Tag Archives: oranges

{6} Citrus Pfeffernüsse

We’ve reached the half-way point in this year’s 12 Bakes of Christmas, so I thought it would be nice to return to a bit of a festive classic. I’ve made a batch of Pfeffernüsse, but have added a but of a citrus twist to them.

Pfeffernüsse are one of my favourites, and I can much through a whole pile of these. Pretty miraculous for something that doesn’t even contain chocolate!

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This is a comparatively “easy” Pfeffernüsse recipe. Many recipes tell you to make various syrups, then let it cool, work in the flour and let it sit overnight or even for days to let the flavours develop. Not here. You can make them and bake them right away, with no need to leave it resting over night occupying valuable space in your fridge that could be chilling eggnog or champagne instead.

There is only one “fiddly” bit here, which is making sure that the Pfeffernüsse are soft. This is worth doing, as it ensures that they have a good, rich flavour when you bite into them. You’ve got two choice here – add some pieces of soft bread to a tin with the baked but unglazed cookies, replacing the bread as it gets hard, until the cookies are soft, which can take a few days. Or use my cheat’s express method – I put the Pfeffernüsse on a wire tray, and then hold that tray above steam from a pan of water or a boiling kettle for a few seconds. Do this twice, then pop them back in an airtight tin. Repeat this the next day, and you should find that they have softened up nicely.

To finish, I have dipped my Pfeffernüsse in icing, as they remind me of the ones you buy with their crisp, brittle icing. I used a couple of spoonfuls of Acqua de Cedro, a liqueur made with citron and like a posh version of limoncello with a sharp, citrus flavour, but you can equally use Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Now, you might be looking at these pictures and notice how amazingly white my icing looks – and it does seem just like snow! Well, the reason that it looks so brilliant is that I cheated (gasp!). I use a small dash of white food colour with the icing, so that it had that bright, snowy appearance. It doesn’t change the flavour and you can happily skip it, but in the interests of full disclosure I feel I should say that I’ve used it in case someone makes these and is surprised that they don’t look quite as white!

How you flavour them is up to you – I’ve used a mixture of spices, plus candied orange peel. You can make these extra-citrussy with the addition of some orange zest, or get creative and go for something completely different – cardamom and lemon anyone? Or convert to the dark side…cinnamon and cloves for flavour, and then dipped in dark chocolate? Now that would be pretty sensational!

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To make Citrus Pfeffernüsse (makes 20):

For the Pfeffernüsse

• 125g caster sugar
• 1 large egg
• 20g candied orange peel, finely chopped
• 50g ground almonds
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• pinch white pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 125g plain flour

For the glaze

• 100g icing sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon white food colouring (optional)
• orange liqueur or water
• cubes of candied peel

1. Put the egg and sugar in a bowl. Mix well until thick and creamy (around 5 minutes).

2. Fold in the chopped orange peel, ground almonds and spices and mix well.

3. Combine the flour and baking powder, then mix into the wet ingredients until you have a smooth dough – it will slightly sticky, but you should be able to roll pieces into balls. If too dry, add a few drops of water; if too wet, add a tiny sprinkle more flour.

4. Pinch off small walnut-sized pieces of the dough. This is best done with damp hands to prevent the dough sticking. If you’ve very precise, weigh the dough, divide by 20, then make sure each piece is the same weight (mine were 17g each…)

5. Bake the Pfeffernüsse at 180°C for 15 minutes until golden and puffed, turning the tray half-way. When baked, remove and leave to cool on a wire rack. Transfer the cold cookies to an airtight tin and add a slice of bread – this will soften the Pfeffernüsse. Replace the bread when dry.

6. To glaze, mix the icing sugar with white colouring (if using) and enough water or liqueur to get a thick but smooth icing – think really thick double cream. Dip each cookie in the icing, shake off the excess, put some pieces of candied peel on top and leave to set.

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Blood Orange Marmalade

A great way to bring a bit of sunshine into what can be the very grey last days of winter is to get busy with making marmalade. Seville oranges are a British favourite, as they are too bitter to use for most purposes, but they do provide a good, sharp breakfast marmalade to wake you up in the morning. However, not everyone is a fan, so I’ve turned my hand to using other citrus that gives a milder result (more being shaken aware than being slapped?), and it just so happened that I got a load of blood oranges delivered recently in my veg box.

