Thursday, 27 June 2013

Strawberry Jam (with a touch of lime)

I'm sorry my posts have been erratic in the past few weeks. As well as going to the Lakes, I turned 24, hosted a birthday party weekend and went on a little trip to Cardiff.

More importantly, we lost our dog, Silver. She was just 16 - born on our sofa and midwifed by mum. I cradled her in my little arms when she given to me for my 8th birthday the next day. I can't clearly remember life before she was born. She was part of our tiny family and the last of our line of lurchers. We had to put her down last Tuesday.

I don't think I'll ever forget looking into her eyes as the light left them, slowly then all at once. I don't think I'll forget how peaceful she looked once the tension had left her face or how it felt to walk the few streets back to my house clutching her collar and lead in my hands, tears freely dripping down and steadily darkening my dress, completely unaware of anyone around me except mum beside me and Arthur walking quietly in the small gap between us, his warm fur brushing up against each of our legs in turn.

I don't think I'll forget playing scrabble the next day and unwittingly arranging my letters to GONE and being shocked by the force of the sob that burst out of my chest and then stubbornly not wanting to explain because I didn't want to let mum know that I had a G, O, N and E.

In my head, 24 has always felt like the first truly adult age. I've been nervous of the sharp line I'd drawn in my mind for months. Then, with such a big part of my childhood over, it feels like it has been highlighted and underlined. It's overwhelming, but in the end I know it will be a positive - a push to move on, to change things I want to and leave the parts of the past I'd like to leave behind tucked on the other side. I have a good feeling about 24.

A few days afterwards we managed to go to a pick your own farm in Oxford (Medley Manor Farm, in Binsey, just outside Oxford city centre) to find some strawberries, asparagus and new potatoes. We'd decided that making some soup and jam would be a therapeutic way to spend the day. There's something so comforting about preserving.

The next day, I took a jar down to Cardiff for a close friend's engagement party to thank her lovely family for having me to stay (I made some Champagne Truffles as an engagement present too). I kept thinking about the jam over the weekend, which is always a good sign that I need to share.

I cycled out to the farm yesterday to pick three huge punnets so I could make another two batches of jam.

Though common wisdom is to use slightly underripe fruit for jam, I decided to use fully ripe fruit. The usual reason is that ripe fruit contains less pectin - but as strawberries are already very low in pectin and generally need to have it added anyway, I decided to go for the wonderful flavour of the ripe strawberries. I'd already reduced the sugar so the added sweetness didn't cause too many problems and as I was making the jam immediately I wasn't worried about it going over.

I found the idea of adding some or all of the acid (i.e. citrus juices) at the end to give the jam a fresh fruitiness in Diana Henry's beautiful book Salt Sugar Smoke. I think it works really well with the strawberries, especially when there is some lime along with the lemons.

The set of this jam is soft and it has some wonderful chunky bits of preserved strawberry. I like a soft set - it mingles and seeps into the toast or crumpet. The first time I made it I was worried it was too soft, but I've really grown to love it as it is (which is a good thing, as after three batches I now have 15 or so jars left...)

My favourite ways to eat it so far are with the obvious things: warm croissants, toast, crumpets and so on. I've also become rather partial to a few spoons over some vanilla ice cream. I really want to try it in a swiss roll, too.


Finally, as you may have heard, Google Reader is shutting down on the first of July, next Monday. I'm sad to see GR go, it's been a central part of blogging for me since I started. For those of you who do follow Poires on there, I wanted to quickly point out a few options. Personally, I've moved to bloglovin, which I quite like so far - it's really easy to import your subscriptions. You can find Poires on bloglovin here. I've also heard that Old Reader is pretty similar to GR if you don't want too much of a change and Feedly also seems popular. You can also sign up to get posts by email or follow along on Facebook, Twitter, G+ or Pinterest.

Strawberry Jam (with a touch of lime)
(adapted from the classic 1kg/1kg ratio with some advice from Diana Henry's Salt Sugar Smoke)

1kg ripe strawberries
750g granulated jam sugar with added pectin*
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 tsp of butter
juice of 1 limes

Collect your equipment before you start. You'll need a big saucepan or jam pan, about 5-8 jam jars depending on size, matching lids, a ladle (and preferably a jam funnel, which makes life so much easier), a potato masher or just a heatproof spatula, wax discs cut to size if you want to use them and a thermometer (if you feel more comfortable with one). Place a saucer in the freezer to test the set with. Sterilise your jars and lids - I put mine through a dishwasher cycle just before I start. Pop the jars onto a tray to make them easier to move and place them in the oven, set at 100C/210F.

Prepare the strawberries by hulling them and cutting them into 3 or 4 for large fruits and 2 for smaller. Put into the big pan and add the juice of one lemon. Add the sugar to the strawberries and stir in. Juice the other lemon and the lime and put by the stove. Place the pan over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Use a potato masher or a spatula to squish some of the strawberries - not too much, but just to give some varying texture.

When the sugar has dissolved, add the little bit of butter to help reduce the foaming then turn the heat right up. It will start to bubble, boil, then foam up (see a photo of the change here). Once it's really boiling and gets up to 100C/212F or so, boil for 2-3 minutes or until it hits 104C/219F. Turn the heat down and test the set of the jam by spooning a little onto the frozen saucer and popping it back in to chill. Take out a couple of minutes later and push the jam with your finger - it should wrinkle in front of your finger and not fluidly run back into the line you created with your finger. If you're happy, add the citrus juice and stir in. If not, turn the heat back up and boil for another minute or two, checking regularly. The jam should thicken and be glossy and dark red when it's ready.

Leave the jam to cool for 15 minutes so that the strawberry pieces will stay suspended in the jam when you jar it. Skim off any persistent bits of foam with a spoon. Get the jars out of the oven two or three minutes before the timer goes - ideally, they'll be about 85C/185F when you use them. Ladle the jam into the jars, coming up to the bottom of the rim. Add a wax disc and seal the lids tightly, covering your hands with a towel to protect them. Leave to cool then add labels - I write mine on brown paper then stick them on the lids with double sided tape.

(Makes about 1.5kg of jam - I had 6 full 8oz/227g jars with a bit left for immediate use)

* Though I prefer the flavour of the batches with jam sugar, you can also use 125ml of liquid pectin with regular sugar instead. Add it off the heat with the lime juice after two minutes of boiling and check the set after a few minutes. I had to reboil mine for a few minutes afterwards to get a set.

Three more posts with strawberries:
2011: Strawberry Cream Layer Cake
2010: Pink Peppercorn Strawberry Ice Cream
2010: Strawberry Meringue Cake

Monday, 17 June 2013

Coco-Cocoa Brownies: A Guest Post

Yesterday I got back from holiday. I went to the Lake District, which is in the North (having grown up in Devon, Oxford is north, but this is North, a nearly-Scotland sort of North).

While I was there, I went completely offline. I left my laptop in Oxford and turned my phone off. I found it hard - I hadn't realised that I fill every gap in my day fiddling on my phone and I felt naked without it - but I really needed a quiet break.

I went up to the Lakes because I was doing a weekend course with Ivan Day, who is a world expert on the history of British and European food. Ivan's a fascinating man - I could sit and listen to him talk and tell stories for days. His house is a treasure trove and the food was absolutely wonderful - some of the best I've had in ages.

As you might have guessed, I really recommend his courses. You can see them here - I'm hoping to go on the sugarwork one in the autumn. On the second day I gave in and took my phone (in airplane mode) so I could take a few photos to remember it by: this is the raised pie and the savoy cake we made and this is the glorious garden we were churning ice creams and water ices in.

Anyway - to the point. A few months ago I received an email from Zita of Zizi's Adventures, asking if I could write her a guest post while she looked after her newborn son. I met Zita a few years ago at Food Blogger Connect - she's from Hungary and writes about vegetarian food.

Back when I wrote the post I'd just started making Alice Medrich's famous cocoa brownies. For Zita I decided to try an extra virgin coconut oil version with brown sugar and a touch of toasted coconut on top. They have a thin crust and a soft, tender middle.

Edit 25/05/16 - I made these recently using the same weight of butter as coconut oil and showered a big handful of chopped hazelnuts on top. Different to my favourite super-rich brownies but definitely a nice change.

To read the little interview and see the recipe, click here.

Three of Zita's posts I like:
Milk Pie - Baking with my Grandmother
Roasted Apricots with Lemony Mascarpone
Strawberry Leather

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Raspberry Froyo

Last week, I opened my freezer to find it oozing thick, fluorescent blue liquid.

After poking around a bit, I traced the source to a thin crack in the base of my ice cream maker. I was given it for my 21st birthday by my friends, almost exactly three years ago. I'm sad that it has gone, though their kindness and support outlives it. I was halfway through testing this recipe so I had to quickly replace it.

My favourite thing about fruity froyo (a.k.a. frozen yogurt) is how clearly the flavour of the fruit comes though. This one is made from just raspberries, sugar and plain yogurt.

I like eating this when it's still soft from being churned - it's creamy but still light, almost like gelato.

This recipe makes a small amount - about enough for three or four people - so that you can eat it fresh and smooth and just a little bit sloppy.

Raspberry Frozen Yogurt
(adapted from the Strawberry Froyo in David Lebovitz's Perfect Scoop)

300g raspberries
80g sugar
180g plain, full-fat, unsweetened yogurt (greek or natural)

Place the raspberries and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Use a fork to lightly mash the raspberries until they're broken up and the sugar is incorporated. Leave to macerate for at least 30 minutes (you can leave it overnight if you'd like). Place a sieve (preferably a medium grade one that will catch the seeds but not be a nightmare to force it through) over a mixing bowl and tip the raspberry mush in. Use a spoon or spatula to stir and scrape the mixture in the sieve until you just have seeds left. Scrape the bottom of the sieve into the bowl then discard the seeds. Whisk in the yogurt. Chill for at least an hour (up to overnight) then churn as instructed by your ice cream maker. Best served soft - I like to freeze it for about half an hour after churning then serve, but if you're quick and organised you could serve it immediately.

(Makes about 8 scoops, could easily be scaled up)

Three more recipes that use fresh raspberries:
Amaretti and Raspberry Muffins
Crunchy and Creamy Dark Chocolate with Raspberries
Raspberry Pavlova Ice Cream