I didn’t have any crystallised stem ginger to hand, just a jar of Chinese stem ginger in syrup, so I used that. I also didn’t bake it for quite as long, about half an hour less and I remembered to add the brandy. It did froth and steam at bit when I added it, as per the recipe, which leaves me wondering if all the alcohol was burnt off or not. It’s supposed to be required to aid in the preserving, so you’d hope some of it survived.
When we made mince pies last Christmas, I wanted to make some Plum and Russet Mincemeat, but I didn’t realise that it’s suppose to mature for a couple of months. When we were offered some plums and apples last month by a friend, I knew exactly what to use them for.
While the apples we were given weren’t russets, I didn’t think it would make that much difference, so didn’t bother trying to hunt some down. We also hummed and hawed about buying ginger wine and brandy, as neither is something that we have in the house. In the end we decided to buy both, as if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it properly.
You start by softening the halved plums in orange juice, before either blending the lot, or passing it through a sieve. As I have a Vitamix though, I wasn’t going to bother with the arm ache of passing it all though a sieve. The recipe says that you should end up with around 700ml of purée, I got waaaaaaaay more than that, so I’m not sure if my plums were extra juice or not. I added a bit of icing sugar to the remaining purée to turn it into a kind of plum coulis, it went quite nicely with some apple and bramble crumble.
Once you have your purée, you add everything else to it, bar the brandy and leave it overnight to meld. The following day, it’s into the oven to bake for two to two and a half hours. I decided to go for the full two and a half hours, I can’t remember why now, but I should only have baked it for two, as it was a bit too reduced and cooked for my liking. All that was left to do was add the brandy and pot it up, so I totally forgot about the brandy and shoveled it into recycled pasata jars and left it too cool.
I have no idea why I forgot the brandy, but as the alcohol is required as part of the preserving process and the fact that I actually went to the trouble of buying some, I’m quite annoyed with myself. Only time will tell if this was a fatal mistake or not. Only time will tell if using pasata jars was the right thing too, as I have not idea how I’m going to get all the mincemeat out of those when the time comes. I might have to buy a really long handled teaspoon or something; I’m not sure what I was thinking when I pulled those from the cupboard.
I’ve been meaning to write about my adventures in sourdough for a while. It was back in January that I first muttered on here about making some, mainly so I could have something to slather my marmalade on, while drinking a mug of freshly ground black coffee. Since then, I’ve made two different sourdough starters, one with Rye flour, the other with Spelt and had a bash or three are making some bread with them.
So far the results have been rather less than successful, with each batch having more resemblance to a lead frisbee rather than a light and airy loaf of bread. So I decided to change what I was doing at the weekend and produced easily my best sourdough loaf so far.
I’ve been following the method outlined in Bread: River Cottage Handbook No. 3, but my results, as stated, haven’t been very good. I think there are a number of reason for this though. Firstly, I’ve been using some stone ground wholemeal flour from a local mill, which makes for quite a dense crumb. I’ve also just been turning the proved loaves out of their banneton baskets, directly onto a baking sheet, so there’s been nothing to stop them from spreading out and collapsing.
Enter the sourdough episode of Paul Hollywood’s Bread, which I finally got round to watching last week. So on Saturday I decided to follow Paul’s method, albeit with stone ground strong white bread flour, rather than just strong white bread flour. This meant that I didn’t knock back and prove repeatedly, just the once and that I turned the risen loaf out onto a baking sheet with some semolina flour on it.
Paul’s method also calls for a lower oven temperature, rather than the “as high as it’ll go” approach (which for me is 270°C, although I don’t normally go above 250°C). I don’t know if this was a factor, but I got some rise out of the oven for a change, normally my loaves don’t do much other than cook in the oven, so it was nice to finally see one puff up a bit.
All this meant that on Sunday morning, I had a few slices of my sourdough, with my marmalade slathered all over them and washed down with some freshly ground strong black coffee. While it’s not the first time I’ve managed to do this, it is the first time I’ve stood there and been quite pleased with what I’ve produced.
I love marmalade, I think it’s mainly due to my Mum making a massive batch of it every year, mainly for Dad to use on his toast; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him have anything else on his toast to be honest. I’d planned to make some last year, but was a bit lax and missed all the Seville oranges. So this year, I made sure I knew when they would be in the shops and bought enough to make two batches.