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I know that jams, preserves and marmalades can seem like a bit of dark art, and that marmalade in particular is often thought of as being rather daunting. I think it’s really just a matter of patience. In fact, marmalade it is the sort of thing that is perfect to make on a quiet weekend when you’re just pottering around at home, as you spend Saturday juicing the fruit and shredding the peel, then boiling everything up and letting it sit. Then on Sunday, you get to do the “fun bit” with the sugar, engaging in what seems like alchemy to turn a pot of watery orange peel into a sweet, tangy and glowing confection.

I always find that there is something rather therapeutic about peeling and slicing all those orange peels, with the wonderful orange aroma filling the kitchen as you prepare and cook the fruit. All that orange oil being spritzed into the air as you handle the peel does leave you feeling rather invigorated!

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As I was using blood oranges, I was expecting this to really impact on the final marmalade – something rich and red was surely going to be my reward, yes? Some of my oranges had quite dark red skin (a good start) and when I cut into them, I was pleased by the bright red flesh and juice. I was expecting that the resulting marmalade would be a jolly red colour…but in the end, it was a deep shade of orange. A nice colour, just not red. So all in all, just a touch disappointing, but not the end of the world! And of course, the flavour was still fantastic – obviously a strong orange flavour, but without some of that bitterness that you get with Seville oranges, but not the sweet jelly you get when using the very fine peel from sweet oranges. As I had used all of the peel, not just the coloured part, it still had enough of a bitter tinge to balance all the sugar in there.

When making marmalade, you should in theory be able to get a good set using just the peel, sugar and water, and rely on the fruit membranes and pips to give you enough pectin. I’ve made marmalade this way in the past with everything from Seville oranges to grapefruit, but my experience is that you can end up boiling everything for absolutely ages. This can concentrate down the sugar, resulting in a very sweet marmalade, and I think the longer you boil everything, the more of an impact this has on the flavour, and I suspect you probably lose some of the delicate aromatic orange oils (or not – I’m a home cook, not a scientist, so just a theory of mine). So I cheat – I want everything to be done more quickly, and I want a reliable set, so I use half normal granulated sugar and half jam sugar (with pectin). Sure, it makes me a massive cheat, but it works.

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While I bemoaned the lack of a vibrant crimson colour in the final marmalade, I was able to ensure the colour was on the dark side. I used about 100g of dark muscovado sugar rather than white sugar. I think using all muscovado sugar would be too overwhelming, but using about 10% does make it a shade or two more intense, and adds a little extra something to the finished marmalade.

This recipe makes about 5-6 normal sized pots. It’s excellent on hot toast with melted butter, but it has lots of other uses. Try folding it into fruit cakes or sponge cakes for a robust orange tang, or add it to gingerbread and melt to use as a glaze. Or get very creative…add to the shaker and mix into your cocktail of choice. Try a spoonful mixed with gin and then add your tonic…

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To make Blood Orange Marmalade (makes 6 pots):

• 1kg blood oranges (5-6 oranges)
• 500g jam sugar (with pectin)
• 100g dark muscovado sugar
• 400g white caster sugar
• 100ml lemon juice
• small knob of butter (size of an almond)

Day One

1. Wash the oranges. Cut in half and juice them.

2. Take each of the pieces of peel – trim off the membranes on the inside (keep them!) and cut the peel into fine shreds.

3. Measure the orange juice, and top up to 2 litres with water. Add the shredded peel. Collect that various seeds, membranes, any peel offcuts and anything left in the orange juicer (such as pulp) into a piece of muslin, tied securely, and add to the pot.

4. Put the pot onto a medium heat and cover. Bring to the boil, then simmer for around 2 hours until the peel is very soft. When done, turn off the heat and leave to sit overnight.

Day Two

5. Strain the liquid from the pot (keep the shredded orange peel!). Squeeze as much as you can from the muslin bag – this will extract pectin, and you should notice the liquid coming through the muslin a bit thick. Once you’ve got as much as you can from the bag, discard the mush inside.

6. Measure the liquid – if necessary, top up to 1 litre. If you’ve got more, don’t worry – add it all to the pot.

7. Return the liquid to the pot with the peel and the sugar, and place over a medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Add the lemon juice and the knob of butter, then keep on a medium heat until it comes to a rolling boil. Skim off any foam that forms, and start to test regularly for a set(*). It’s hard to say how long this takes – it might be 10 minutes, it might be 40 minutes. Just be sure to keep an eye on the marmalade – burnt marmalade is not nice.

