Monday 21 July 2014

Raspberry Redcurrant Jam & Victoria Sponge

A few months ago I was asked by Borough Market to write a guest post for their site. They just managed to slip two recipes past before I wound up any bits of work outside the blog. I met my last deadlines a few days ago and it feels wonderful. Now I can focus on preparing Poires for the year to come, saying goodbye to Oxford and having a bit of a holiday.

I've been sitting on this recipe for a few years, partly because I made so much of it in 2012 that I've only just finished the last jar. It's my favourite jam. It's vibrant, slightly tangy and generally gorgeous, especially as part of a cream tea.

You can read the post and find the jam recipe here.

Update 17/01/17: the website seems to be no longer working - in case you want the recipe, I've pasted it below (along with the Victoria Sponge recipe below the photo):

Raspberry Redcurrant Jam

450g redcurrants
1 kg raspberries
1 kg white granulated or caster sugar

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 and a ladle (and preferably a jam funnel, as it makes life so much easier). 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 and lids onto a tray (to make them easier to move) and place the tray in an oven set at 100C/210F.

Wash the redcurrants, picking through to find any berries that are going off but leaving the stalks. Place a sieve over a mixing bowl. Squash the redcurrants through the sieve in batches, pressing them against the edge of the sieve with a spoon until you just have a seed/skin/stalk paste. You should have 275-300g of redcurrant puree.

Pour the puree into the big pan, followed by the raspberries and sugar. Place over a low heat and stir – crushing some of the raspberries against the side with your spoon - until the sugar crystals have dissolved. Turn the heat up to full and bring to the boil. Once it has started to boil and foam up, let it continue for 3-4 minutes, then start testing for the set. To test, dribble a few drops of the jam onto the saucer in the freezer, then leave it in the freezer for roughly 30 seconds to a minute. Push your finger through the jam – if it wrinkles in front of your finger, it’s ready. It usually takes a few tests for it to be ready (with it boiling in the gaps as each test cools). When you’re happy, turn the heat off.

Skim any remaining foam off the jam then let it sit for 15 minutes (this means that the seeds will be evenly distributed when it sets). While it cools, the top of the jam often just starts to set, causing a massive version of the wrinkle test if you stir it. Take the jars out of the oven a few minutes before the jam has finished sitting and have them ready next to the pan.

Ladle the jam carefully – remembering that it is still exceedingly hot - into the jars (using, if possible, a jam funnel). When done, carefully screw the lids on, holding the hot jar firmly with a tea towel. When you’re sure the lid is on tightly, cover with the tea towel and give the jar a quick, small upwards shake so that the jam coats the sides and lid at the top with a seal of jam. Leave to cool on a tray, enjoying the delightful popping noise as the lids contract over the next few hours.

As long as your jars are well sterilised and sealed, jam keeps for years. I’ve just finished the last jar of this jam from my 2012 batch and it was still lovely.

(Makes 5-8 jars, depending on size)

I also wrote up my recipe for Victoria Sponge - the jam works brilliantly with whipped cream as the filling (for many of the same reasons that it's perfect for a cream tea). The combination of just-cooled sponge with a crisp sugar-sprinkled top and the jam and cream is sublime. If you need to keep the cake for longer, I suggest serving the cream on the side (whipping it when you need it).

Edit: As above, link no longer working, recipe now below:

Victoria Sponge

For the cake:
170g unsalted butter, at room temperature
170g caster sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
170g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp milk

For the filling:
raspberry redcurrant jam to fill (or another jam)
125ml double cream
a sprinkle of caster sugar to top

Preheat the oven to 170C/340F. Grease and line the bottom of two 7"/18cm round loose-bottomed sandwich tins with baking parchment.

Place the room temperature butter into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a mixing bowl if using a handheld electric whisk) and beat for a minute or two until smooth, pale and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for at least 5 minutes on medium-high, scraping down occasionally - the mixture should be fluffy and thick. Whisk the eggs together in a jug to break them up. Sieve the flour and baking powder together into another bowl.

Add the egg to the creamed mixture in small splashes, beating on medium-high as you go and making sure each addition is incorporated before adding more. After adding about a third of the egg, add a teaspoon of flour from the bowl and scrape down the sides. Occasionally add another few teaspoons towards the end (this helps stop the mixture curdling, which will give you a flatter cake).

When you've added all the egg, sift in the rest of the flour and fold in with a big spoon. When the mixture starts to come together, add the milk and fold until uniform. The mixture should be dropping consistency - if you get a big spoon of it and turn it sideways over the bowl, it should fall off the spoon.

Split the mixture between the two tins (each one should be roughly 340-350g). Spread out into an even layer. Transfer to the oven and bake on the middle shelf - don't be tempted to look until at least 15 minutes has passed. It should be ready after 18-20 minutes and be golden brown, springy to the touch, coming away from the sides and a cake tester/toothpick should be able to be removed cleanly from the middle. Place on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Run a blunt knife around the edge of the tins and carefully remove from the tins to the rack. Leave to cool fully.

