Classic Christmas Pudding

Yes, it’s vegetarian. For years I’ve made this, as have others in my family. It’s a rich, raisiny, butter-filled steamed pudding that does equally well with hard sauce after Christmas dinner or custard the next morning.

It’s also a cinch to make — if you live somewhere where sultanas, mixed peel, blanched almonds and mixed spice are in every corner store. With the labor of making a simple Christmas pudding suddenly threefold — I’ve been making mixed peel and hunting far and wide for plump, soft sultanas — I’ve finally tweaked the recipe.

8 oz raisins
8 oz golden raisins (sultanas)
8 oz currants
8 oz blanched, chopped (or sliced) almonds
8 oz brown sugar
8 oz unsalted butter
4 oz mixed peel
5 eggs
5 oz brandy
4 oz plain flour
5 oz breadcrumbs (about 9 slices bread, toasted and crumbed)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp mixed spice

Soak fruit and almonds overnight in brandy.

Cream butter and sugar, then add beaten eggs. Stir in fruit, sifted flour, breadcrumbs, baking soda and mixed spice.

Put mixture in greased bowls, cover with brown paper and tie string around the sides of the bowl to secure the paper. Trim edges of paper under string.

Steam 4 hours on a simmer with water coming halfway up the sides of the bowl.

Pudding can be cooled, stored in the refrigerator and reheated — steam again for 2 hours before serving or microwave gently, one slice at a time.

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Persimmon Bread

Squirrels and raccoons are descending on the last of the Hachiya-type persimmons on the tree at our front door. Time to fight back and bake! This sticky, sweet loaf is adapted from David Lebovitz’s adaptation of a James Beard recipe. Cognac instead of milk? Oh, yes.

This is not a yeasted bread, but one of those rectangular cakes that masquerades as “bread” because of the shape of the tin it’s baked in… The persimmons should be so soft you feel they might burst in your hand, the skin translucent and a deep orange. Don’t be tempted to use them if they’re at all firm — the flesh will be mouth-puckeringly tannic.

Be warned that there’s a lot of chopping involved. That simple list of ingredients is in many cases actually a series of instructions for each ingredient (e.g. nuts, toasted and chopped).

For two 9-inch loaves

Adapted from Beard on Bread by James Beard

3 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 cup golden flax seeds
1/2 cup wheat germ
1½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 cups white sugar
1 cup melted unsalted butter, cooled to room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup minus 2 tablespoons Cognac
2 tablespoons Cointreau
2 cups persimmon puree (from 3-4 very soft, Hachiya-type persimmons)
1 ½ cups pecans, toasted at 350’F for 10-12 minutes, cooled, and chopped
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted at 350’F for 10-12 minutes, skinned removed, toasted and chopped
2 cups dried fruit: 9-10 diced large fresh dates; 1-2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, finely chopped; sliced dried apples, finely chopped, to bring total dried fruit to 2 cups.

1. Grease 2 metal loaf pans with oil or butter (I used hazelnut oil) and dust with flour, tapping out any excess.

2. Preheat oven to 350′ degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Sift the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, salt, flax seeds, wheat germ and sugar into a large mixing bowl.

4. Combine the cooled butter, lightly beaten eggs, Cognac, Cointreau and persimmon pulp. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg mixture, and then add the nuts and raisins.

5. Bake 1 hour to 90 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Be prepared to cover breads with foil if the tops start to darken.

Apparently this keeps a week, covered and out of the refrigerator and can also be frozen. I doubt it will last that long at our place.

Cooking Notes

This is Christmas pudding for beginners: the Cognac makes for the same rich, heady flavor. Next time I’m going to experiment with 1/2 Cognac, 1/2 milk.

I’ll also add up to 1/3 cup finely chopped crystalized ginger as the ginger is a perfect match for the boozy dried fruit and nuts.

Finally, I’m convinced dates and apples are the best combination for both flavor and texture: dried persimmons — hoshigaki — are sticky and date-like, and the soft pieces of apple lend a spring to the otherwise very dense and sticky bread!

“Cranberry Sauce” Raspberry Jam

Photo courtesy Lisa Tiyamiyu/Flickr

With a hat tip to Canning Homemade for the recipe inspiration and to Punk Domestics for that lead: a tart jam with a double punch of citrus and berry tang.

I didn’t want even a hint of a bitter marmalade aftertaste, so rather than add grated zest, I followed the method in Apple-Orange-Cranberry Sauce, where the peel is boiled before being combined with the berries, apple and sugar.

6.5 cups fresh cranberries
3.5 cups fresh raspberries
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
Rind of 1/2 Meyer lemon
Juice of 1 Valencia orange
Rind of 1/2 Valencia orange
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled
4 cups sugar
3 cups water

Put the cranberries, raspberries and sugar in a large preserving pan and bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer 3-4 minutes, or until you hear just a few cranberries pop. Turn off the heat and let rest 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pare all (and really, all) the white pith from the inside of half a lemon and half an orange. Chop the peel into tiny squares and boil in the water for 10 minutes. Drain, discard water, and add peel to berry mixture.

Core the apple and shop into cubes around 1/2 cm wide. Add apple to berry mixture and bring everything to a boil again. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until a few more berries pop.

Remove berry mixture to a glass or ceramic bowl. Cover with parchment paper and leave to cool slightly before refrigerating overnight.

The next day, return the berry mixture to the pan and bring to a gentle boil, stirring at regular intervals, until the berries start popping. Mash any unpopped berries into the jam. Cranberries will set quickly without any help so be sure to remove from the heat when the jam passes a light wrinkle test to avoid making an overly stiff jelly.

Quince Jam with California Bay Laurel

A bounty of quince and just days to use them all up. First up, playing with the tried-and-true quince jam recipe from Barossa Food by Angela Heuzenroeder. The bay leaf adds depth to the heavily sweetened quince.

Lots of pectin-rich seeds here

Wash and rub the fuzz from four large quince, place quince in a 4-quart pot and fill with water until just covered.

Cook until quince are soft and skin tender, anything from 15 to 30 minutes. Remove quince from water with a slotted spoon and cool. Leave water in the pot to cool. When cool, pour water into a large bowl.

When cool enough to handle, carefully peel the quince, trying to remove only the papery outermost layer of skin, rather than the 2-3mm layer that may have split around the quince and separated from the fruit. Reserve as many of these thicker skins as possible and carefully scrape the flesh from them. Reserve the cores.

Chop the quince into thick slices, avoiding the core and cut into chunks, removing any grainy pieces (they will have hard white flecks in them) and hard brown flecks.

Weigh chopped quince and pulp scrapings. You should have something around a pound (maybe less, depending on the white and brown flecks). Tip fruit into bowl with the quince water. Again, measure the liquid volume of the fruit and water together. You should have about 5 cups of water and fruit combined.

Tip 4.75-5 cups white sugar into the fruit and stir until somewhat dissolved. Cover with a plate and rest in the fridge overnight.

The next day, pour the fruit and water and scrape all the sugar into a large, wide, shallow pot. Stuff as many cores as you can (likely 3) into a small herb steeping bag and lay bag along bottom of pot, and tie the bag strings loosely to the handle, away from the heat.

Bring to a vigorous boil, stirring to dissolve all the sugar. Lower the heat to medium and keep at a boil, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. The fruit will be a golden yellow color. Simmer a further 10 minutes or so and then cover the pot and continue to simmer on low heat until the fruit has turned a rich pink and the syrup has thickened sufficiently to barely pass the wrinkle test, around 30-40 minutes. (If the hot jam passes the wrinkle test with flying colors, it will be a stiff paste when cold.)

During the last 10 minutes of cooking — when the fruit is a deep pink but has not yet passed the wrinkle test — crush slightly and add a dried California bay laurel to the simmering jam. Remove leaf from pot as you prepare to ladle the jam into jars.

Ladle jam into clean, sterilized jars, wipe rims with a hot, clean cloth or paper towel and cover with sterilized lids and rings. Close lids and rings finger-tight, can for 10 minutes on a rolling water bath, then carefully remove jars and set aside to allow them to seal.

The source of it all

A barren orange tree means no marmalade, and no marmalade-making this winter means no blog posts.

Mirabelles have a long and tasty history (crossineO/Flickr)

Still, I’ve been working toward jam in an altogether different way — planting fruit trees and learning how to graft them. Finally, hopefully, in a couple of years I might actually be able to try making some of Christine Ferber’s plum jams using actual mirabelles and gages. Fingers crossed; the grafts seem to have taken, but the fruit is still a long way coming.

Yesterday more trees went in. I lugged a couple of half-barrels up to the deck and dug a few holes in the backyard. Black Jack fig, Conadria fig, Wonderful pomegranate. Two more quince will go in once the rain takes a break.

And then there’s the errant quince — another one! — I found while clearing our shady side yard to make room for berry bushes. Poor thing was shrouded for years in ivy and agapanthus. With the weedy stranglers gone, the quince has leafed out, and I’m holding my breath to see if the weather and tree can work together on some delicious fruit.

So here’s to sweet and tangy plum jams, fragrant quince jellies, and meaty fig preserves. Even if the wait is years ahead.

Not jam, but still sweet

Not jam, but still sweet — and a great one-two kick to any cocktail looking for a quick escape from blandsville.

Happy New Year!

Spiced Simple Syrup

Make a simple syrup and reserve around 1.5 cups (12 fl oz) for this recipe. For the syrup, bring equal parts white sugar and water to boil and lower heat to gently simmer the solution, stirring frequently, until sugar is completely dissolved.

Cut and peel segments from a large ginger root to yield about five inches of the central stem (i.e., not the skinny stubs at the sides). Smash root once with a mallet and add to reserved syrup. Add a 2-3-inch piece of cinnamon bark, one whole star anise and about 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg.

Simmer gently 15 minutes. The syrup will have thickened and reduced somewhat. Turn off heat and let spices infuse the syrup for at least two hours, but remove star anise from the cooling syrup after around 20 minutes.

Strain and blend 1 part syrup with 2 parts vodka or gin and a twist of lemon.

Prefer rum? Make a brown sugar syrup and try adding 2-3 cloves to the syrup. Remove cloves after the initial infusion over heat.

Cranberry Corn Scones

1 cup fine cornmeal
1 cup + 2 very heaped tablespoons white pastry flour
1 level tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1.5 oz butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup cream
1/3 cup half and half
About 3/4 cup dried, sweetened cranberries

Preheat oven to 425’F.

Sift together dry ingredients–except for extra flour–in a bowl and make a well in the middle. Pour in cream, half and half, and butter. Stir well. Add cranberries, and extra flour if mixture is too sticky to handle.

Scrape dough onto a lightly floured bowl, knead very lightly just to bind together. Press to a rectangle about 3/4-inch thick and cut into wedges.

Bake 14-17 minutes at 425’F.

Quince & Ginger Cranberry Sauce

The basic cranberry sauce I posted earlier is sweet, delicate and polite. This variation is punchy and peppery.

Here’s the variant on the basic sauce recipe:

Quince & Ginger Cranberry Sauce

1/2 orange
2 cups water
1 quince, preferably a tart variety
3 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
2-inch fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil
3 tablespoons sour quince syrup or jelly*

* Substitute any tart jelly or perhaps try pomegranate juice or a sour plum jam if you don’t have quince jelly. The idea behind this sauce was to create a sweet, peppery accompaniment to the richer, darker heritage birds we tend to have at Thanksgiving. I happened to have the sour quince jelly left over from a Thanksgiving dessert; whatever’s sour and at hand will likely be just as interesting.

This one's brighter and a softer set than basic cranberry sauce

Squeeze the juice from the orange half and set the juice aside. Remove the membrane from the inside of the orange shell and discard. Cut the shell into small dice. Put into a small saucepan with the water, bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Peel, quarter, and core the quince, then chop into small pieces. Make a simple syrup from 1 cup water and 1 cup white sugar. Add quince and cinnamon stick to syrup and cook gently for 30 minutes, or until the quince is tender and a pale pink. Let sit for a further 30 minutes.

Sort the cranberries, discarding any soft ones. Add to the quince along with the reserved diced orange peel, the reserved orange juice, cardamom and powdered ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover partially. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and the cranberries have burst, 10-15 minutes.

Grate peeled ginger root on a ginger grater or the finest blades of a cheese grater or Microplane. Brush ginger flesh gratings into the sauce, then squeeze juice from the remaining ginger root directly into the sauce. There should be 2-3 teaspoons juice. Stir well, add quince jelly or substitute and hazelnut oil.

Transfer to a bowl and let cool before serving. Or cover and refrigerate; bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 3.5-4 cups

Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce

First, the basics. This recipe from a former roommate comes from back when cranberries were a mystery and Thanksgiving was a curious novelty for me. It’s tart, sweet, and fresh.

Apple-Orange-Cranberry Sauce

1/2 orange
2 cups water
1 tart apple (Granny Smith, Pippin, McIntosh)
3 cups fresh cranberries
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Squeeze the juice from the orange half and set the juice aside. Remove the membrane from the inside of the orange shell and discard. Cut the shell into small dice. Put into a small saucepan with the water, bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Peel, quarter, and core the apple, then chop into small pieces. Place in a saucepan. Sort the cranberries, discarding any soft ones. Add to the apples along with the reserved diced orange peel, the reserved orange juice, the sugar, cinnamon, and cloves. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover partially. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened, the apple is tender and the cranberries have burst, 10-15 minutes.

Transfer to a bowl and let cool before serving. Or cover and refrigerate; bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 3.5-4 cups

Quince & Rosemary Apple Butter

The quince supply on my neighborhood trees is long gone, but there are a few in the stores — I found some Orange quince recently. They make a tender but mild jam, so I cooked them with apples and rosemary to punch up the flavor. The fragrant and sometimes deliciously heady aroma is one of the best things about quince jams and jellies, so this milder fruit seemed doubly suited to the coarser texture of butter. