Tag Archives: sweet things

More delicious things to do with blackcurrants

14 Aug

Blackcurrants.

When you have a glut of them you REALLY have a glut of them.

I have a couple of wee blackcurrant bushes which are ignored for most of the year and this year were surrounded by chest high grass, nettles and dock leaves. I was sure there would be nothing to harvest. But of course I was wrong. Deliciously wrong.

I cropped the whole branches, placed them in my wicker trug and carried them upstairs to our terrace one evening, and spent a gentle hour picking the fruit, topping and tailing it ready for cooking. The swallows were swooping and swooshing around our heads, sometimes below us, sometimes so close we could feel the rush of air as they changed course just before their wings brushed our faces. It’s a glorious way to spend a summer evening, and the memory of it keeps me warm through the winter.

The blackcurrants this year were destined to be drinks, one alcoholic and one not.

My Mum has made blackcurrant cordial for years and I feel that in my late 40s perhaps it is time for me to give it a go. I have no children to turn their noses up at it, as it isn’t their usual brand (I always wished we had REAL Ribena when I was a child, not this wannabe pretender. Little did I know how lucky I was).

So, I searched for the perfect blackcurrant cordial recipe and settled for one by Henry Dimbleby, who started the Leon chain of fabulous eateries. I have four Leon books, but of course found this recipe online on the Guardian website. You can read the original here if you want to.  The recipe is pretty simple, but does include the addition of citric acid, which is a natural preservative, but also adds a zesty acidic zing to the juice. Citric acid is a natural compound, found in citrus fruit (of course!) but these days it is mass-produced as a chemical compound, and is more commonly known as E330 on food labels.

Blackcurrant cordial

  • 500g blackcurrants, topped and tailed
  • 275g sugar
  • 250ml water
  • 1/2 tsp citric acid
  1. Put the blackcurrants, sugar and water into a heavy-based pan, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes
  2. Get your potato masher out and bash the fruity smoosh, breaking up as much of the fruit as you can
  3. Add the citric acid and boil for another 2 minutes
  4. Place a muslin cloth in a sieve (preferably a plastic one) and pour the fruity mixture into the sieve and leave to drip through .Don’t bother squishing it with a spoon or anything. Just leave it. Go pour yourself a gin and tonic, you probably deserve one
  5. Once it’s stopped dripping (I left mine overnight) throw out the detritus in the muslin cloth; keep the muslin and wash it, ready for another day.
  6. Decant the thick silky juice into a clean bottle and label it up, so you know this is the BC cordial and not the hooch. You don’t want to get that wrong, trust me!
  7. Dilute with water or sparkling water fora  refreshing summery drink. Or with prosecco if it’s cocktail hour already, which it must be somewhere.

But I also wanted to make a blackcurrant liqueur. And wouldn’t you know, there was a handy recipe in this month’s Good Food magazine.  Well, the recipe was for a Bramble liqueur, but it can be adapted for blackcurrants when I have a glut of blackcurrants and the brambles aren’t ripe yet.

So here you go:

Blackcurrant hooch (or boozy ‘bena)

  • 600g blackcurrants, topped and tailed (you could use frozen if that is all you can get hold of)
  • a bottle of good red wine
  • 500g sugar
  • some vodka or gin (the original recipe I now notice only asked for a large glass of vodka/gin but I poured in ahem a whole bottle)
  1. Put the currants into a large plastic or glass bowl and pour over the wine. Get that trusty potato masher out again and crush the fruit as much as you can. Cover the bowl with a tea towel (this keeps it dark-ish and keeps out all the flies we are plagued with this summer) and leave for a few days. Give it another smoosh with the potato masher every 24 hours or so.
  2. Pour the mixture through a plastic sieve lined with a piece of muslin.
  3. Tip the juice into a heavy-based pan and add the sugar. Actually it probably doesn’t really matter if your pan isn’t a heavy-based one – don’t avoid making this hooch just for the sake of an expensive pan.
  4. Heat up slowly, stirring occasionally. Once the sugar has dissolved bring toa boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Leave to cool and then pour in the vodka or gin. As much as you think is appropriate. I suspect my version with the large volume of vodka is not entirely appropriate, but we’ll see.
  6. Use a small jug, or a funnel and pour into clean dry bottles.
  7. Seal and label.
  8. It’s ready for drinking straight away, or you can put a ribbon round it and feel proud that you’ve made some Christmas presents already.