Place one of the cooled cakes onto a serving plate then spread liberally with jam. Whip the double cream until it thickens and just starts holding shape – it’s important to not over whip it. Spread the cream over the jam. Top with the other cake and sprinkle with a bit of caster sugar. Keeps in an airtight tin for a few days if you just fill with jam, best immediately if you use cream (but you can keep the rest in the fridge for a day or so).

(Serves 6-8)

Other posts where I've used/mentioned this jam:
Raspberry Redcurrant Jam Swiss Roll
Almost-Linzer Torte
Cinnamon Cardamon Kringel Bread

Sunday 13 July 2014

Some Thoughts on Starting a Blog

I was recently asked to work with the Stella team at The Telegraph to put together a piece on How to Start a Food Blog. It was my first phone interview and I was really nervous about it. In the end it was fun - Rachael, the lady who wrote the piece, is lovely. It's out today and you can read it online. I thought it'd be good to elaborate a bit here and share some of the general blogging statistics from my surveys.

First, it's worth noting again that I don't think there's only one way to blog about food. The best thing about blogging is the freedom. You have no editor - it's just you. I've set up patterns and guidelines for the way I like to run my blog, but they're not universal. For instance, I've found my momentum is easily sustained if I post once a week, but that might not work at all for someone else (and I'm going to need to create a new rhythm soon). I wrote a little bit about my patterns and finding your own in this post.

Though there are books and guides and posts out there on how to blog or take photos I'm not sure that I really recommend them, especially when you're first trying out new ideas. Experimenting is fun and leads to variety, and variety is wonderful. I really hope blogs don't become monotonous or start trying too hard to follow one way of doing things.

I've said before that I think stopping submitting my photos to sites like tastespotting and foodgawker in 2011 was the best thing I ever did for my blog. It freed me to find a style I liked, rather than trying to create the one I thought they liked. It made me stop valuing my work on whether it was accepted or not and let me be happy as long as I was content with what I'd done.

In the piece it mentions a bit about recipe attribution. It's worth learning about and involves the only exceptions to the 'no rules' idea - I always recommend this article by David Lebovitz. As I understand it, the way in which the method is worded is the copyright part of a recipe (under literary expression, like a novel). This means that you should always re-write recipes into your own words, which I think is a great thing - it's a little glimpse into how you do things. You should also give clear credit to any recipes that you have adapted or have inspired you. It's important to show respect for the work that other people have put into a recipe.

As an example, my working method if I'm beginning with an existing recipe rather than starting from scratch or working with ratios is to read the recipe throughly first to make sure I understand all the steps, then write the ingredients and method into my kitchen notebook in the shorthand I use (things like c b/s, sift fl/bp/se/cin and so on). Every time I test the recipe I add notes and details and record any changes. When I come to write it up, I only use my notes, expanding and clarifying as much as I can.

If you're just beginning to play with recipes, I think it's easiest to begin with a recipe from a book or another trusted source. Adapting is a great way to learn how things work. Even posting some notes and a picture of what your dish looked like when you've followed a recipe exactly adds a new record of how the recipe works. To me, that's what I want a post to do - to add something of value. It could be a recipe developed from scratch, some notes on a recipe that's already out there, a story that references the recipe or some thoughts on a technique. If you re-write and give full and clear credit to the original recipe, I don't think adapting is a lesser way of doing things. In many ways blogging about recipes is curating a collection, and as a reader, I'd like to know about all the recipes you adore, not just the ones that you've created yourself.

Two last things: First, I really recommend reaching out to other bloggers, joining social media and making friends in the community (it makes such a difference) and second, unless you want to be anonymous, put a bit about yourself on an about me page (a first name, photo and country is good) - it gives a reader someone to connect with and is certainly the first thing I click on when I visit a new-to-me blog.

Blogging is subjective, and that's what makes it interesting. It's a glimpse into other kitchens and other lives, created by the freedom to write what you want. It allows me to choose my recipes based on my cravings and only to post something if I really love it. I hope that's what comes through - I love doing this.

I thought this would be a good time to give you some of the survey data from the past two years. Obviously the survey is self-selecting and represents a relatively small selection of my readers (and therefore an infinitesimal selection of blog readers in general) but I think people are generally quite honest on a anonymous survey (I know I am).

The 2013 survey had 762 replies.

What part of a blog is most important to you?
24% selected recipes, 6% writing, 5% photography, 63% said a blog needs all three and 2% said other (specifying things like a sense of connection with the author or a combination of recipes + photography).

Do you read all of the writing in a blog post?
35% said yes, 47% said most of the time, 16% occasionally and 2% never.

When asked to select as many as they liked from a list of my post types, only 26% picked posts that were just about the recipe itself - the top four were personal stories (72%), the science behind the recipe (62%), more detail on the technique (61%) and the history of the recipe (59%).

Do you appreciate a regular posting schedule (i.e. every Thursday)?
35% liked it, 39% didn't mind, 25% hadn't noticed and 1% didn't like it.

Have you made a Poires au Chocolat recipe?
66% had made a recipe. If so, how many? 19% had made one, 24% two, 40% three to five, 13% six to ten and 4% more than ten.

The 2014 survey had 412 replies.

How many recipes have you tried from Poires au Chocolat?
81% had made a recipe: 13% one, 17% two, 16% three, 12% four, 10% five, 3% six, 2% seven, 1% eight, 0.2% nine and 8% more than ten.

Of those that had tried a recipe 98% found it easy to follow (comments for the 2% were mainly about the recipes being in metric not US cups).

Do you make recipes from other blogs?
40% regularly, 47% occasionally, 11% rarely and 2% never.

Do you comment on blog posts to say you've made a recipe?
2% always, 5% often, 17% sometimes, 30% rarely and 46% never.

I think the last two stats from the 2014 are particularly useful - I'd guessed that there was a big gulf between the number of people making recipes and the number of people telling bloggers they'd made them, but it was even more pronounced than I'd thought. I also found the position of recipes above writing and photography in the 'most important part' question in 2013 interesting (though, of course, the majority wanted all three). The most exciting thing in both years, though, was definitely to hear about so many of the respondents making recipes.

As I half-mentioned a few paragraphs ago, the rhythm is going to slow a little around here as I move to Cambridge and start medical school in September. I have every intention of keeping posting regularly - I can't imagine life without blogging after all this time. I'm planning to start with a post every fortnight and see how that goes. I'd love to up the frequency again but I also want to have plenty of time to focus on my degree and making new friends as well as seeing my friends and family. It's going to be a bit of an experiment and I hope you'll be ok with that.

To illustrate this post I've put pictures from some of the recipes from over the years that I particularly fancy today (though some aren't exactly seasonal) - links below. One of the only problems with blogging and always moving forward is often not having the time to go back to old recipes.

Top-bottom: whole vanilla bean biscuits, two ingredient chocolate mousse, apple and quince pie, chocolate cardamon cookies, seed cake, coffee and walnut cake, treacle flapjacks and apple and blackberry crumble.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Tarte aux Framboises

Though Simon's Tarte aux Pommes is the most beloved and evocative tart from my childhood, Tarte aux Framboises comes second. It's one of my favourite things to buy from the bakeries in town - a slice, with the sides protected by slips of clear plastic, tucked into a white box and carried carefully home.

This is a slightly simplified version. It's made up of a puff pastry base (I've been making my favourite rough puff), barely-sweetened vanilla whipped cream, the best raspberries I can find and a sweet, jammy glaze.

If you don't want to make your own pastry (though I think that this is a great recipe for it, as you really notice the quality in something simple) then do try to find some made with butter. I made one batch of rough puff, trimmed the sides and then divided it into three chunky rectangles of pastry of roughly 160g. I think it's best freshly made but if you wrap each piece tightly in a few layers of clingfilm it can be frozen for a few weeks (defrost it slowly in the fridge, still wrapped up).

I think the best thing about a tart like this is how both the textures (crisp pastry, billowing cream, seedy raspberries, jelly glaze) and the flavours (buttery, vanilla, cream, tart, fruity, sweet) contrast and combine to create a balance. It's a familiar and comforting combination and no lesser for being so.

Tarte aux Framboises

For the tart case:
160g puff pastry (I use homemade rough puff)
a splash of milk

To assemble:
2 tbsp raspberry jam
1 tbsp water
100ml double cream
1/2 tsp icing sugar*
1/4 tsp vanilla paste
24 raspberries (roughly 200g)

Roll the pastry out to a rectangle of roughly 25 x 15cm (10 x 6"). Trim the edges to create a clean rectangle. Cut a 1-1.5cm (0.4-0.6") strip from each of the sides. Score the main piece lightly in a criss-cross pattern. Brush the top of the main piece with milk (not making it soggy, but covering the whole piece lightly without going over the sides). Arrange the strips around the edges, trimming the ends so that they fit. Press the strips down lightly, then brush the tops with milk. Transfer onto baking parchment and onto a baking tray. Chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/390F (fan). Bake the tart case for 20-25 minutes until caramel brown on all sides and the base. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once cool, press the centre down to make room for the filling (so it looks like this).

Put the raspberry jam and water into a small saucepan and stir over a medium heat until combined and liquid. Strain through a sieve into a bowl to catch the seeds. Put the cream, icing sugar and vanilla paste into a mixing bowl and whip until it thickens and just hold shape - the floppiest of peaks - it's important to not over whip it. Spoon into the middle of the case and spread out. Arrange the raspberries on the top. Brush the raspberries with the warm glaze. Best served immediately.

*If your raspberries are on the sour side, increase to 1 tsp.

(Makes one tart, slices into four)

Three other pie and tart posts:
Chez Panisse Almond Tart
Ginger Bourbon Pecan Pie
Tarte aux Pommes