Blackberry Shortbread

Blackberry Shortbread

Wotchers!

A very autumnal recipe for you this week – Blackberry Shortbread.

There’s no bells or whistles, I just fancied something simple, with the brightness of fresh fruit.

You could use this serving suggestion with a number of different fruits, but I thought blackberries most appropriate for the season, as they are the last soft berries of the year. Plus they look like jewels!

You can also use any shortbread recipe if you have a particular favourite or don’t fancy the one below. The recipe I chose isn’t particularly special, but with the baking powder and eggs, it has a lovely open and delicate texture. I also decided to use an unusual flour I found on the supermarket shelves this week: wholemeal Kamut flour from Doves Farm.

To quote from the bag:

“Kamut® grain is a khorasan wheat….said to be the wheat of the Pharoahs.”

It’s a very fine flour, producing a wonderfully golden shortbread biscuit with a nutty, almost malty flavour. There are three recipes to try printed on the pack itself and you could make them all with just one bag.

Alternatively, make the recipe below with ordinary flour – it’s all good.

Blackberry Shortbread-2

Blackberry Shortbread

90g soft brown sugar
2 large yolks
100g unsalted butter – softened
110g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon

blackberry jam or jelly

300g fresh blackberries

icing sugar for dusting

250ml whipping cream (optional)

  • Whisk the sugar and yolks together until pale and creamy.
  • Add the softened butter and mix thoroughly.
  • Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together and fold into the egg mixture.
  • Mix in the lemon zest.
  • Press mixture evenly into a baking tin and smooth over. I used my loose-bottomed flan tin (35cm x 12cm), lined with buttered foil, so that I could cut fingers of shortbread widthways.
  • Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
  • Remove the cling film from the shortbread and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Turn the tin around halfway through to ensure even colouring.
  • As soon as the biscuit is cooked, remove from the oven and cut into fingers (or slices or wedges, as you prefer). Leave to cool in the tin. DO NOT attempt to move the biscuit pieces until completely cold – they will crumble to pieces.
  • When the biscuit has cooled, spread each piece with a layer of blackberry jam and stand the fresh blackberries on top.
  • Dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream and any extra blackberries.

Oyster Tarts

Oyster Tarts
Wotchers!

A great little recipe from that classic baking institution: Be-Ro.

Thomas Bell founded his grocery company in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1875. Amongst other items, he manufactured and sold baking powder and the world’s first self-raising flour under the brand name Bell’s Royal.

After the death of King Edward VII the use of the word ‘Royal’ in business was prohibited, so Thomas shortened each word to just two letters, and the Be-Ro brand was born.

To encourage the use of self-raising flour, the company staged exhibitions where visitors could taste freshly-baked scones, pastries and cakes. This proved so popular, and requests for the recipes so numerous, the Be-Ro Home Recipes book was created. Now in it’s 40th edition, the company claims that, at over 38 million copies, its recipe booklet “is arguably one of the best-selling cookery books ever.”

I’m not sure which edition my Be-Ro booklet is, as it’s undated, but from the appearance of the smiling lady on the front it definitely has a 1930s feeling; it’s pictured on the Be-Ro website, with a deep red cover.

These little tarts are a beautiful example of how the simplest ingredients can be given a subtle twist and appeal by both their appearance and the ease with which they are whipped up. In essence, these are a Bakewell Tart with cream, but a little tweak turns them into sweet ‘oysters’.

I’m not a fan of almond flavouring, so I’ve used lemon zest to brighten the almond sponge and used a seedless blackcurrant jam inside. Adding the jam after baking (unlike the method for Bakewell Tarts) circumvents cooking the jam for a second time, and so it retains its brightness of flavour as well as colour. The pastry is crisp and dry and a perfect contrast against the moist filling. I’ve opted for an unsweetened pastry, but feel free to use a sweetened one if you prefer.

You could customise these tarts by swapping the ground almonds for almost any other nut, and matching the jam accordingly. Here are a few that occurred to me.

  • Almond with orange zest, and orange curd as the filling.
  • Coconut and lime curd, with a little lime zest in the filling.
  • Hazelnuts or pecans, with a praline paste or Nutella in the filling.
  • Walnut and a little coffee icing

Have fun with them!

Oyster Tarts

Pastry
60g cornflour
225g plain flour
140g butter
ice-cold water

Filling
70g unsalted butter, softened
70g caster sugar
1 large egg
zest of 1 small lemon
85g ground almonds

To serve
200g cream cheese
200ml whipping cream
1tsp vanilla extract
1-2tbs icing sugar, plus more to sprinkle
120g sharp jam

  • Put all the pastry ingredients except for the water into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Gradually add the water, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Knead smooth, then roll out thinly. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge to relax.
  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Beat the butter and sugar for the filling until light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes to get as much air into the mix as possible.
  • Add the egg and whisk in thoroughly.
  • Fold in the lemon zest and ground almonds.
  • Grease a 12-hole shallow tart tin.
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut out 12 circles. Line the prepared tin with the pastry.Add about a tablespoon of filling to each tart. I use a small ice-cream scoop but 2 spoons will also work.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning the tin around after 10 minutes to ensure even cooking.
  • Transfer the cooked tarts onto a wire rack and allow to cool.
  • Whisk the cream cheese, vanilla and cream together until firm. Gently stir through a little icing sugar to slightly sweeten.
  • When the tarts have cooled, slice off the top of the filling with a sharp knife and set aside.
  • Add a teaspoon of jam and either spoon or pipe a little of the cream mixture into each tart.
  • Set the ‘lids’ back on the tarts at a jaunty angle, so as to appear like a half-opened oyster.
  • Dust with icing sugar and serve.

Apricot Jam

Apricot Jam and buttered scones.
Wotchers!

Glorious, jewel-like apricot jam is the recipe this week, having spotted some fabulous Bergeron apricots in a local supermarket (Morrisons) for just 99p a punnet – NINETY-NINE PEE I SAY! Total bargain! Get down there today and make this your Bank Holiday weekend project!

I’m a big fan of the sharp-sweet tang of apricots, and with a respectable amount of pectin, there’s no need to Faff About™ adding any extra. The small quantity lemon juice helps anyway, both in the set and in sharpening the flavour of the apricots.

This method is slightly longer than your regular jam-making session might be, but it is seriously low on effort. Start-to-finish, it’s about 24 hours, but of that, there’s maybe only 1 hour of actually doing anything – bonus!

The result is so vibrant, so delicious, you’ll wish you’d made more – however many jars you make. I bought 6 x 350g punnets – and made six jars. One jar of finished jam for every 350g of raw fruit is also a handy way to work out how many jars your going to need. As a precaution, I always have one jar extra, all cleaned, heated and ready to go, in case of an overabundance. I’ve scaled the quantities down to use just 1 kg of fresh, pitted fruits (so 3 punnets from the shop), so it’s a little easier to scale up/down.

This method involves first macerating (or soaking) the fruit in sugar for several hours (or even overnight). The sugar draws out the juice from the fruit, and in turn a little of the sugar is absorbed. This absorption of sugar will help to firm up the fruit and keep it from disintegrating during the necessary boiling later on.

That being said, this is not a solid jam that has to be crowbar’d out of the jar (a particular dislike of mine). It’s definitely leaning more towards the conserve, although having sliced the fruit to manageable bite-sizes, I think that disqualifies it from the traditional definition of conserve (i.e. whole fruit in syrup).

ANYHOO….

Here’s how it goes:

Apricot Jam

3 x 350g punnets of Bergeron (for preference, but not compulsory) apricots, to give 1kg of prepared fruit
800g granulated sugar
Juice of 2-3 lemons

Day 1

  • Rinse the apricots and cut into halves, top to bottom, and remove the stone.
  • Layer the apricot halves, sugar and the juice of 2 of the lemons in a large bowl ensuring the cut surfaces of the apricots are covered with sugar.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside for 8-10 hours, or overnight.
  • Mop brow and declare loudly to any interested parties “This jam-making is EXHAUSTING! I must have a REST and watch a FILM”.
  • Put feet up.

8 hours later, or next morning if you started at night

  • Gently slide the apricot mixture (which will probably be quite runny by now) into a preserving pan and warm gently, until all the sugar is melted.
  • Try and avoid stirring, as the fruit will still be very fragile and might begin to break apart with too much spoon action.
  • When all the sugar is melted, bring the mixture to a boil.
  • As soon as it boils, remove the pan from the heat and gently pour the fruit mixture back into the bowl.
  • Re-cover with cling film and set aside overnight.
  • Mop brow and put feet up as above.

12-14 hours later

Here’s where things might get a little too Faffy™ for your liking, feel free to skip the next part if you prefer a slightly more rustic jam.

  • Removing the skins
    • Strain the fruit from the syrup. I prefer to lift it gently with a skimmer, to avoid squishing it too much, but you can pour it through a sieve if you like.
    • By this time, after their overnight soaking, the skins should be wrinkled and easy to separate from the flesh of the apricots. I usually start by picking up an apricot half by the skin in my left hand and then using a small, sharp knife to ease the flesh away. Sometimes the cut edge of the apricot next to the skin has hardened and needs a little encouragement to come free. If your apricots have a slightly thicker skin, this may not be as easy as described. In this case, give up.. Persevering will only mash the apricots to mush.
    • Discard skins.
  • Using some sharp scissors, cut the now skin-free apricots into strips about 0.5-1cm wide. Again, feel free to skip this if so inclined. It just makes the jam easier to spread. Set fruit aside for now.
  • Once the fruit is prepared, it’s time to boil the syrup to setting point.
  • But before you start heating it, taste. I like a particularly sharp jam, so I tend to add the juice of another lemon at this stage if necessary. Taste the syrup and make your own decision.
  • Also, put 2 saucers in the freezer. These will be used later to test whether your jam has reached setting point.
  • Pour all the syrup into the preserving pan and bring to a simmering boil. Keep an eye on it, as too high a heat may cause it to boil over.
  • Skim the froth from the top of the simmering syrup – removing this will help give your finished jam that jewel-like clarity. Don’t throw the foam away, it’s still delicious, just bubbly. Enjoy on toast with some salty feta or goats cheese – NOM!
  • Setting point is reached at 105°C, when the excess water has evaporated – there will be a distinct lack of steam coming from the pan, but use a thermometer to double-check.
  • Add the apricots, sliding them gently into the syrup. It will immediately go off the boil, and as there will be quite a lot of syrup clinging to the apricots themselves, it will take several minutes to come back to setting point.
  • Use this time to wash your jam jars, rinse and arrange onto a baking sheet, together with their lids.
  • Put the jars into a cold oven, and turn the heat to 100°C, 80°C Fan.
  • When the jam has reached setting point for the second time, draw the pan to one side away from the heat and test the jam by putting a teaspoon onto one of the cold saucers from the freezer. Return the plate to the freezer for a minute or two then remove and slowly push a finger through the cooled jam. If the surface wrinkles, then the jam is done. If not, return to the heat for a few more minutes and test again.
  • Once the jam is set to your satisfaction, turn off the heat and leave it to cool a little. You want it to be cool enough to begin to form a thin skin on the surface. This means that it is starting to set, and you should put it in jars. Depending on how big a batch you’re making, this could be as long as 20 minutes. Have a cuppa while waiting!
  • Stir the jam gently, to distribute the fruit throughout the syrup. Now that the jam has cooled a little, the fruit will stay suspended evenly. Stirring when the jam is too hot will do nothing, and pouring too-hot jam into jars will just make all the fruit float to the top.
  • Remove the hot and now dry jars from the oven and, using a jam funnel, pour your jam into the jars. You might want to use oven gloves to hold the jar steady. Fill the jars as close as possible to the top – to within 5mm at least (bacteria love air gaps, so you want to keep them as small as possible).
  • Screw the lids on tightly and then wipe off any spillage from the outside of the jars. Leave to cool completely before labelling.

Christmas Jam

Christmas Jam

Wotchers!

Got a fab recipe for Christmas this week – for gifts, to scoff yourself, whatever takes your fancy – delish!

Bit like mincemeat, but without the suet – and can be enjoyed in a whole range of different ways – on scones, over ice-cream, Christmas tart (spoon into blind-baked cases) or spooned straight from the jar *guilty look* What? What???

Anyhoo – It’s also going to provide the opportunity to illustrate creativity, because the preserve I ended up with was not the one I intended to make, but is still absolutely delicious.

This recipe began life in the kitchen of Mme Christine Ferber, the undisputed QUEEN of preserves. She lives in Niedermorschwihr, the little Alsacian village of the borderlands with Germany and is the go-to woman for the likes of Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Herme and anyone else who demands nothing but the best. Her preserves are made from local, seasonal produce and she presides over every batch. Never working with more than 4kg of fruit at a time, she marries flavours and textures beautifully, and has created over 800 flavour combinations.

So I found this recipe on a French magazine website almost a year ago and have been dying to make it all year. When I managed to snag the last 4 quince at the local farm shop, I thought I was all set, but the further I got into the recipe, the more I found out that I lacked some of the ingredients, so I just had to improvise like a BOSS. Now don’t start flapping about not having quince, because I didn’t have enough either – so I improvised with apples. Then I couldn’t find any dried pears, so I used dried pineapple instead. And so it went on.

So what I have for you here, and in the picture above, is the recipe I made, rather than the recipe I followed. It makes about 8-9 jars – plenty for gifts and a couple to keep. For anyone who is interested, the original Christine Ferber recipe is here.

Christmas Jam

2 kg of fresh quince or Bramley apples or a mixture of both
2 litres of water
1 kg granulated sugar
200 g dried pineapple
200g dried figs
100g dates
100 g dried prunes
200g dried apricots
100g raisins [1]
50 g candied lemon peel, cut into thin strips
50 g candied orange peel cut into thin strips
50 g dried cranberries
zest and juice of 1 orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon
150g walnuts pieces
150g whole blanched almonds, roughly chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 ground star anise

  • Wipe the quince/apples with a cloth and rinse in cold water.
  • Cut into quarters and place in a preserving pan and cover with 2 liters of water.
  • Bring the pan to a boil, turn the heat down and let it simmer gently for one hour, stirring occasionally.
  • Strain the juice through a colander and then strain it again through a piece of muslin to clear it of most of the pulp.
  • Discard the fruit pulp.
  • Measure out 1300ml of the hot liquid  and pour over the dried pineapple. Leave it to soak for 3-4 hours. You can leave it longer – overnight if you like, but I was in the mood to make this jam NOW! Today! 😉
  • Wash your jars and lids and put into the oven on a baking tray at 100°C, 80°C Fan. Always err on the side of caution and have more jars than you think you’ll need.
  • Cut the figs, prunes and apricots into strips 3mm wide. NB DO NOT get the ‘ready to eat’ dried fruit – it’ll just break down into a mush. Make sure you get the old-fashioned ‘tough’ dried fruit.
  • Slit the dates and remove pits. Slice into 3mm strips
  • Pour the apple liquid and the pineapple into a preserving pan with the sugar, figs, dates, prunes, apricots, raisins, lemon and orange peel, cranberries, lemon zest and juice, orange zest and juice, and the spices.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.
  • Skim any scum from the surface.
  • Keep cooking on high heat for five to ten minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Skim again if necessary.
  • When the temperature reaches 100°C, add the walnuts and almonds.
  • Bring the mixture to 104°C and test that the setting point has been reached by spooning a little of the syrup onto a cold plate and placing in the freezer for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat while you check. If the surface if the jelly wrinkles when you push your finger through it, then setting point has been reached. NB This is really just to double-check – if it reaches 104°C, you’re fine. This is not a solid-set jam, it’s more ‘fruit suspended in spiced apple jelly’.
  • Ladle into the warm jars and seal whilst hot.
  • Wipe jars and label when cooled.

[1] I used Sainsbury’s snack raisins, which is a mixture of golden, flame, crimson and green raisins. Beautiful!


Seedless Raspberry Jam

Wotchers!

If you make no other preserves this year, make this one.

I’m serious. If you were here, I’d grab your lapels and lean disconcertingly close to your face whilst muttering this assertion. Look at that colour! Now imagine that colour as a taste explosion on your tongue! It’s incredible! I’m using far too many exclamation marks!!! Help meee!!!!!!!!

*takes deep breath*

Anyhoo….

For years I thought I disliked raspberry jam. No, I did actually dislike it – because all I could focus on was the seeds. A few years ago I was given a huge bag of raspberries and decided to make some jam because we’d all eaten as much of the fresh fruit as we could. Since I was running a bit low on jars, I thought I’d reduce the volume a little by sieving out the seeds and wow – what a difference it made. Without the distraction of the seeds, it was just pure, unadulterated flavour. Astonishing! This is now my number one favourite preserve.

“But I can’t make jam!” I hear you cry.  “Its all huge vats of boiling fruit…. mountains of sugar…pectin…setting point…hundreds of specialised sterilised jars…takes hours and hours….kitchens full of steam… and…and…and…”

To which I say, “Actually, not so much”.

Lets address possible objections one by one.

Huge vats of boiling fruit.
Its always puzzled me why, for the most part,  jam recipes consist of vast quantities of fruit. Yes, I know it’s all about preserving nature’s bounty for the cold winter months, but if you’re new to jam-making, and possibly you’re not sure whether you’re actually going to like a recipe, investing in huge quantities of ingredients might seem a little daunting. And even if it turns out that you DO like the recipe, you then have huge quantities of jam to get into jars and make sure it doesn’t get mouldy. Then there’s the giant preserving pans required. Actually, that’s not true. Preserving pans are really just large versions of ordinary pans and they’re big because of all the huge quantities of fruit that most recipes call for. They’re also large because they need to provide a large surface area to help with the evaporation of excess liquid, which will eventually lead to a jam setting. If you’re working with a small amount of fruit, there’s no reason why a broad, regular pan won’t do just as good a job – a deep, 28cm frying pan, for example.

Mountains of sugar
Not all jam requires vast quantities of sugar – it all depends partly on the fruit and partly on personal taste. Sugar is what preserves the fruit, so there is a minimum level below which you should not stray if you want the results of all your hard work to last. Apart from that, its pretty much down to personal taste. I don’t have a sweet tooth, yet I love seedless raspberry jam.

Pectin
Pectin occurs in fruit in varying concentrations, and, together with some kind of acid, is what helps jam to set. If a fruit is low in pectin, you can either combine it with another fruit high in pectin or add a home or commercially produced pectin. The amount of pectin in a fruit decreases as it ripens, so the riper the fruit you’re using, the more likely you’ll need some additional pectin. Raspberries have a moderate amount of pectin, so if you use slightly under-ripe berries with a dash of lemon juice, you can probably get away without using any additional pectin at all. If in doubt, use preserving sugar which has pectin already added to it.

Setting point
This is the point where the concentration of sugar and pectin are such that, when cooled, a jam will set. This is the reason for (sometimes) prolonged boiling. The boiling causes excess water to evaporate, and this in turn means that the concentration of sugar in the mix increases. When enough water has evaporated, the jam sets. Traditionally this has been tested in several ways, but thanks to modern science, these days we can just use a thermometer. You can pick up a sugar thermometer for about £7.00, and it will have the setting point for jam marked at 105°C. Since water boils at 100°C, you can relax in the knowledge that all excess moisture will be evaporated by the time your jam reaches this temperature and your jam is going to set.

Hundreds of specialised sterilised jars
Hundreds? Really? I thought I was the one doing the histrionics here?? OK, so if you’re dealing with vast quantities of fruit and sugar, you’re going to need a lot of jars, but we’re not here, so we won’t. Calm down. When I was a child, jam was always bottled in Kilner jars, and these type of jars are still available today, with either a screw-down or clip-down lid and rubber ring to make the firm seal that is going to help keep your jam sweet and fresh. When I was at school, we learned how to make jam in ordinary jam jars and to seal the jars with waxed-paper discs, cellophane and rubber bands. There’s nothing wrong with using either of these methods, but each of them have drawbacks: Kilner jars are rather expensive and the waxed-disc method is tricky to get right, and getting it wrong means fuzzy jam. The solution is to re-use jars that would otherwise go into the recycle bin. Using a variety of jars means you can just use small jars to keep the jam fresh or offer as gifts. I find pesto jars particularly suitable: they hold a small amount and they have a freshness ‘button’ on the lid which can be re-set when you make jam. To remove labels, simply soak in hot, soapy water until they slip off. If the labels are a bit more stubborn, use a knife to scrape off the softened label and a scourer covered in washing up liquid to remove the glue. Use a range of sizes and shapes, large and small. If you have a dishwasher, then sterilising couldn’t be easier – pop the clean jars and lids in on a hot cycle. Leave the door closed until you’re ready to use them. In the oven, put jars and lids on a baking tray and slide into a cold oven. Turn the heat to 100°C for 30 minutes.

Hours and hours with kitchen full of steam
No. The beauty of this recipe is that it takes very little cooking time at all – 3-5 minutes at most. No water is added to the fruit, so there’s not much excess water to be got rid of, and the less a jam is cooked, the brighter the colour and the better the flavour.

So if that’s all settled, on with the recipe!

Seedless Raspberry Jam
1.2kg raspberries – slightly under-ripe if possible.
Approximately 1kg granulated or preserving sugar (see above)
Juice of 1 lemon (optional)

Equipment
1 oven-proof bowl
1 wide, deep pan
a fine-meshed sieve
Plastic bowl
wooden spoon
knife
sugar thermometer
A selection of jars and lids

  • Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water and arrange on a baking tray.
  • Put the raspberries into the oven-proof bowl.
  • Put the jars and raspberries into the oven and heat to 100°C for 30 minutes. This will both sterilise the jars and encourage the juice in the fruit to run and make the next stage easier.
  • Remove the raspberries from the oven. Leave the jars in the oven to keep warm and reduce the temperature to 80°C.
  • Weigh your bowl, write it down somewhere and put the sieve over the top of the bowl.
  • Pour the softened fruit and juice into a sieve and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to extract as much juice and pulp as possible. NB It’s probably best to do this a small quantity at a time. You need to keep stirring/pressing until there is nothing left in the sieve but a solid mass of seeds. I won’t lie to you, this takes a while, but its well worth it. Keep scraping the sieved pulp off the bottom of the sieve with the back of the knife. Don’t use the spoon, as you might accidentally get some seeds fall into the pulp. Discard seeds.
  • When done, weigh the bowl again and subtract the bowl’s original weight to find the weight of the juice and pulp.
  • Add this and an equal weight of whatever sugar you are using to your large pan. NB Warming the sugar will make it dissolve more easily.
  • Over a very low heat, stir gently until all the sugar has dissolved.
  • Taste and add lemon juice if liked.
  • Turn heat to high and, using a sugar thermometer, heat rapidly to 105°C. NB This shouldn’t take long at all. Even if it’s not quite reached 105°C, remove from the heat after 5 minutes – prolonged boiling will ruin both flavour and colour.
  • Remove from heat and pour into warmed jars to within 1cm of the top. Seal immediately. As the jam and the air trapped in the jar cools, it will contract and eventually pull the ‘safety button’ on the lid back to it’s original position. After making a batch of jam I love sitting listening to the ‘bink!’ of the lids safely sealing in all that wonderful flavour.

Variation: Not much, except to say that you can easily scale this recipe up if you want to make a larger batch. Just be sure to use an equal weight of sugar to pulp and you can make this with any amount of fruit you like.

Cost: In season, as little as £1 per pound of finished jam.