My blackcurrant ripple ice-cream recipe is here if this isn’t what tickles your sweet fancy today.

Rhubarb marmalade

30 Apr
Rhubarb marmalade

Rhubarb marmalade

I love my local farm shop. Let me give it a shout out.. it’s at Overton Farm in the Clyde Valley. Given the choice between spending a wee bit more per item at the farm shop, or spending a whole lot more in total (because I go off-list and end up buying things I don’t really need at the supermarket) I now always choose the farm shop. This means I more regularly run out of stuff like dry cat food, or domestos, but that’s ok. We have a car, and most things can wait till the weekend.

The farmshop isn’t exclusively local, so year round it’s possible to get those things that were seasonal treats in my childhood – peppers, mangoes, and even pears. But I like seasonal, and I have an urge to put things in jars when they are in season. Some time soon I am going to write a list of all the things I have in jars, so that I’m more likely to use them… they live in a drawer in a filing cabinet in a cupboard under the stairs. Yup, not really in an obvious place so I see a jar of, say spiced damsons, and think ‘that will go perfectly with the smoked mackerel I’ve just bought impulsively at the supermarket because we needed dishwasher tabs’. In fact I might just do that later this afternoon – I have the day off, and had planned to garden, but it’s grizzly grey weather and I’m something of a fairweather gardener, shaming though it is to admit that.

Anyway, back to seasonal and local and all that jazz. My seasonal treat at the farmshop on Saturday was a big bunch of rhubarb. I LOVE rhubarb; it’s that tart sharpness that just zings for me.

Thane Prince is one of my go to writers for any sort of a preserve. She currently can be seen in the BBC’s Great Allotment Challenge programme, but honestly I wouldn’t recommend that as your first experience of her. Watching someone, anyone, spooning out 10 globs of chutney from a jar and then tasting it, and diluting ten lots of cordial in water and sipping it is not my idea of good TV, no matter how lovely she may be, or how erudite her comments and criticisms are. Please BBC, try harder.

But of course she has a lovely recipe for Rhubarb Marmalade, with or without ginger. And that is what I settled on. Fortuitously I had just the right quantities of everything: rhubarb, sugar, oranges, pectin. And ginger. Why would I make it without ginger?

Rhubarb marmalade

From Thane Prince’s Jellies, Jams and Chutneys.

  • 1kg rhubarb, washed and cut into even 1cm wee chunks
  • 800g sugar
  • 2 large oranges
  • 125g liquid pectin
  • about 3cm fresh root ginger, grated. You do have a ginger grater don’t you?
  1. Get prepared. Put a large plate into the fridge, so you can check for a set when the time comes
  2. Clean your jars in hot water, and pop them in a low oven to sterilise them
  3. Zest your oranges, and then juice them
  4. Put the rhubarb, sugar, orange zest and juice into a heavy non-reactive pot. Bring the mixture slowly to the boil and then simmer over a low heat for 5-8 minutes. The rhubarb should be soft and the sugar dissolved.
  5. Turn off the heat for a minute. Add the pectin. Stir gently so it’s all mixed in and then turn the heat back up. Bring to a good boil and cook for a further 2 minutes before testing if it’s set. At this stage my marmalade was still incredibly runny and it took a further 25 minutes before it started looking properly jammy and was anything near a set. And then of course it went just too far and my marmalade is just slightly more solid than I would like – I like it still squelchy.
  6. Once the marmalade has reached setting point, ladle it into the hot sterilised jars, seal and label.

You do know how to test for a set don’t you? I wouldn’t recommend using a sugar thermometer for this recipe – when my marmalade had reached setting point it was still far off the ‘jam’ stage on my thermometer, which is no doubt to do with the levels of pectin in the mix. Anyway, I test for a set by dropping a wee gob of the hot marmalade onto a cold plate (yes, that one you put in the fridge right at the beginning); leave it a wee second or two, and then push it with your finger. If it wrinkles it’s ready (or even over-ready); if it is just liquid and runs back into a puddle it needs more boiling.

