Category Archives: Jams, jellies, marmalades

Plum, Prune and Chocolate Jam

chocolateplumjamp

First of all, I would like to apologize for my long silence and the absence of new posts during the past week. I went on an unexpected, last-minute trip to Japan and hardly had the time to pack my luggage correctly. Those of you who know for how long I had been dreaming about visiting this country will probably understand why I have completely lost my mind there and wasn’t able to follow my beloved blogs, not to mention posting. I hope you will all forgive me. Even though I did take some photos during this wonderful stay, I don’t have as many as I wanted (on the other hand isn’t our brain the best photo album in the world?) and certainly not enough to make a whole post about Japan. As soon as I find my camera battery charger, I will see if I can share with you at least a couple of the food-related ones. In the meantime I will be trying to catch up with all your posts I have missed and would like to share with you an unusual, wonderful preserve I discovered just before I left for Tokyo.

Even though it’s hard to believe, this unappetising jar contains a highly palatable jam. Plum and chocolate jam has been quite popular on internet several years ago and as a huge fan of both plum jam and chocolate I bookmarked this idea and then forgot about it. A couple of weeks ago I noticed this original version of Plum and Chocolate Jam by my inspiring friend Bea, who also lives in Switzerland and who I greatly admire for both culinary skills and extraordinary photographs.  I made a small batch almost instantly and even though my jam looked much less appetising than hers, the result was stunningly good. Bea calls the jam “prunes in chocolate” and if you have ever had this sweet snack I personally go crazy for (see here my 10 minute recipe), you must test this recipe too.

The unusual mixture of sweet, sour and bitter flavours will not please every palate (my husband said he preferred the real Nutella 😉 ), but for tangy and dark chocolate dessert fans like me it is a real feast. I think this jam would be excellent on buttered toast, but also as a versatile cake, biscuit or cookie filling. Plums are invading market stalls now and I already now that apart from the Plum Butter I prepare every year, I will fill my pantry with another batch of this delicacy. I have slightly modified Bea’s recipe, adding more rum and skipping the spices (ginger, cinnamon and cloves), so feel free to add them for a more complex flavour. Thank you so much, Bea, for this extraordinary recipe.

If this Plum and Chocolate Jam doesn’t sound inspiring, you might like the Damson Plum Butter, the extraordinary, rich taste of which has got nothing to do with standard plum jam:

And if you look for a quick and delicious (and rather healthy) sweet snack, try the ridiculously simple Prunes in Chocolate:

 

TIP: The best plums to use here are long, dark violet (purple) or dark blue plums, of damson variety or similar. They should have aromatic, dark skin and dark yellow flesh.

Preparation: 2 days

Ingredients (yield: about 4 x 200 ml/7 oz jars):

20 prunes (without stones)

50 ml (about 1,7 oz) rum + 50 ml hot water

2 kg (about 4,4 pounds) long, violet/purple/dark blue plums

50 g (about 1,8 oz) good bitter chocolate

5 heaped tablespoons cocoa

sugar (at least 600 grams; the amount depends on your preferences and the plums’ sweetness)

(50 ml/about 1,7 oz rum)

Cut up the prunes into pieces and soak in rum and hot water overnight.

The following day  wash the plums, stone them and put in a big pan. Add the prunes and their soaking water.

Add some water (about 10% of the fruits’ initial weight), so that they don’t stick to the bottom until they start releasing their juice.

Put the pan on a low heat and let it simmer, stirring occasionally. First you can stir every 30 minutes, but when the mixture thickens, you should lower the heat to the absolute minimum and stir it every ten minutes. The thicker the mixture,  the more often you should stir it.

If the pan burns, quickly transfer the unfinished butter to another pan (otherwise it will “take” the burnt flavour).

After about two or three hours add the minimal amount of sugar.

Simmer the jam for about 30 minutes and add more sugar if needed (and simmer for 30 more minutes, constantly stirring).

30 minutes before the end add the cocoa and the chocolate and let the mixture simmer, constantly stirring. Add more rum if you want (I thought rum was a perfect flavour enhancer here).

If you want, you can quickly mix the jam in a food processor, so that it has a smooth, spread-like consistency. (I did it).

/At this point you can either freeze it (after the jam has cooled down) or keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or process it in the jars, as described below, and store it in your pantry for at least a year./

Pour the jam, still hot, into sterilised jars. Cover with lids. Leave the jars to cool.

