Strawberry Jam

 

When I was a kid, every year around the end of May, my mom would enlist us to help her in the kitchen with strawberry jam. The kitchen would be filled with pounds and pounds and pounds of strawberries, needing to be washed and hulled and cut into quarters. There was sugar waiting to be measured and pectin packets to be opened, all ending up in a large pan on the stove.

We put the jam in small plastic containers, which were ideal for storing in the freezer. All through the next year (but it was a particular treat in the winter), we would take out one box of sweet red goodness at a time, perfect for toast, PBJ, pancakes, and crêpes.

As an adult, I haven’t made my own jam until this year. I came upon this recipe via my sister Isabella (she scouts out recipes and shares the best ones with me, hooray!). It comes from a book called The Homemade Kitchens: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure by Alana Chernila.

How to turn fruit into jam

  • Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups

The secret that jam makers keep is that making jam is easy, and it can be done with whatever and however much fruit you have. A jar of jam can last two to three weeks in the fridge, so you can make one jar at a time with just a few minutes of stirring at the stove, no canning required. Thicken it with a little sugar, pour it into a jar, and you have jam. If you’re not canning your jam, you don’t have to pay attention to pH or acidity, so if you like to experiment, play around with sweetness, herbs, and other flavors with your fruit. Sugar is a preservative, so take note that if you use less sugar, you’ll need to eat your jam faster. This formula works well with berries, rhubarb, stone fruit, pears, and cantaloupe. Just adjust the water and sweetener according to the water and sugar content of the fruit you’re using. This is a quick jam that’s great for all sorts of uses in the kitchen. In the interest of ease and versatility, this recipe creates a loose jam, and there’s no need to worry about temperature or getting it to “set.”

  • 1 pound fruit, fresh or frozen (weighed after pitting, peeling, or cutting it appropriate)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar or honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • Optional: herbs, spices, other flavor additions
  1. Combine the fruit and water in a heavy-bottomed pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a low boil, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the fruit breaks up into sauce, 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Uncover the pot and stir in the sugar or honey. Raise the heat to medium and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring often to prevent the jam from burning on the bottom of the pot, until the sauce thickens, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste, and adjust for sweetness if necessary. Allow to cool and transfer to a jar. If you’ve added whole spices, you can either remove them now or leave them in the jar to continue to infuse the jam for a stronger flavor.
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Cinnamon Stack Biscuits

These are American-style biscuits, leavened with baking powder. They are much more like British scones than British biscuits.

Makes: 12 muffin sized biscuits

Baking temperature and time: 375°F for 13 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, lard, or shortening
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 butter
  • Cinnamon sugar (1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon to taste)
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  1. Combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk them together.
  2. Using a pastry cutter or your hands, blend the fat into the flour mixture.
  3. Add the milk to the dough and blend it in thoroughly, making a ball of dough.
  4. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 12″ x 16″ rectangle.
  5. Melt the 1/4 cup butter and spread it evenly over the dough.
  6. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the dough, then spread the raisins evenly on its surface.
  7. Cut the dough into five equal length-wise strips. Take one strip and stack it on the next. Repeat three times until all five strips are in one stack.
  8. Cut the stack into twelve equal pieces, then put them in a greased muffin tin, with the layers facing up (see pictures).
  9. Bake at 375°F and check after 13 minutes.

These have long been a favorite breakfast treat in my family. They are scrumptious, but it’s also fun to pull them apart to eat them, though not necessary; you can just chomp down on one if you can’t wait anymore!

Bûche de Noël (the Yule Log)

 

Ah, the pièce de résistance of the Christmas table. Ever since I found about this magnificent dessert, I longed to make one.

A bûche de noël is a chocolate roulade (a sponge cake, such as that used to make a Swiss/jelly roll). I used a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, of the November/December 2000 issue. It has many steps, but if you’re willing to take the time, it is a beautiful dessert, which can be used as a centerpiece on your Christmas table.

Don’t worry if the cake cracks a little while you’re rolling it up–it will be covered by the ganache, which can be made to resemble tree bark by running a fork through it. Cut off the ends of the sponge cake to add stumps to your log, and sprinkle with powdered sugar for snow!

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Dusted with “snow” (powdered sugar)
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The Yule Log
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Cutting into the cake: it sliced like a dream!
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It was delicious! The texture of the cake was particularly appealing

A dessert that requires such a significant investment of time and energy should be as delicious as it is visually impressive, and this recipe fits the bill. This dessert proved very popular with my family, and disappeared quickly. I hope to make it a tradition.

Goals

You would expect a post on goals at the beginning rather than the end of January, but there you are. I won’t elaborate on all my goals, some of which are rather nebulous, but I do have some things in mind. One of my 2016 goals is to read more, and that’s going really well. I’ve read 14 books this month.

I also have a list of baking projects I want to do this year, which includes (but is not limited to) mille feuille, a gingerbread house, a classic fruit tart, and baked alaska.

I am also trying to put out two blog posts every month, hence this quick post!

American-style Panettone

My husband used to live in northern Italy, where a Christmas fruitcake called panettone is traditional. Last Christmas, I had a bite of an imported cake and thought it was delicious, but I certainly wasn’t about to pay $37 for a cake, no matter how Italian it was. So I resolved to someday make my own.

This Christmas I looked at numerous recipes, and the one I finally settled on is from King Arthur Flour’s website. They also have a blog post about making it, which I found very helpful. I made some modifications to the recipe, and it turned out even as well as I had hoped, which is little short of miraculous. In fact, it was my favourite of all the things I baked this Christmas. I highly recommend it.

As suggested in the Flourish post, I used a bread machine to make it, which worked very well. The dough is sweet and rich, but rises well. They don’t give a specific amount of time for kneading the fruit into the risen dough, so I will say here that five minutes on the dough cycle were sufficient.

I made the biga, the overnight starter, on December 22nd, and made the dough and baked it on the 23rd. I served it on Christmas day–it takes forethought to have it ready in time, but it’s lovely to have something ready to eat on Christmas with no fuss on the day.

My changes to the ingredients: I omitted the fiori di sicilia (which provides some of the citrus flavour), because I didn’t have any. For the fruit, I used dried cranberries and pears, which I soaked in about a 1/3 cup of lemon and orange juice. I added 1 tablespoon lemon zest and 1 tablespoon orange zest. This made the cake smell heavenly, and soaking the fruit made it juicy and tender.

My husband said it smelled perfect, and that its taste and texture were just like the panettone he had eaten in Italy.  In fact, it is in the way of becoming a new tradition for my family–it was quite a crowd-pleaser and my dad declared I am now stuck making it for Christmas breakfast for the rest of forever!

All the steps (mouse over or click for captions):

My one idea for improving it, which I will try next year, is brushing it with a glaze of lemon juice and powdered sugar after its first serving (including over the open ends), to seal in the moisture.

Grandma’s Christmas Sugar Cookies

Every year at Christmas, my paternal grandparents would drive up to our house and have Christmas dinner with us. Grandma would bring a box full of cookies, the highlight of which were the sugar cookies. She made trees for the boys and stars for the girls, and our names were written on them in icing.

In recent years, Grandma has not had enough energy to make cookies, so I thought I would step into the breach and make them myself. I love Grandma, Christmas, baking, and traditions, so it was a perfect fit!

Basic Sugar Cookies, Grandma’s recipe

  • 2 cups sifted flour (all purpose flour is fine)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter (one stick, 8 tablespoons)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp milk
  1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat till smooth and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla and milk.
  3. Add flour mixture to the mixing bowl and blend thoroughly.
  4. Chill cookie dough till easy to handle. You may cover and store it in the fridge for one or two days before using it.
  5. Roll dough out to 1/4 inch thickness on lightly floured surface.
  6. Bake at 400°F for six to ten minutes. Never bake longer than ten.

Here are my tips: my dough was sufficiently chilled after 20 minutes in the fridge and 10 minutes in the freezer. I rolled out the dough on floured parchment paper, sandwiching the dough in between two sheets of it. Peel away one layer to cut out the shapes, and just slide the cookies on the baking sheet with the other!

If it becomes too soft, put it back in the fridge. To keep the cookies from expanding too much while baking, refrigerate them for 15 minutes after cutting them out. If the cookies are small, take them out after 5 minutes of baking so they will not dry out. Sugar cookies don’t look done when they are done, so don’t be afraid to take them out when they’re still very pale! They are tricky little things.

Frosting:

  • 1/4 cup softened butter (1/2 stick or 4 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1/8 cup milk (2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, or other extract (almond, lemon, etc.)
  1. Cream together butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and milk. Put it one drop of food coloring for a pale frosting.
  2. Add more sugar to thicken or more milk to thin. Put it the fridge for 20 minutes if you want to stiffen the frosting.

I’ve made them for my family, and I’ve made sure to save some for my grandparents. I know Grandma is pleased I’m carrying on the tradition.