So, why would anyone spend their Sunday afternoon making Rhubarb Marmalade? Easy… just try it, still warm on hot buttered toast. You will forget that anything else exists, and you’ll wish that you could do this every afternoon, and if you’re feeling special match it with a wee glass of fizz. My accompaniment was a perfect cup of Earl Grey tea, out of a fine china tea cup. Deliciousness.

 

Caraway biscuits

13 Oct

Yesterday I made my own sort of a borscht. A beetroot soup, lightly flavoured with caraway seeds. It reminded me how much I love not only beetroots, but also caraway and this morning I woke with a hankering to make caraway biscuits.

Caraway seeds

Caraway seeds

You can learn a lot when you have a short obsession on a particular flavour. I imagine my childhood self leafing through recipe books (and failing to find anything I wanted, so making something up myself) and perhaps moving on to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and then getting so distracted with whatever else was on the same page, or something else related that it suggested I look at that the biscuits never got made. It’s all so much easier now, with a laptop and a warm fire. And even Radio 2 on in the background (I give up on Radio 4 after GQT on a Sunday). I also now have the sort of library of cookbooks and thanks to the wonder that is Eat Your Books I know that in my books there are 53 recipes which use caraway seeds, including poppy and caraway crackers and caraway vodka, both of which I will be trying soon.

You could find out everything you never wanted to know about caraway with a few quick searches too, but since I’ve done it already, I’ll share some of my findings with you.

Caraway is good for flatulence. When I say it’s good for flatulence I mean that it is reputedly good for the relief of severe flatulence. Anne Boleyn knew this and secured her place in Henry VIII’s heart by feeding him caraway comfits. That didn’t turn out so well in the end though, so don’t feel obliged to feed caraway to stinky partners.

Caraway seeds aren’t actually seeds; they are fruits.

Caraway is perhaps a flavour most associated with northern Europe, with southern Germany and Austria and with Scandinavia. The German word for caraway is Kummel, which I know better as a drink. German rye bread is heavily flavoured with caraway.

Many countries don’t have their own word for caraway, and simply call it ‘German cumin’, so if you see reference to caraway in any Middle Eastern or Asian cookbooks it is quite likely that it is an error in translation and its cumin that is needed.

So, that’s the educational bit over. Now you want the biscuits don’t you?

Caraway seed biscuits

Caraway seed biscuits

Then biscuits you shall have, but before I get to the recipe I should tell you another snippet of information: Caraway Biscuits are also known as Goosnargh Cakes. Goosnargh (pronounced Gooznar) is a small town in Lancashire, almost subsumed into Preston now where they have a tradition of making these caraway shortcake biscuits. They also feed caraway seeds to chickens and ducks to produce the Goosnargh Chicken and the Goosnargh Duck.

But the biscuits. There are a few versions online, but basically the Goosnargh Cake or caraway biscuits is a buttery shortcake biscuit with caraway and coriander seeds. Use a basic 3:2:1 recipe (3 parts flour, to 2 parts butter, to 1 part sugar) and you’ll be fine.

Goosnargh Cake

Pre-heat oven to GM5. Prepare a baking tray – either by buttering it and sprinkling it with flour, or by lining it with greaseproof paper. 

  • 8oz softened butter
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 12oz plain flour
  • 2 TBsp caraway seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  1. Cream together the butter and sugar, till fluffy
  2. Grind the caraway and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar
  3. Sift together the flour and the ground seeds
  4. Fold the spiced flour into the creamed butter and sugar and bring together to form a stiff dough
  5. Roll out the dough to about 1/2 cm thickness and cut into rounds. Place on baking tray
  6. Pop into the fridge for at least 30 minutes
  7. Sprinkle with caster sugar
  8. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes – you don’t want them to turn colour much at all, although a light golden brown will be fine
  9. Move to a wire rack to cool, but sprinkle with a mix of caster sugar and caraway seeds while they are still hot.