8. When you have a set, remove the marmalade from the heat and leave to sit for 12 minutes (it will thicken slightly – this helps to ensure the strands “float” in the marmalade and don’t sink). Decant the hot marmalade into sterilised jam jars and seal(**).

(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little marmalade on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a minute. Push with your finger – if the marmalade visibly “wrinkles” when you push it, the marmalade is done. If it stays liquid, then cook longer and check again after a few minutes.

(**) How to sterilise jam jars? Wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 100°C / 210°F for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, allow to cool slightly (they should still be warm) and fill with the hot marmalade. You can leave the jars in the oven with the heat turned off until you need them, as this keeps the glass warm, and warm glass is much less likely to crack when you add warm jam (science, eh?). Remember to sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling them in a pot of hot water for a few minutes.

Worth making?  100% yes! This is easy to make, but the result is delicious, and I think so much better than the manmade that you can buy. You can also customise according to your preferences – you can add spices, fresh ginger or even a dash of whisky or brandy to lend a little extra kick.

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{6} Clementine and Clove Sablés

I’ve done a lot of traditional baking this year, so today I’ve had a go at an original creation (although no doubt there is some corner of Europe where this is the seasonal biscuits and has been for 900 years…). These are actually just some simple butter biscuits that don’t have much sugar, and where the key thing is the flavours.

They are livened up with a combination of clementine zest and cloves. I know that cloves are a very strong spice and that not everyone is a fan, but trust me, they really work so, so well with the citrus zest. If you think this is not the combination for you, then I’m afraid tradition is against you – this is the classic combination used in an aromatic pomander, with whole cloves pressed into a fresh orange. They do smell delicious and were used historically by wealthy and powerful gentlemen and ladies to make the air around them smell just a little bit sweeter (at least those that were not rich enough to afford a solid silver pomander filled with all manner of exotic spices).

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This recipe does seem a bit funny when you’re making it. The dough is fairly soft, so you might think that there is not enough flour in the recipe. Don’t fret! The key thing is to pop the dough into the freezer for a bit, then cut off pieces as you’re making the biscuits. The chilled dough is easy to work with. And before baking the biscuits, I put the whole tray in the freezer for 3 minutes. This made sure everything was firm, and keeps a nice clean edge when baking. This might all sound like a bit of a faff, but it ensures that you have a higher amount of butter in the finished biscuit.

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As you can see, I’ve decorated the basic biscuits in two ways, so they are ideal if you’re in a rush and want to give the impression that you’ve been in the kitchen for ages turning out biscuits.

First off, the stars, which I brushed with a simple orange icing while they were still warm from the oven. This results in a rather pretty frosted effect on the stars, which seems somehow fitting at this time of year.

The rest of the biscuits were made with a scalloped cutter, and I just drizzled some dark chocolate on them. Not enough to coat them, but just enough for the dark lines to provide a nice contrast to the pale biscuit, and just a hint of cocoa. If you want some other contrasts, you can mix in some chocolate chips, dried fruit or chopped candied peel too. Just keep the fact you’ve done it all with one recipe can be our little secret.

And there we have it…we’ve reached the half-way point in this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas Baking (or Baking Madness, if you prefer). I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far!

To make Clementine and Clove Sablés (makes 50 small-ish biscuits*)

• 25g ground almonds
• 230g plain flour
• 100g salted butter, cold
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 85g icing sugar
• 2 clementines, zest only
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 large egg, beaten

(*) My biscuits were two-bite efforts – if you make them smaller, you’ll have loads more!)

1. Put the almonds, flour and butter into a bowl. Work with your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs,

2. Add the baking power, icing sugar, zest and spices. Mix well, then add the egg and vanilla extract and work quickly to a smooth dough (it should be soft but not too sticky). Wrap in cling film and chill in the freezer for 30 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper.

4. Take chunks of the chilled dough and roll out thinly on a worktop. Cut out whatever shapes you like! If the dough gets too soft and sticky, just pop back in the freezer to firm up.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes (depending on size) until golden.

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That Cranberry Issue

I’m not quite sure when cranberries became part of a British Christmas. I’m sure they didn’t really feature when I was younger, but the moment when they popped up eludes me. All I know is that these days, they are available almost everywhere – in sauce, frozen and fresh.

