Tag Archives: raspberry

time for jam

1 Sep

raspberry jam jars

On holidays, you have time to paint your nails, to carefully stroke on three coats of coloured varnish. You can pick your jewel colours and then change them in three days if the whirlwind of meals-books-pool becomes too dull. At work, you are absolutely not allowed nail varnish for how quickly it would chip and fall into the cake mixture. (At home, that is your own lookout!) The times you forget, you have to wear those horrid latex gloves.

On holidays though you have time for frivolities. Like the time we woke up and decided to learn to make jam. My mother said it was easy, as long as you only make a kilo of fruit’s worth at a time. Then you are not stuck stirring at a hot stove for ages, and the fruit doesn’t boil away all of its flavour. Again, not like at work where we had 13 kilos of fruits rouges and a plastic tub of pectin. At home we had some leftover frozen raspberries from coulis for peach melba and best of all a packet of jam sugar – ‘Confisquew’ as my mother calls it. The pectin is already incorporated, so after only five minutes boiling the jam will set like a dream.

Sterilise your jars in the dishwasher or in boiling water. Put a little saucer in the freezer. In a large heavy-bottomed pan you heat your raspberries with half a cup of water until they turn into soup. When it bubbles you add 700g jam sugar (Confisuc)  and bring to the boil. When bubbling and rising up like a angry sea, a ‘rolling boil,’ you time five minutes. At this point you maybe have time to apply nail varnish to one hand. Give the angrily boiling liquid a stir every now and then, in case it sticks. After five minutes, observe your jam carefully. The bubbles should sound a tone deeper, the mixture more syrupy than before. When you drag the wooden spoon across the bottom, it should take a second for the liquid red sea to come back together. If in doubt, test a drop on the cold saucer. When the jam is at room temperature it should hold its shape instead of sliding quickly over the saucer, it should form a slight skin that will wrinkle slightly when you push it. You will see the jam sticking around the edges of the pan and on the wooden spoon too.

When you are pretty sure the jam has jammed, turn off the heat. You will see the bubbles subside, leaving a slight white-ish froth. You can skim it off “if you want to win prizes at the WI” says mother, or strangely enough you can add 10g butter and watch it dissolve the scum.

Wait for 15 minutes. Finish painting your nails. When they are nearly dry but not quite set, you can run them under cold water. Now pay attention to the jam again. Fill the jars right to the brim with the hot jam, screw the lid on tightly and turn the jars upside down to form a vacuum.  (If you have some extra, pour into a little dish and put in the fridge for a snack later.) Leave to cool.

Our 700g raspberries made one small and two medium jars of the brightest jam. We couldn’t stop marvelling at the colour, at all the seeds suspended. It really did look like jam! Total cooking time – no more than half an hour. So we made plum jam too, fom our mirabelle tree. Mirabelles are small yellow plums not much bigger than cherries. We had a kilo, stoned with the cherry pipper. We left them to turn into soup with a cup of water. (Faster in a pressure cooker.) When the mirabelles break down into soft pulp, repeat the process. Sugar, boil, test, jar. Plums already have pectin in them, so we had a slightly thicker texture, of beautiful deep yellow-ochre, a hue just below apricot. It was sweet and bright and simple.

The kitchen had a crowd of upside-down jars, provisions for autumn. We had to clean a few stubborn pink spots off the cooker, and close the lid for the year. We locked the shutters and swept the floors. The sky was already grey, the wind already turned chill.

Back in Paris now, heralded by drops of rain, the summer jam – on croissants or rice cakes or porridge – bolsters me against the day ahead. And fills me with an immense satisfaction, akin to the patisserie I had abandoned over the summer. I learned something, and I made something, tangible, colourful and delicious.

I have been to my Crimée market twice now, once for apricots and once for figs. I am plotting limpid clear jams replete with over-large chunks of fruit, to line up on my kitchen counter. My nails are dark red and gold.


raspberry and poppy seed cheesecake

12 Feb

raspberry poppy cheesecake

At supper with the charming Italian flatmate and her equally charming boyfriend (I am a welcome extra wheel because I always bring dessert) we discussed the decor of their future apartment (or, they politely argued, I concentrated on the saffron risotto).

He likes black and white with just a touch of colour. He is French, of course. She is a walking rainbow. He has been known to scold her gently for wearing purple and red together. Her room mirrors her colourful personality, an honest representation of herself.

Decorating cakes should follow the same rules, to reflect what is inside. Pierre Hermé believes strongly that it should be minimal, and should enhance not hide. (An error I certainly committed in my final exam when there was a dent in my tutti frutti entremets. I did indeed use all of the fruits to cover it up.) Hermé’s vanilla tart has a line of real vanilla seeds on a shiny white glaze. That is all. The reason that it is minimalist and not simply boring is that he delivers on his visual promise – the execution is perfect, the tart is a concentrated explosion of vanilla.  A sort of dessert sincerity. At work we place a dried vanilla bean on our apple tart because it contains a compote made with a spidery tangle of vanilla pods. However we also put chopped pistachios on the lemon tart, the acid-green contrasting prettily with the yellow when there is no pistachio in the tart itself: false advertising.

One of my favourite people – who detests cooking – asked me what on earth was the point of ‘dressing a plate.’ I compared it to ‘bookcase styling,’ a term I came across on the internet. The step-by-step guide to artfully arranging knick-knacks and bibelots just so on the shelves treated the (very few) books as an afterthought – or a stand for pretty vases. The same goes for dressing a plate: if all the drizzles and sprigs of parsley obscure the actual food, then the fundamentals have been lost somewhere between the kitchen and our mouths.

To see my bedroom with its stacks of books, haphazard wall of gilt frames is to know that I am far from being a minimalist. But I like my desserts to be fresh and simple, clean flavours and lines – and the garnish should reflect that.

We carried on discussing furniture – there was a violent disagreement over the idea of a violet pouffe – until I brought out the cheesecake. Made with Quark I brought back from Germany specially, it was light and tangy with a hint of lemon. It was baked in a loaf tin for neat oblong slices befitting a dinner party, that showed the pink bloom of the raspberries inside. It was neither rich nor cloying, more akin to the dense German kasekuche I had had in Stuttgart. That one had had a poppy seed topping; I adapted the idea and put the poppy seeds in the biscuit base for a bitter crackle, and covered the cheesecake with a thin layer of whipped cream instead. It might seem redundant, cream on top of cheese, but it works. Then a few diagonal lines of poppy seeds and candied lemon zest. Simple. Fancy. It was much appreciated – and because it was not too sugary nor too creamy, even those that normally hate cheesecake approved.

The charming flatmate left this week (interestingly, on the day that the Japanese traditionally celebrate casting out devils and inviting in good spirits!) to move in with the boyfriend. Soon there will be a new, and nice, French girl. For now I am alone in the apartment, its walls now bare, the bookshelves gone. In lieu of buying more, and trying in vain to style them, I shall make myself this cheesecake and actually read a book instead.


Raspberry and poppy seed cheesecake

adapted from Valentina’s recipe, one that I have been meaning to make for years now

75g butter, melted

175g plain biscuits, crushed

35g poppy seeds

80g raspberries (fresh or frozen)

450g cream cheese, quark or drained fromage blanc*

150g caster sugar

4 eggs

zest of 1 lemon

to decorate:

100g cream, whipped

lemon zest, poppy seeds, fresh raspberries

*I have tried all the cheeses below, each are delicious, but have a slightly different texture – however the fromage blanc needs draining 24 hours beforehand. A goat’s milk fromage blanc is particularly tangy and interesting. Drain in a colander lined with a tea-towel, leave in the fridge for 24 hours or more with a heavy weight on top. Start with about 800g to get 450g in the end.

Grease a 24cm-long loaf tin and line with paper (makes it easier to lift out when cooked). Heat oven to 180C.

Either bash the biscuits in a plastic bag with a rolling pin to crumbs, or blend in a food processor. Stir in melted butter and poppy seeds and press firmly into tin.

Mix cream cheese or quark, sugar, eggs and lemon zest. Pour half into tin, scatter over raspberries then pour in the rest.

Bake for 50 minutes or so. The cheesecake will be golden brown and just set, and will come away from the side of the tin.

Lightly whip the cream and spread over the cooled cheesecake. Decorate with thin diagonal stripes of poppy seeds and crushed raspberries, or whatever takes your fancy.

(Still good the next day, were it to  be prepared ahead, refrigerated and decorated last minute.)

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