Lovely with a cup of Earl Grey tea.

Goosnargh Cakes

Goosnargh Cakes

Aside

Another chocolatey cakey thingie

6 Oct

Inspiration comes from many places.

Today it came from a special offer at my local supermarket: they were selling off nearly out-of-date buttermilk so I popped a carton into my trolley. I’d thought they would become scones, or perhaps muffins.

And several years ago that is probably exactly what would have happened. But thanks to the fabulous eatyourbooks website I can type in an ingredient and find all the recipes in all my cookbooks which use that ingredient. Yes, isn’t that amazing? Isn’t technology just genius.

So then it became a toss-up between Chocolate Spice Gingerbread, from Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes Unwrapped or Sticky Chocolate Loaf from Ottolenghi. In the end the Chocolate Spice Gingerbread won, if only because I found that cookbook first. That gingerbread is ridiculously easy to make, and there was enough buttermilk left over to make Darina Allan’s White Soda Scones too. Now, how easy are they? Just flour, salt, bicarb of soda and some buttermilk all mixed lightly together and then cut out into scone shapes. They puff up beautifully, but have more of a bready texture than a light scone texture, which is fine once you know that’s what to expect.

The chocolate gingerbread led me to another recipe which had to be tried: Lemon Drizzle Choc Chunk Cake, combining the sharpness of the lemon with the depth of bitter dark chocolate. Possibly a bit like those Thorntons lemon chocolates which I absolutely love.  I think it’ll work. We’ll find out in about an hour.

And, having bought a couple of punnets of damsons again yesterday I’d intended to make Damson Cheese. And then came across Sweet Pickled Damsons. I love the combination of sweet and sharp, so the pickling vinegar has been spiced and is now cooling down; the damsons have been picked over to make sure all the goopy ones are discarded and we’ll finish them off and pop them in jars later.

Would it be rude not to give you the chocolate spiced gingerbread recipe? I think so. It smells divine, and I suspect will keep well, if given the chance, which seems unlikely.

Chocolate Spiced Gingerbread

Adapted from Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes Unwrapped, which was a Christmas gift from my brother and his family Christmas 2006 (according to the inscription inside, I don’t have that good a memory!).

Grease and line a deep 7″ square cake tin. Or a round one. I used a bigger round one, so ended up with a shallower cake shaped gingerbread. Just as tasty though.

Preheat your oven to 160C / 325F / GM3.

  • 125g / 4oz unsalted butter
  • 100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces (feel free to use a chilli chocolate, or Maya Gold with orange – I just used plain)
  • 75g / 3oz dark muscovado sugar
  • 4 TBsp treacle
  • 150ml / 1/4 pint buttermilk
  • 125g / 4oz ready-to-eat prunes
  • 175g / 6oz plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  1. Cut the butter into chunks and pop it into a heavy based pan.
  2. Add the chocolate, sugar, treacle and buttermilk
  3. Heat gently until the ingredients have melted and then set aside to cool slightly
  4. Snip the prunes into small pieces – scissors are the easiest way to do this
  5. Sift the flour, bicarb of soda, ginger and cinnamon into a large bowl (this is the bowl you will use to make the batter, so make sure it’s big enough to take all the ingredients)
  6. Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl and beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon
  7. Add the beaten egg, and beat again
  8. Fold in the prunes
  9. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface of the mixture
  10. Bake for around 50 minutes
  11. Remove from the oven and leave to cook in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely
  12. Wrap in greaseproof paper and keep in an airtight tin.

It’ll be even better tomorrow. Or even the next day, and unlike many cakes will keep for a week if you haven’t eaten it all.

This would be perfect for a bonfire party. Or with hot chocolate in front of the fire after a vigorous, rigorous walk, kicking Autumn leaves.

I suspect it can take some messing about with the flavours too – perhaps add a wee hint of ground cloves, or star anise or cardamom? And why not some nuggets of crystallised ginger for a wee extra kick? If you were being fancy you could probably cut it into wee bite-sized pieces and drizzle lemon icing on them for sweet canapes or as part of an afternoon tea.

