands for this, and then make sure that everything lies relatively evenly across the pan. Roast for 45 – 60 minutes, checking from time to time and turning the vegetables as they brown up.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and allow them to cool a little before adding them to the liquidiser with half the stock. Depending on the size of your liquidser, you may find that you have to do this in batches. (If using a stick blender, just transfer the vegetables to a large pan and add half the stock and then get blending.)

Once you have a smooth mix of blended vegetables and stock, transfer to a large pan with the remaining stock and heat it up again. This is the moment to check the seasoning. Salt will balance out the sweetness of the carrots and the maple syrup, as will a teaspoon or two of smoky paprika.

And finally, I really must recommend Sophie Grigson’s Country Kitchen. It is filled with excellent recipes which are arranged seasonally, interspersed with little essays on specific ingredients, methods, customs and techniques.

Occasionally I wonder if I could cope with just one cookery book. Is there one book, I ask myself, that could take me through an entire year, providing inspiration for meals for friends as well as straightforward mid-week family suppers? Of course, I’d hate to have to make that decision (I’m very fickle and greedy), but I think Sophie Grigson’s book really does cover all the bases and would probably see us through.

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)


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.

seville season

P1270200Blink and you miss them: the season for Seville oranges is so short that many greengrocers and supermarkets don’t get round to stocking them at all. And if you fail to bag a kilo or two in January, early February if you are lucky, you can forget about making marmalade for another year.

I suspect that I am more in thrall to the ritual of making marmalade than I am to the  marmalade itself. I like the idea of tracking my prey (has anyone spotted them in the shops yet, I ask fellow marmalade makers), gathering the jars and then setting aside a day in which to juice, slice, boil and then bottle these unpromising oranges which are so bitter and lacking in actual fruit it’s a wonder that anything good can be done with them at all.

P1270175This year it’s fair to say that I’ve gone a little overboard. No one, not even the keenest marmalade maker, needs more than a couple of kilos of Seville oranges. But a fruitless search (excuse the pun) for marmalade oranges in my local shops resulted in a trip to Bristol’s fruit and veg market with my mother-in-law, Sue, where a kind of madness came over us. We were offered 20kg/44lbs of Sevilles for £17 with a few lemons thrown in for free. It seemed to silly to say no.

I have now made sixteen jars of marmalade with roughly 2kg and given 2kg to a friend. This leaves me with another six kg to deal with. Hmm…

P1270186And then, as I put my jars away, I found three jars of marmalade from January 2012. Vintage marmalade, you might say. It looks a little fudge-like so I’ve decided it needs using up quickly. Some will go in a marinade; some in a chocolate cake; and I now have it on good authority from various Instagramers that bread and butter and marmalade pudding is the business.

But of course none of this deals with the Seville orange mountain on the kitchen table. So I spent yesterday evening doing a little googling and have come up with some interesting recipes for the oranges themselves rather than clever things to do with marmalade. I will report on my experiments.

And tomorrow I’ll post the marmalade recipe I use.

St Philip’s Wholesale Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Market: Albert Crescent, St Philips Monday to Friday, 5am – 11am Saturday 5am – 9am

excuses, excuses…

orangesI had planned to return to blogging on New Year’s day: not a New Year’s resolution exactly, but a goal of sorts. New Year’s day! What was I thinking?

And then, when that date flew past, I thought I’d aim for the first day of the new school term. Nothing like a once bustling house suddenly still and quiet to concentrate the mind. But no, the house was a wreck, as it always is at the end of every school holiday. Now I am by no means a neat-freak, but I do find it impossible to focus when I am surrounded by dirty laundry and I keep tripping over the recycling. So week one was lost to life admin and domestic drudge.

Trawling through my photographs, I can see that the last four months have been incredibly busy. And looking at the long list of draft posts there was a lot to blog about (sour dough, knitting, bulbs, weird and wonderful Bristol stuff, the joy of soup and so on), but the posts were never completed. The simple fact is, there hasn’t been time to write anything coherent enough to share.

The end of last term was dominated by Matilda’s exams — some quite serious, others just mocks — but god, the STRESS! And all I had to do was steer her to bed before midnight and talk her down from the occasional panic attack. Matilda bounced back the moment the term was over, but I feel that I’m only just coming up for air.

But this morning, a sweet comment from Loisaida Nest on my Instagram account in response to my photograph of a big box of Seville oranges (bagged for a bargain at the fruit and veg market and to be shared with my mother-in-law, Sue), prompted me to get back my blog. If all goes well a marmalade post will appear soon.  

But for now, I’ll sign off with some photographs taken in a temporary forest created from old Christmas trees.

P1270170Ours is in there somewhere…

P1270162We were sure we’d recognise it…


But it was hopeless. Details here for anyone who wants to visit.


chasing waves 1The time since my last post and this one has whizzed by in a frenzy of deadlines with a holiday squeezed in the middle: half term by the sea at Charmouth. We had a fabulous repeat of last year’s fun but this time without the skinny dipping.

I’m back at my desk now, with the clock ticking on another feature and the arrival of this parcel from Nyssen’s has reminded me that deadlines of another sort are looming  too …

nyssenTime to get my wellies on and head out to the garden. Which also reminds me that a proper round-up of what worked and what didn’t is sitting half-written on my desktop.