The River Cottage Handbook on preserves has to methods for making marmalade, the whole fruit method and the sliced fruit method. As I’ve not made marmalade before, I thought it best if I made one batch of each, so that I could decide which was easiest and tastiest.
The first method I tried was the whole fruit one, which sees the whole oranges boiled until the rind is soft. They are then sliced up to your preferred thickness, before being boiled with the sugar until setting point is reached. I didn’t put a plate on top of the oranges when boiling them, so they were floating, rather than submerged, but it didn’t appear to affect them, as all of the rind was soft.
It felt like it took an age to chop them up though, I wasn’t expecting it to take me so long. It wasn’t that they were tough to chop up or anything, just really messy. I think it would have all gone a bit quicker, if I’d scooped out the flesh and then chopped the rind, rather than trying to do it all together.
The main issue I had with this method though, was with the boil, as even though I took it way above the required 104.5°C setting temperature, it just wouldn’t pass the crinkle test. In the end, I think I boiled for around fifty minutes before I decided that enough was enough and potted up. While it did set in the jars, it wasn’t with the stiffest set, although that’s no to say it was overly runny either.
The following weekend I decided to try the sliced fruit method, which takes considerably longer to complete. This is mainly due to the need to soak the rind in its own juices overnight. I thought that chopping the raw rind would be quite hard, but it didn’t seem to take me any longer than for the whole fruit method, although I did have to put a couple of plasters on my finger to stop it blistering.
Once they’d been sliced and soaked, they were boiled with their juices until soft, before the sugar was added. Unlike the whole fruit method, this batch had absolutely no issues passing the crinkle test, in fact the moment it hit the requisite temperature, it was pretty much ready. The set in the jars was much, much stiffer, with pretty much no wobble whatsoever.
As you can see from the photos, one batch was thick cut and the other thin cut. The colour of each batch was different too, which was pretty much all down to the type of sugar used; plain granulated in the thick cut and demerara in the thin cut. I don’t know if these differences had an impact on the ability of each batch to set or not, further experimentation is probably the only way to tell.
Personally I like my marmalade to be thick cut, but also strongly flavoured; imagine buying an Olde English type from the supermarket. In that respect, neither batch I’ve made is really to my tastes. The thick cut, isn’t strongly flavoured enough and the colour is too light, while the thin cut has the flavour and colour, but the rind is too thin. I’m not sure which method I’ll use next year, but I do know that it’ll be thick cut and using demerara sugar, which should at least give me the flavour, colour and chunkiness that I’m after.
I’ve hated coffee for as long as I can remember, something to do with a run in with coffee ice cream in Ullapool when I was a kid. I’ve also never got on with hot drinks, I’ve tried in the past, but I just prefer cold drinks. I’m not sure why, but a few week before Christmas, I decided that I was going to get into coffee. Not your Nescafé, or Kenco freeze dried nonsense mind, but proper artisan coffee from places like Has Bean and Hot Numbers.
So for the weeks leading up to Christmas, I started pinching my wife’s coffee and trying to get used to it, I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a struggle. Things got a bit better when I started to follow the Has BeanFrench Press brew guide, with the coffee having more body and flavour. Things improved again when I started buying beans and grinding them up for use in the French press, there was no going back to pre-ground after that.
So I decided to splurge a bit of my Christmas money and bought an Aeropress and a Porlex hand grinder from Has Bean, mainly so I could take them to work and have something decent to drink. The machine at work with the little pouches of coffee is just dire, all the flavours taste the same, at least to me. I think I’ve used the French Press about once since Christmas, it just doesn’t get a look in any more, even at the weekends, the coffee from the Aeropress is just better and a lot easier to clean up after!
It struck me one morning though, as I was chomping on a slice of sourdough bread slathered in marmalade, that I could make most of my breakfast. I started making bread because I wanted to make sourdough. I can’t wait for the Seville oranges to appear this year so that I can make a couple of batches of marmalade, as I missed them last year. So in a similar fashion to wanting to make all of my burger stack for lunch, I have a new mission, to make all the bits of my breakfast. While I think roasting my own green coffee beans and churning my own butter can wait for a bit, sourdough and marmalade and firmly on the immediate hit list…