Talking of drizzling lemon, I’m off to make that lemon drizzle cake with chocolate chunks in it now.

Today I am making cinnamon apple jelly

22 Sep

And it’s going to be so delicious.

Making apple jelly

Making apple jelly

Apple spice muffins

10 Mar

I woke at 6.30 this morning. The Captain was awake and had brought me a cup of Earl Grey. Generally on a Sunday I don’t drink Earl Grey at 6.30am, but the thought was kind.

It was a dull spring day, nothing special.

I didn’t drink the tea, but fell back into a deep sleep till after 9am, when the quality of the light in the room had changed dramatically – there was an inch of snow on the ground and it was still falling.

Spring flowers poking through the snow

Spring flowers poking through the snow

An hour later, after a breakfast of local bacon in a home-made roll, it had cleared up enough for me to venture outside. The plan today was to sort out the greenhouse – perfect snowy weather activity you’d think. Except that the trouble with clearing a greenhouse is that you need somewhere to clear it to, and that somewhere is down the bottom of the garden. And by this time it was blowing a blizzard again.

So, what’s a girl to do but revert to type, retreat indoors and bake?

We had some spare apples and I have some of the loveliest cinnamon ever, which I suspect won’t be so lovely for evermore. Apple spice muffins were the answer.

Apple spice muffins

Prepare muffin tins and preheat oven to 400F / 375C / GM6.

  • 2oz porridge oats
  • 7oz plain flour
  • 3tsp baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • a shake each of ground cloves and ground ginger
  • 3oz caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • a large apple, peeled, cored and chopped finely
  • 6fl oz milk
  • 2fl oz veg oil

And for the topping

  • 3TBsp soft brown sugar
  • 2oz walnuts, chopped
  1. Mix the topping ingredients together and put to one side
  2. Mix together the porridge oats, flour, baking powder, spices and salt
  3. In another bowl whisk  together the egg, milk and oil and then add the chopped apple
  4. Pour all the wet mixture into the dry and stir it till it’s all just combined
  5. Spoon into the prepared muffin tin (that probably means muffin cases in a muffin tin).
  6. Sprinkle a spoonful of topping on each muffin.
  7. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the tops are light brown and the muffins spring back when you gently press them.
  8. Cool for a wee minute, then EAT.
Dry ingredients in a bowl

Dry ingredients in a bowl

Add an egg, without the feather

Add an egg, without the feather

Remember to sprinkle the scrumbly topping on your muffins

Remember to sprinkle the scrumbly topping on your muffins

They're ready when they are golden brown - so about 1 minute before these ones came out slightly burnt!

They’re ready when they are golden brown – so about 1 minute before these ones came out slightly burnt!

I hate marmalade

10 Feb

I don’t like marmalade.

I’ve never liked marmalade.

I went through these two statements in my head the other day, and then I thought to myself, ‘But perhaps I do’. You see, because I have known all my life that I don’t like marmalade, I’ve never tried it again since I was about 7 years old.

So then I started thinking about children not liking food, and how you should get the kids involved in cooking using the ingredients they think they don’t like. And then voila! They will at least try them. And quite possibly like them, as they are so proud of what they have made.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? The farm shop had lovely looking seville oranges, and I decided to test my hatred of marmalade, by making a big vat of the stuff.

I LOVE making preserves, and have several cookbooks devoted just to that, in addition to various back to basics cookbooks and family cookbooks which I was certain would have good recipes. I consulted my go-to website for finding recipes eatyourbooks. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but if you haven’t read that post, then I’ll tell you about it again – if, like me, you have many cookbooks and no longer have an encyclopaedic knowledgeable of exactly what recipes are in which. Register them on the website, and you’ll be able to search for recipes, or on particular ingredients, and it will tell you which books or magazines will have the recipes you are seeking.

So, I narrowed my choice down to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, or Thane Prince.  And Thane won (and not only because I follow her on twitter, but because I love her no-nonsense recipes with her explanations of WHY you do certain things).

But of course, being me, I didn’t exactly follow the recipe word for word – I didn’t have enough granulated sugar in the cupboard and was determined not to go back out to the shops again, so I substituted with a mix of caster and dark brown muscovado sugar.