Place the cool jars in a big pan, bottom lined with an old kitchen towel folded in two (this will prevent the jars from breaking), cover up with hot – but not boiling – water to the level just below the lid. Bring to boil and keep on a very low heat, in simmering water, for around 20 minutes.
Stick on self-adhesive labels, write the name of the jam and don’t forget to mark the date.

 

 

 

Wobbly Rhubarb Delight

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Jelly is not the only dessert that can be described as “wobbly” and the above is the best example. Even though I am not a fan of standard, well set, thick jelly, I have literally fallen in love with this light, barely set dessert I decided to call Wobbly Rhubarb Delight. Its unusual, “falling-off-the spoon” consistency was achieved thanks to a reduced amount of agar (see below), just like in my previous experiments with this gelling agent.

For those who haven’t read about my recent adventures with this product, agar (agar-agar, “kanten” in Japanese) is a gelling agent very popular in Asia, but it is not a gelatin substitute. It is prepared in a slightly different way and, most of all, gives different textures and consistencies. In Europe it is widely used in food industry and is quite popular among vegetarians, since agar is produced from seaweed (not bones, like gelatin). Apart from its gelling properties, agar has considerable health benefits. It helps digestion and is often consumed as a slimming diet booster. A Japanese friend has confirmed what I had already read about: in her country some women dissolve it in tea to help digestion and to suppress appetite (I haven’t checked if it works on my appetite though).

In short, not only this dessert is delicious, light and refreshing, but it is healthy too. To prepare it I used the Soft Rhubarb Drink I wrote about recently (see the recipe here) and then simply proceeded like with my other agar desserts, i.e. adding less agar than advised on all the packages and in all recipes in order to obtain a looser consistency. After two hours in the fridge I obtained an amazingly refreshing, elegant, tangy and sweet treat, with a subtle rhubarb aroma. Apart from ending a meal, it could be served as a palate cleanser or even a cooling drink substitute (it is an excellent thirst quencher).

The below recipe includes the Soft Rhubarb Drink preparation, so if you already have it, skip the first, rhubarb cooking, stage and simply measure 500 ml (2 cups and 2 tablespoons) to use in this recipe.

In case you are interested in other desserts using agar, until now I have written about:

-Light Coconut Cream with Canned Peaches

-Light Chocolate and Coconut Cream

TIPS: Look closely at your agar package instructions. On mine 1/2 teaspoon is said to set 500 ml/2 cups liquid to a jelly. I use only 1/3 teaspoon and obtain a wobbly, “falling off the spoon” consistency. If you prefer a well-set jelly, use the amount advised on the package.

Since water evaporates during the first (rhubarb cooking) stage and rhubarb absorbs some water too, it is difficult to say how much liquid you will obtain. You need only 500 ml (about 2 cups) for the recipe (at least for the below amount of agar), so simply measure it and drink the rest!

I like very tangy desserts, so I have added only 1 heaped teaspoon sugar per portion, but feel free to double or triple it before the setting process, gradually tasting the result (a certain tanginess should remain, otherwise it will turn into a bland, tasteless dessert).

TIPS: Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, so before you start cooking it, cut off and throw away every single trace of leaves, sometimes left on the stalks.

Do not wait until the liquid becomes cold before pouring it into serving glasses because agar sets at room temperature and once disturbed, it will not reset properly!

Preparation: 1 hour+2 hours in the fridge

Ingredients (yields 4-5 portions):

250 g (8.8 oz) rhubarb stalks

700 ml (almost 3 cups) water

4  or more heaped teaspoons sugar (a sweetener can be used too)

1/3 teaspoon agar in powder

Cut up the rhubarb and put it into a big pan with water.

Bring to boil at medium heat and cook until the rhubarb completely softens (starts falling into pieces).

Put aside and wait until the rhubarb drink cools down.

Strain it.

Measure 500 ml (about 2 cups) of the liquid (the rest can be put into the fridge and used as a soft drink).

Add the sugar gradually, increasing its amount to suit your taste and the rhubarb’s acidity (some rhubarb varieties are less acid).

Pour it into a pan, add the agar and stir to dissolve both agar and sugar.

Bring to boil, stirring, lower the temperature and let it simmer for about 1 minute constantly stirring.
Transfer into serving glasses or bowls and when the dessert has cooled down, refrigerate for two hours.

It can be served with whipped cream if you like it.

 

 

 

 

Light Lemon Curd

When Charles (Five Euro Food) and then A_Boleyn posted Lemon Curd recipes I thought it was high time I presented a lighter version, which might please all those, who, like me, prefer sharper and more intense lemon desserts. I must have heard of lemon curd for the first time a long time ago, but given the amazing rapidity with which I was able to empty a butter- and sugar-loaded jar, this delightful spread was one of the rarely enjoyed sweet treats. When I finally tested its low-fat version I quickly forgot this was a lightened lemon curd and have never come back to the traditional version. In fact, the drastic reduction of fat has resulted in a more intense, sharper and, I would even say, more elegant flavour. (It was a bit like discovering Alain Ducasse’s half-cream, half-milk Crème Brûlée, which has put me off the 100% fatty cream, traditional version forever).

After several batches I slightly modified the original recipe (adapted from this fantastic Polish baker’s blog). I added a small amount of butter instead of the advised oil (I missed a touch of buttery flavour) and found a foolproof and easy method of getting rid of lumps (see below). I have also made this lemon ultralight, partially substituting the sugar with a special cooking sweetener (I wouldn’t advise however substituting all the sugar with a sweetener: the texture is not the same and it simply tastes worse).

Lemon curd is fantastic on any type of sweet biscuit, on toasted bread, on a slice of yeast cake, challah, but it’s also an excellent tart, pie, cake or cookie/biscuit filling (see for example Thumbprint Almond Cookies). It is of course irresistible on its own, eaten directly from the jar.

TIP:  Start with 12 tablespoons sugar and add more, if needed, after the curd has thickened.

Preparation: 15 – 20 minutes

Ingredients (yield: one 300-350 ml jar):

juice from 3 lemons

zest from 1 lemon

12 – 15 tablespoons castor sugar (or 10 tablespoons sugar + 5 tablespoons cooking sweetener which is usually sweeter than sugar)

2 eggs

1 flat tablespoon cornstarch (or potato starch, but cornstarch gives a lighter result)

1 heaped tablespoon butter 

Mix everything in a blender, apart from the butter.

Pour into a small pan, add the butter and warm at low heat, constantly stirring, until it thickens.

Taste and add more sugar if needed. Stir well until the sugar/the sweetener dissolves.

Put into a jar, close the lid and let it cool down.

Keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Serve on toast, bread, use it as a pie or a cake filling (it is delicious in the Thumbprint Almond Cookies).

Damson Plum Jam and Chocolate Tart

prunechocotarteppI crave chocolate all year long, so even though it’s springtime and I start dreaming about light fruit desserts, I still make sure I have some dark chocolate in case I feel an urgent need bake something with it. I also adore tart desserts, so when I saw Stevie Parle’s damson and chocolate tart on the Telegraph website, I thought it was a perfect combination of both. Moreover, this tart reminded me of one of Prunes in Chocolate, my favourite quick chocolate snack.

I decided to make this tart several days ago when I realised  that even though I offer jars regularly to my friends and family, I have almost no free space for this year’s preserves. My favourite jam is thick damson plum jam  (damsons are oval violet plums with a tangy skin and yellow flesh) called “butter” and slowly cooked without sugar addition. (I have posted the Damson Plum Butter recipe here). Thanks to its tanginess and deep, slightly smoky flavour, damson plum jam is excellent with both savoury and sweet dishes and, as I have recently realised, also with dark chocolate.

Instead of following S. Parle’s complicated recipe, I have made my foolproof shortcrust pastry and filled the tart with a modified version of Joël Robuchon’s chocolate tart filling (found in Le Meilleur et le plus simple de Robuchon). For me this easy, rich, tangy and intensely chocolatey tart was an amazing discovery, but I would advise it only for those who  are big fans of bitter chocolate and who prefer moderately sweet desserts.

TIPS: This tart is an excellent way to use up an opened jam jar (or last year’s preserves). Any thick jam will be good in this recipe, but in my opinion sour cherry, strawberry, raspberry or apricot jam would be the best.

I strongly advise home-made shortcrust. Its thin, buttery, crunchy layer cannot be substituted with any ready-to-use crust. However if you use a bought one (about 230-240 g), make sure it’s rolled out very thinly and that it’s made only with butter.

Special equipment:

beans for blind baking (I have been using the same real dried cheap beans for several years now)

Preparation: 2 hours

Ingredients (makes a 28 cm diameter tart):

Shortcrust (or 230-240 g of ready-to-use thin, 100% butter shortcrust pastry sheet): 

125g flour

90 g softened butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons caster sugar

Filling: 

300 ml tart thick jam

200 g dark good quality chocolate (more than 72% cocoa)

250 ml liquid cream

1 big egg

Prepare the shortcrust.

Mix the butter, the salt and the caster sugar in a food processor. When these ingredients are mixed thoroughly, add the flour and mix again.

Stop when you see a big ball is being formed.

(You may also knead the pastry without the food processor, but then you have to do this very quickly, maximum 5 minutes, pushing with the heel of your hand and minimising the use of your fingers, otherwise the tart will be too crumbly.)

Wrap the dough in a cling film and put into the fridge for at least 30 minutes (you can leave it there up to 48 hours).

Take it out of the fridge and let it soften a bit before  using it.

Roll it thinly with a rolling pin (I would advise 3 mm) and line a greased tart dish or spread it with your fingers without rolling if you find the rolling process difficult.

Put back into the fridge for about 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 150°C.

Take out the tart dish from the fridge.

Cover the flat surface with a baking sheet and put some dried beans on it. This way the pastry will not rise.

Precook the tart shell until it’s no longer raw, but still white (it will take 10-15 minutes).

In the meantime prepare the chocolate filling.

Break the chocolate into small pieces.

Bring the cream to boil and pour over the chocolate, stirring quickly until the chocolate melts and forms a homogenous ganache.

When it cools down and is no longer hot, add the egg.

Take the blind-baked shortcrust out of the oven, put the beans back into their jar and let the tart shell cool a bit.

Cover the tart shell with a generous layer of thick jam and then pour the chocolate filling on top.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes until the chocolate filling is set.

 

 

 

 

 

Apple and Apple Sauce Tart

A couple of days ago, when I started to get bored with the umpteenth jar of Apple Sauce, I decided to look for a new light apple dessert recipe. I decided to make an apple tart from the famous Joël Robuchon’s cookery book (Le meilleur et le plus simple de Joël Robuchon). Imagine my surprise (and pride!) when I noticed that his idea was very similar to what I thought I had invented a couple of weeks ago when making a plum tart! For those who don’t remember, I was very proud of the result obtained with with a combination of plum butter and raw plums. Here, in Robuchon’s recipe, a layer of apple sauce is covered with thin raw apple slices.

This tart is what the French call “Tarte Fine”, i.e. very thin (mine was maybe 1,5 cm thick), with a very thin layer of fruit and usually without a border (I didn’t have a bigger baking dish, so my border was simply lower than usually). Thanks to the combination of apple sauce and raw apples, the flavours are surprisingly complex and the difference in three textures particularly enjoyable. (I also particularly liked this tart because it forced me to buy an apple core remover, one of the kitchen gadgets I didn’t own.)

The only arduous parts here might be cutting very thin apple slices and removing cores. Both can be very quick and simple if you have a mandolin and an apple core remover. If, like me, you have very good apple variety (I used here King of the Pippins, or “reine de reinettes” in French), you don’t need to add any spices. If your apples are slightly bland and lack aroma, add some vanilla. (The below recipe is slightly modified).

Special equipment:

apple core remover

mandolin

Preparation: 1 hour 30 or 2 hours if you make the apple sauce from the scratch

Ingredients:

1 puff pastry sheet (rolled out very thinly, e.i. about 3 mm)

7 apples (for the best aesthetic result they should have more or less the same size) + 3 tablespoons sugar , or 200 ml sweetened applesauce + 4-5 apples

2  tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons caster sugar

a couple of tablespoons melted butter

(2 vanilla pods)

If you are making apple sauce, peel and core 4 apples, cut them into small pieces, add the grated vanilla grains, the sugar, 3 tablespoons water and let them simmer on a low heat until they fall into pieces and form a sauce.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a greased (or lined with baking paper) baking dish with puffed pastry.

Pick the surface with a fork, cover with aluminium foil or baking paper covered with dry beans (so that the pastry doesn’t rise too much) and blind bake it (until the pastry is firm but still white).

Spread the apple sauce on the tart crust.

Peel the remaining apples, core them and slice very thinly with a mandolin or with a knife, but the slices shouldn’t be thicker than 2 mm.

Arrange the slices on the apple sauce, overlapping each other, so that both the apple sauce and the central hole are covered.

Brush the tart with melted butter, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons caster sugar and bake until the apple slices start browning.

Take out of the oven and just before serving sprinkle once more with confectioner’s sugar and put under the grill/broiler (watch it constantly since it’s very easy to burn!).

Serve hot  or warm (it tastes great with vanilla ice-cream).