Obviously they make a great sauce with the Christmas bird (if that is your thing), but my problem is that I tend to buy several packets of them based on the fact that they are bright red and look like something that belongs with the celebrations. All well and good, but apart from sauce, you quite quickly run out of options. Cranberries are so tart that you can’t eat them fresh, and even in baked goods they can be lip-smackingly sour (yes, there is a reason that lots of sugar is added to dried cranberries!).

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So, if you’ve succumbed to the temptation to buy cranberries, didn’t use them with dinner, and are now looking at them wondering what the heck to do with them, I have a suggestion. You can easily cook them up with that other festive favourite, clementines, and make a bright red, rather tart jam. It’s a little like marmalade (sweet, but with some tang) what can go on bread or scones, or alternatively with strong cheddar. Even if your cranberries are past their best and have been bruised, you can still throw them into the jam pot and transform them into something wonderful. The berries also have enough pectin to ensure that this jam sets easily, and you can be done with everything in less than half an hour if you’re organised. Problem solved!

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To make cranberry jam:

• 600g cranberries
• 200ml water
• 500g white sugar
• 3 clementines, zest and juice only

1. Start by sterilising some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.

2. Put the cranberries and water into a pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer for five minutes. Use a masher to make sure all the berries have burst.

3. Add the sugar, clementine juice and clementine zest. Stir well, bring to the boil, the simmer until the jam sets (10-15 minutes)(**).

4. Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars, seal, label and hide it somewhere.

(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

(**) To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on the icy-cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jam wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.

Worth making? A nice, if somewhat tart, jam. Good if you like cranberries, and it does make a nice change from very sweet jams at breakfast. The clementine also adds greater depth of flavour and some freshness to the taste.

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{2} Queen’s Gingerbread

Earlier this year, we enjoyed the damp festivities of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. At the time, I saw this recipe by Dan Lepard for gingerbread that I wanted to have a go at there and then, but I felt that it really ought to be saved for Christmas. I’ve gone back and looked at it several times since, but finally, finally, it’s time to dust it off and give it a try.

Even before making this recipe, I thought it looked delicious – rather than the light, soft, cake-like gingerbread we’re used to, this looked light something dense and rich, more like Italian panforte. However, as always, I could not resist the urge to make a little tweak, and dropped the dried apricots in place of dates. I though they would add a touch of the exotic to go with the spices.

I was also keen to give this recipe a try early in December to see how the flavours developed when stored. There is certainly a heroic amount of spice in the recipe, and I opted for a robust heather honey that would not be overpowered by the ginger, nutmeg, mace and cinnamon. As of today, it’s a very rich treat, and it does have a very “traditional” flavour that is very welcome on these chilly days. It’s also a nice alternative to very sweet, chocolatey treats that are ubiquitous at this time of the year!

One tip – if you use a pan as per Dan’s recipe, the pieces are around an inch high. If you want smaller pieces, I suggest using a larger pan and adjusting the cooking time accordingly. However, I quite like my diamonds, cut small, yet somehow towering on a plate.

Dan’s recipe refers to this as something the Elizabethans would have called a sweetmeat. This certainly strikes me as something that would, in another time, have seemed like the utter height of luxury. There is a decadent, almost obscene, amount of spice in this recipe, as well as treacle and honey and dried fruit. In the era of Gloriana, this would have been something that only those with rather a lot of money would have been able to afford. The access we have to ingredients these days – we are very blessed indeed!

To make Queen’s Gingerbread (original recipe here):

• 450g plain flour
• 5 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1 teaspoon ground mace
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• 150g unsalted butter
• 250g caster sugar
• 150g honey
• 150g black treacle
• 75g candied citrus peel, chopped
• 75g dates, chopped
• 75g preserved ginger, chopped
• 100g unskinned almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Line the based of a 20cm square tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Stir well, then sieve to make sure everything is properly mixed.

3. Put the butter, honey, treacle and sugar into a large saucepan. Heat gently until combined and the sugar has melted. Stir in the citrus peel, dates and ginger. Allow to cool until only slightly warm (if too warm, the baking soda will start to react).

4. Add the flour mixture to the saucepan and stir to a thick dough. Press the dough into the tin (you’ll find this is easiest with damp hands).

5. Cut the almonds in half, and sprinkle evenly over the top (some with the white side showing, some with the skin showing). Press lightly into the dough.

6. Bake for around 25 minutes – the dough will be puffed up. Remove from the oven, leave to cool, then cut into diamonds. Store in an airtight container.

Worth making? I love this recipe! In spite of all that sugar and honey, the result is not too sweet, and lends itself to a rich snack with a cup of tea. So far, it seems to keep well, and the flavour is actually nicer after a few days (but also very tasty right away too).

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Kumquat Marmalade

My compulsive shopping habit struck again, and I bought a pound of kumquats. They always seem like such a good thing to buy, especially given that they are only around for what seem like a few weeks. It’s probably longer, but in the world of the impulse shopper, you rationalise these things by thinking that this just must be too good an opportunity to pass up.

First of all, I got to enjoy eating a few of them. I love the sour centre and the very sweet skins. That zesty tang stays with you for a while, even if you only eat a few. But the prospect of munching through a whole pound of them? Probably not…

So…what was it to be? Having recently got over my marmalade phobia, I thought I would give it another try, this time with the miniature members of the citrus family. I love my bitter marmalade, but I realise that if you’re not such a fan, then something a little sweeter is probably the way to go.

The good news is that, unlike with Seville oranges, there is no tedious de-pithing involved. Just slice up the kumquats (peel, pith and flesh), remove the seeds, soak, boil and you’re done. Well, not quite good news. Removing all those seeds is actually something of a faff, but it’s a good task to do when you’ve got half an hour and a radio programme to listen to. All in all, it’s probably a rather therapeutic exercise to help forget whatever else has been bugging you during the day.

I looked long and hard for a version of kumquat marmalade that would allow me to use little kumquat discs to keep their shape. It was rather a struggle – there were lots of versions that involved squeezing out the pith and pips, and they you shred the peel into strips. Well, I’m sorry, but if you’re not going to have the dainty size of the kumquats featuring in the marmalade, then you might as well use plain old sweet oranges. I wasn’t looking for shredded peel, I wanted circles!

In the end, I just decided to wing it and go back to my basic marmalade recipe, and use kumquats instead of Seville oranges. So I boiled up the fruit the night before, then the next day cooked it up with sugar (mostly white, with two tablespoons of muscovado), lemon juice and some pectin. I was mindful that there would not be as much pectin in this marmalade as my last attempt, so it would be acceptable to use a little helping hand. And the lemon was necessary to add a little sharpness to balance all the sweetness from the sugar and the kumquats themselves.

As you can see, the result looks great and it tastes fantastic. Currently (three days later) it has a very loose set, but this seems to change over time and it tends towards a light set. The “jammy bit” of the marmalade is sweet and lightly orangy, but it’s the peel that packs the punch. It tastes strongly of citrus, and there is not a single hint of bitterness.

You’ll end up with four to five jars of sunshine in spreadable form. It’s great on warm thick-cut sourdough bread with a good spreading of butter. Let the lot melt together slightly, and enjoy!

To make kumquat marmalade:

• 400g kumquats
• 1.2 litres water
• 800g sugar
• 4 tablespoons liquid pectin
• 1 lemon, juice only
• pinch of salt
• small knob of unsalted butter

Day 1:

Wash the kumquats, then slice them finely. As you go, you’ll need to pick out the seeds, which is frankly a pain. Put the slices kumquats into a pan with the water. Put the seeds and any scraps of peel into a piece of muslin – tie the ends an add to the pot.

Cover the pan and bring to the boil, then remove the lid and boil for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the mixture. Leave to sit overnight.

Day 2:

Remove the pips and discard. Add the sugar to the kumquats and slowly bring to a rolling boil. Add the pectin, lemon juice, salt and butter, and cook the marmalade until it reaches 104°C (219°F) is using a jam thermometer, otherwise test manually(*). During the cooking process, you might have to remove any foam that appears (if you’ve used the butter, this helps keep the foam to a minimum).

When the marmalade is ready, leave to cool a little so that the marmalade thickens slightly (this helps to ensure the pieces of kumquat “float” in the marmalade and don’t sink). Decant the hot marmalade into sterilised jam jars and seal(**). Then enjoy on hot, buttered toast with a cup of tea in the morning!

(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little marmalade on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a moment. Push with your finger – if the marmalade  “wrinkles” when you push it, the marmalade is done. If it stays liquid, then cook longer and check again later. This is why you are better to cook gently but for a longer time, as if you miss the set, the sugar will start to caramelise, and the marmalade will be very thick and sticky.

(**) How to sterilise jam jars? Wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 100°C / 210°F for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, allow to cool slightly (they should still be warm) and fill with the hot marmalade. You can leave the jars in the oven with the heat turned off until you need them, as this keeps the glass warm, and warm glass is much less likely to crack when you add warm jam (science, eh?). Remember to sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling them in a pot of hot water for a few minutes.

Worth making? This is a perfect marmalade for those that don’t like the sharpness and bitterness of the traditional English breakfast variant. The loose set means it can also be used over fruit for a citrussy lift. Highly recommended

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Lady Marmalade

I’ve developed an annoying habit of working song references into my writing. I could offer sincere apologies…but I don’t see the need! While this practice is probably acceptable in the blogging context, I am not quite so sure that my attempts to weave in references to the greatest hits of Whitney Houston went down quite so well at work. And that, dear reader, is a shame, a there are two seminal works – “It’s Not Right but It’s Okay” and “How Will I Know” that suit pretty much any situation that you will be faced with…

I digress. It’s the time of year when Seville oranges appear. Olé!

Seville oranges are good for one thing – and that is marmalade. You’ve never confuse them with juicing oranges more than once! And it’s that tangy tartness that makes for wonderful preserves.

And that’s why Lady Marmalade has been hummed with much enthusiasm recently, as I’ve been trying to get to grips with the tricky issue of marmalade. Indeed, you may wish to play it in the background (go on…go on...). You see, the thing is that while I am pretty happy to make jam or jelly, I’ve always thought of marmalade as “a bit too difficult”. However, I was in Barcelona recently, and the trees in some of the parks still bore oranges from last year, and I took that as a sign that 2012 was the year that I should give it a go.

What I do know about marmalade is that it’s a bit more of a dark art than my favourite jam, raspberry. Raspberries require no preparation, and are already pectin-rich. This means you just measure out equal amounts of fruit and sugar, add a squeeze of lemon juice, and boil until set. Marmalade, on the other hand, requires you to get the right sort of oranges. We need Seville oranges. These are rough little things, with mouth-puckerng juice and a real tang to them. Then you need to do “stuff” with the pith, juice, seeds and peel, then you need to separate out the peel, then you need to strain the mixture, then boil it…so you see why I’ve always been a bit apprehensive.

However, 2012 is going to be the year of dreams of winning gold in London, and I was going to make my marmalade. So I went looking for a recipe. What become pretty clear in no time was that there are many, many variations out there, but no single “right” way. This is probably inevitable when you’re trying to make something as traditional as marmalade. Finally, I stumbled upon a recipe by Dan Lepard which looked sufficiently easy for the novice to succeed with. It involved cutting the peel off the orange, shredding it, then putting it into a piece of muslin. Then you cook everything (and I mean everything) to get a zesty liquid, discard all the pith and pips, and just open the muslin cloth and add the zest, then boil with sugar. Simple.

Then I made it. And you know what? It was simple. I did the fruit peeling and boiling on a Saturday (filling the house with the fantastic smell of orange oil) and  left the mixture to drain overnight. On the Sunday, I boiled it up with sugar and bottled it. And now, I have six jars of beautiful marmalade, the colour of red amber and laced with delicate strands of vibrant zest.

Yes, I said strands.

Yes, I’m one of those people.

The world seems to split into those that love thick cut marmalade – with the great big chunks of peel – and those that like it fine cut. I fall into the latter camp, as I much prefer the marmalade to quiver on my toast, with lots of bits of peel sticking out. But I have a few oranges left, so I may well try my hand at a thick-cut recipe in the near future.

I couldn’t be happier with this marmalade – the method is quite easy, and the result is, frankly, stunning. The colour is beautiful, it has a delicate, soft set that quivers on the spoon, and it has a flavour that really wakes you up in the morning. Delicious!

Now just one question remains….what exactly is that magnolia wine they sang about in Lady Marmalade? Hmmm…

To make Seville orange marmalade (Adapted from Dan Leperd):

• 600g Seville oranges
• 1.1 litres water

• 1.2kg white sugar
• 2 generous tablespoons dark brown sugar (optional)

Day 1:

Wash the oranges in hot water and dry.

Cut the peel off the oranges in strips. Remove any bits of pith from the strips of peel. Cut the peel into fine strands, put into a piece of muslin, and tie very securely with a piece of string.

Cut the oranges in half, squeeze the juice into a large pan, chop the remains and add to the pot. Add any bits of pith you cut from the peel. Add the water and the bag of peel strips. Bring the mixture to the boil, then cover with a lid and simmer for around 2 hours until the peel is very soft.

Line a sieve with a piece of muslin or a jelly bag, pour in the orange mixture and leave to drain – at least an hour, but overnight doesn’t hurt.