Orange and ginger marmalade

From Jams and Chutneys by Thane Prince. If you are even vaguely interested in preserving, buy this book – it covers the basic techniques and then delicious recipes for everything from an every day raspberry jam, through frozen cranberry vodka to smoky barbecue sauce.

  • 1.25kg Seville oranges, scrubbed in warm water
  • 115g fresh ginger, cut into 1″ nubs and then crushed
  • 1.5kg unrefined sugar (I used 3/4 caster sugar; 1/4 muscovado)
  • 200g jar stem ginger preserved in syrup, drained and chopped into slivers (keep the syrup – you’ll need it later)

You will also need a large muslin square, a big heavy based pan and preferably a jam thermometer (although this is not necessary)

  1. After scrubbing the oranges pop them whole into a large heavy-based pan, with the smashed lumps of ginger and 8 cups of water
  2. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer for about 45mins till the fruit is soft and squishy
  3. Using a holey willie (this is what we call a slotted spoon in my family!) remove the ginger and the fruit from the pan – put it in a big bowl
  4. Pour the liquid into a jug to see how much you have – if you need to, add more water to make up to 6 cups and put it back in the pot.
  5. Add the sugar to the pot, and let it start to dissolve (off the heat) while you are processing the oranges
  6. Before you do anything else, pop a side plate into the freezer, or the icebox of your fridge (this will make sense later)
  7. Now, sit yourself down, put on the radio and get to work on the oranges. You’ll need a bowl lined with the muslin square, a wee sharp knife, a soup spoon, a chopping board and the bowl of oranges
  8. Cut the oranges in half, and scoop out all the pith and the seeds and the orangey goodness into the muslin lined bowl. Once all the oranginess is in the muslin square, tie it up securely and pop it in the pot of water
  9. Thinly slice the peel. This will take a bit of time to do properly, so relax and enjoy, it’s a lovely mindless task, almost meditative once you get going
  10. Add all the sliced peel to the pot. Pop your sugar thermometer into the pot if you have one, if not, don’t worry – you’ll still get good marmalade
  11. Bring the mixture up to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes
  12. Add the ginger syrup and the slivers of preserved ginger
  13. Cook on a fairly quick boil for a further 30 minutes, or until the marmalade has reached setting point. I didn’t boil it hard enough so it took FAR longer than 30 mins. If you’re using the thermometer, just keep boiling till it reaches ‘jam’ but do the cold plate test to make sure it will set.
  14. The cold plate test – take the plate out of the freezer and drip a blob of marmalade onto it. Leave a few seconds till it’s properly cold and then push it with your finger. If it’s runny, keep boiling. If it sort of wrinkles at the edges, it’s ready. Voila!
  15. Remove and discard the bag of oranginess.
  16. Ladle into sterilised jars, seal and label

 

A note about sterilising jars. You must do this! If you don’t your marmalade could go nasty really quite soon after putting it in the jars. And what would be the point of that?

You can sterilise them by running them through the dishwasher and using them immediately (without putting your icky fingers inside the jar before filling them). Or wash them in hot soapy water, and place them upright in a baking tray, and pop them in the oven for 20 minutes or so. Again, fill them with marmalade before you fill them with ickiness from your fingers.

And another note for you – about soft peel. That’s what marmalade is all about, yeah? How would I know, I never liked the stuff! Anyway, if you want your peel super soft and lovely, then you have to go through the process of cooking the oranges in water BEFORE you add the sugar. If you add the sugar before the skin has softened it will just go tough and your marmalade won’t be so unctuous and delicious.

So, I guess you want to know if it worked, if I now like marmalade? Well what do you think? Would I be able to resist this unctuous bittersweetness in a jar? It’s DELICIOUS! I still don’t know if I like ALL marmalade, but I certainly love this one.

And you do want the recipe for marmalade and apricot muffins don’t you?

Next time, next time. I’m too busy on my Easy Peasy Cheese Scones right now. And must make some lemon curd, to use up some of those eggs (and those lemons looking a wee bit sad in the fruit bowl).

 

 

%d bloggers like this: