Tag Archives: blackcurrants

Blackcurrants in Brandy

If you’re a regular reader, you may have seen my summer pudding two years ago. This is a classic British dessert made from ripe summer fruit encased in white bread. You leave everything to sit in the fridge overnight, and in the meantime the fruit juices will spill out into the bread, leaving everything a deep purple-red colour. A fruity slice, covered in cream, is hard to beat.

Well, I claim that this was my summer pudding but in fact the honour really has to go to my mum. The fruit was all grown by her own fair hands in her garden in Scotland, and the recipe was hers too. Whereas she has a garden with Victoria plums, redcurrants, strawberries, blaeberries, brambles…I’m scraping in with some never-quite-ripe figs and one stubbornly green tomato. I guess I’ll just have to work on my green fingers!

I was up in Scotland a few weeks for the Commonwealth Games, and it turned out to be the two-year anniversary of the previous summer pudding triumph. However, my plans to have another go were trounced by the inconvenient reality that my mum’s fruit crop had not done quite so well this year. There were a few raspberries, some lone strawberries and a scrap of redcurrants. Not quite the bounty I was hoping for, but there was one star amount then – my mum’s two blackcurrant bushes were positively groaning with fruit! A combination of lots of warm and sunny weather and the fact they were near a south-facing wall meant that they were dark, juiced and perfectly ripe. My mum was happy for me to take some, so I seized my chance and picked a generous punnet. In fact, I waited until my last day in Scotland, and picked them in the morning with the hope that they would survive six hours in the train back to London. The good news – they did.

So back in London, with the glow of the Commonwealth Games a fading memory, I had to think what to do with these blackcurrants. Jam would have been quick and easy, but I had been on what can only be described as a preserving binge earlier in the summer. Strawberry, peach, kumquat and passion fruit, raspberry and grapefruit all line my shelves, so another jar of jam was about the last think I needed. No, the clear choice was to bottle them and preserve them in brandy. This had been my mum’s suggestion back in Scotland, so a lesson to always listen!

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There are various ways to preserve fruit. The most complex version I’ve seen involves making a sugar syrup, cooking the fruit gently, and finishing off by heating everything in a hot water bath. My approach is far simpler – just pick the berries from the stalks, rinse them, then cover in brandy and add a little sugar. No spices, no cooking, no making a simple sugar syrup. The booze does all the hard work of preserving the fruit, and all you have to do is wait until Christmas to enjoy them. This technique is very similar to making a German Rumtopf but rather than adding different fruits as they come into season, you just throw the berries into a jar and let nature take its course. As you can see from my pictures, after a few weeks, the brandy has taken on an intense black colour from the berries. It’s also worth noting that you can adjust the sugar to taste – if you want, add less than I’ve suggested, and if you need to add more later, you can add a few more spoonfuls to balance the flavour. If you’re planning to eat these berries on their own, more sugar is probably good, whereas you could get away with less if serving with meringue or sweetened cream or ice cream.

One little tip that I did see when I was still in Scotland was to add a few blackcurrant leaves to the jar. They apparently contain more of the fragrant oils that give blackcurrants their flavour, so adding a few to the jar should provide a little boost while everything is steeping. That, and they do look rather pretty in the jar. I think if you were to add a little of the syrup to a glass of fizz, one of the leaves curled around the inside of your champagne flute would look rather pretty.

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Oh…and did I mention that in addition to boozy fruit, you’ll get a delicious home-made cassis liqueur? Perfect to add to champagne, cocktails or just have as a little post-dinner digestif.

To make blackcurrants in brandy:

• blackcurrants
• blackcurrant leaves (a handful)
• brandy
• white sugar

1. Clean a large jar with hot, soapy water and rinse well (we don’t want soapy berries!).

2. Remove the blackcurrants from the stalks. Rinse and add to the jar along with the blackcurrant leaves.

3. Now add the brandy and sugar until the fruit is covered. For every 100ml of brandy, add 30g of sugar (or less if you prefer).

4. Leave the jar in a cool, dark place for several months. Every couple of weeks, shake the jar to make sure the sugar dissolves.

Worth making? So far, so good. Check back at Christmas!

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Summer Pudding

Summer in Britain means an abundance of soft fruit, and this year has been a bit of a bumper crop. I just spent the weekend back at the family ranch (note: not an actual ranch) up in Scotland, and the garden was positively groaning with raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and blackberries. Things don’t get much more local – or tasty – than this.

Often one of the best ways to eat summer’s bounty is “as is”, possibly with cream or ice cream. However, there are times when you want something a bit fancier, but which still shows off these fruits to their best. If this is the case, then you might want to think about a summer pudding.

The origins of summer pudding seem to be a bit vague, but to me it has the air of something that probably comes from the Victoria period. Nothing that I can put my finger on, but I just have a feeling. Origins aside, it’s a real star – light but bursting with flavour.

This dessert is actually quite cunning in its simplicity – cook the fruit for a moment to that the juices are released, then put in a bowl that has been lined with bread. The bread absorbs the juices, and becomes sweet and velvety-soft. And the fruit, as it has had only a minimum of cooking, retains all of its fresh flavours and aromas. It also has a real visual “wow-factor” – it’s a deep purple, and surrounded by fresh fruit straight from the garden, it really does capture the essence of a summer’s day.

Given how simple it is, you might think it should just fall apart. However, as the bread absorbs the juice, the pudding does magically stay together.

To serve, I recommend a dollop of softly whipped cream. I’m normally not a fan of cream on desserts, but in this case, I think it really helps to highlight the flavours and bring them to life, so you can enjoy the “fruits” or your labour in the garden. Or, like me, to take advantage of all the hard work that a family member put in. Thanks!

If you like to experiment, you can try adding a dash of vanilla, a pinch of spices such as cinnamon or cloves, or some citrus zest. If that’s what you like, then go for it, but I like it with just the fruit. Then finish it off by arranging lots and lots of fruit around the pudding in an artful-yet-rustic way. I think you’ll agree, it looks stunning!

To make a large summer pudding:

• 750g soft fruits (raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, strawberries…)
• 1 loaf of slightly stale white bread, thinly sliced and crusts removed
• 150g caster sugar
• 2-3 tablespoons cassis (blackcurrant) liqueur

To prepare the fruit:

Put all the fruit (apart from any strawberries, if using) into a sieve and rinse. Shake dry. Put into a saucepan. Add the sugar and cook over a low heat until the fruit releases its juices but the berries still hold their shape. Leave to cool slightly, then add the chopped strawberries and cassis liqueur (if using).

To assemble the pudding:

Line a pudding bowl with cling film. Cut a circle of bread for the base. Dip one side in the fruit, then place juice-side down in the bowl. Cut more bread into triangles, dip one side in the juice, and use to line the inside of the bowl. At the end you should not have any gaps, and aim to have the bread coming up over the edge of the bowl.

Pour the fruit mixture into the bread-lined bowl. It should come to the rim of the bowl.

Use more bread to cover the fruit (this will form the base of the pudding). My tip is to rest the bread on top of the fruit for a moment, then flip over so that the base will also be properly coloured by the juice. Trim any extra bread from the edge of the bowl.

Place something flat (like a baking tray) on top of the bowl, then weigh down something heavy (stones, tin cans, weights…). Place in the fridge for 4-5 hours or overnight.

To serve:

Remove the pudding from the fridge about an hour before serving. Trim off any bits of excess bread. Put a plate on top of the pudding and with one swift movement, flip over. Remove the pudding bowl, and then carefully peel off the cling film. Garnish with fresh fruit.

Serve in slices with softly whipped cream.

Worth making? Yes yes yes! This is an easy but spectacular dessert – very worth trying, either as a large pudding or in individual portions. Can also be adapted depending on what is in season. In fact, to show how easy it is to make – we did this twice over one weekend. Simple!

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Filed under Les saveurs de l’été, Recipe, Sweet Things