Day 2:

Measure the liquid form the oranges – you should have just over one litre. If not enough, add a little more water.

Add the orange zest and sugar, and heat the mixture until it comes to a rolling boil. Cook the marmalade until it reaches 104°C (219°F) is using a jam thermometer, otherwise test manually(*). During the cooking process, you might have to remove any foam that appears.

When the marmalade is ready, leave to cool a little so that the marmalade thickens slightly (this helps to ensure the strands “float” in the marmalade and don’t sink). Decant the hot jam into sterilised jam jars and seal(**). Then enjoy on hot, buttered toast with a cup of tea in the morning!

(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little marmalade on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a moment. Push with your finger – if the marmalade  “wrinkles” when you push it, the marmalade is done. If it stays liquid, then cook longer and check again later. This is why you are better to cook gently but for a longer time, as if you miss the set, the sugar will start to caramelise, and the marmalade will be very thick and sticky.

(**) How to sterilise jam jars? Wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 100°C / 210°F for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, allow to cool slightly (they should still be warm) and fill with the hot marmalade. You can leave the jars in the oven with the heat turned off until you need them, as this keeps the glass warm, and warm glass is much less likely to crack when you add warm jam (science, eh?). Remember to sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling them in a pot of hot water for a few minutes.

Worth making? I am surprised how easy this recipe for marmalade is, and the flavour is absolutely delicious on toast to give you a bit of a citrussy wake-up call in the morning. Highly recommended!

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Chocolate Bark

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So if I were to just drone on about bean-based cooking, I people would rapidly start to switch off, and we can’t have that now, can we? So today I’ve made something that you can pretend is healthy, but in reality, probably isn’t – it’s chocolate bark.

Yes, I’ve seen this pitched – in all seriousness – as some sort of healthy snack. OK, it does have nuts and dried fruit on it, but all that healthy stuff is partly enrobed in chocolate, and usually a pretty thick slab of the stuff. So by all means, do pretend it’s a health food, but I prefer the honest approach – use good nuts, posh dried fruit, lovely chocolate and see it as the luxurious treat that it really is. Then again, I suppose that it is better for you than that deep-fried butter I read they were serving up at the Iowa State Fair last year. It’s all relative.

What I like about making this is that there really is not that much skill needed to make it look presentable. You just melt the chocolate, and then sprinkle over the “other stuff”. If you would like to show off a spark of genius and produce something to delight the senses, you can of course do that by selecting some amazing fruit and nut combinations for the topping. Here I have gone for a vaguely seasonal selection – I’ve used toasted almonds (mainly because I love toasted almonds) and some bright green pistachios. I’ve also added a handful of pumpkin seeds which, if you’re not familiar with them, are awesome. I add them to salads, soups, stir-frys and will happily much on them in place of peanuts with a drink. On the sweeter side, I added very thinly sliced Italian candied orange peel, dried cranberries and chopped glacé cherries (the natural dark red ones, not the neon ones). So all in all, it’s a little bit festive, but does not scream “Christmas” too loudly.

This is also a great idea if you need to use up an otherwise rather random selection of items from the store cupboard. The topping can be pretty much anything you can imagine – for some crunch, you could use pistachios, cashews, Brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts. Add some flavour with aromatic spices such as nigella seeds, caraway, fennel, cardamom (you might like to crush spices slightly, and use judiciously). And on the fruity side, you could use dried apricots, prunes, figs, apples, pineapple, citrus peel…if it’s preserved and not too dry, you can use it! So while this is easy, it’s not quite true to say there is not art or skill in making this bark – how you combine the topping will result in very different types of “bar”.

In fact, if the mood takes you, you could get very creative any try using different types of chocolate (milk, dark, white) and rather than mix them together, spread one type of chocolate into the tray as the “base” and then drizzle the other on top. Then take a stick and make fantastic swirls and feather patterns. Channel your inner Jackson Pollock or Max Ernst and go crazy.

As a final twist, you can also make this a more adult treat by adding an extra something – a pinch of very finely ground fleur de sel in the melted chocolate sprinkle a few flakes on top. On a purely childish level, this looks like snow! On a more sophisticated food snob level, this tingle of saltiness on the tongue will enhance the flavour of the chocolate. Oh, and it looked like snow!!!!!!

To make chocolate bark:

Step 1: prepare the “stuff”

• 100g nuts, roughly chopped and toasted
• 100g dried fruit, chopped
• pinch of fleur de sel

Prepare the nuts and fruit, cutting into smaller pieces if necessary. We’re not looking for perfection – in fact, rough and different sizes is good.

Step 2: melt the chocolate and make the bark

• 150g dark chocolate
• 150g milk chocolate

If you’re a busy person: put all the chocolate into a bowl above a pan of barely simmering water. Leave to melt, then mix well.

If you are tempering the chocolate: put two-thirds of the chocolate into a bowl above a pan of barley simmering water. Allow the chocolate to melt, then remove from the heat. Add around a third of the reserved chocolate, and stir constantly until it has melted (note: takes a long time!). Add another third of the chocolate, and stir until melted. Add the rest of the chocolate, and stir until melted. By this stage, the chocolate should be only just warm – put a little on your tongue and it should not be too hot – just warm. If too warm, keep stirring until the temperature is right.

Pour the chocolate into the lined tray. Scatter over the mixed fruit, nuts and salt (if using) and shake the tray lightly – the “bits” should sink into the chocolate slightly, which means they won’t fall off later.

Leave to cool for several hours or overnight, then break into chunks.

Worth making? Chocolate bark is really easy and can be made with whatever you happen to have in the house – and it’s perfect for times when you have some left-over melted chocolate and need a fun and easy way to use it up.

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Candied Kumquats

I am a dreadfully compulsive shopper, notorious for seeing things that look interesting but without even the vaguest idea of what I will do with them, all in furtherance of some abstract aim of having a “well-stocked larder”. The most recent manifestation of this habit all started with a mission into central London to track down some elusive yuzu fruit, but without any success(*).

In trawling various shops, I came across other exotic fruit, and this is how I came to have two punnets of kumquats sitting in the kitchen. Cue feelings of guilt about not doing something with them…

I think kumquats are absolutely delicious, and I am happy to eat a few of them on their own, peel, pips and all. As you bit into them, you get the rich sweetness from the skin and a burst of the aromatic perfumed oil, then the citrus tang of the kumquat flesh. They always make me think of the Far East – kumquats do originate in that part of the world, but I think it is their dainty size, elegant shape and delicate flavour that makes this connection for me. Does that make sense?

Now, to say that I didn’t know what to do with them is not entirely correct, as I managed to munch my way through a fair few of them as I pondered what the options were. Ultimately I thought it would nice to make something exciting with them, but I settled on the idea of making candied kumquats. Not perhaps so exciting, but I imagined that I would later be able to add them, chopped, to cake batters or use them and their rich syrup as a topping on a chocolate dessert, all to add a little sweet citrus zing.

I was aiming for a pot of kumquats that would be sweet and soft, but would hold their shape, all the while enrobed in a rich syrup. The flavour is quite pronounced – you need to like oranges – and a little reminiscent of marmalade. And if you are a little freaked out by the idea of eating the skin of an orange, fret not. These kumquats keep their shape, but area wonderfully soft and seem to melt in the mouth as you eat them.

To make candied kumquats:

• 400g kumquats
• 300ml water
• 200g white sugar
• pinch of salt

Wash the kumquats and pat dry with a clean towel.

Cut each fruit in half (across the fruit) and use the point of a sharp knife to remove the seeds(**).

Place the kumquats, water, sugar and salt in a pan and leave on a medium heat. Stir a couple of times to be sure the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, and leave the kumquats to simmer, covered, for around two hours until the fruit is translucent and the syrup has thickened (remember it will thicken further when cool).

Pour the kumquat and syrup into a clean jar(***). Seal and store in the fridge until needed.

(*) If anyone does know where I can get hold of yuzu fruit in London, I would be most grateful! I did have them in some wagashi recently, and am keen to try doing something with yuzu myself.

(**) At this stage, if you are worried that the kumquats are too bitter, boil some water in a pan. Add the kumquats, boil for 1 minute, then drain. Repeat. This should get rid of any bitterness, and then continue with the recipe.

(***) Such as, eh, the large and very heavy Le Parfait glass preserving jars that you forced someone to carry all the way across Europe on holiday last year…

Worth making? If you have the patience to slice and de-seed kumquats, this is a superb recipe. The result is surprisingly sophisticated, and makes a wonderful addition to good ice-cream or on a simply piece of cake. You also get the benefit of a rich, sweet kumquat syrup which also works well on desserts or, for the more louche cook, in a cocktail.

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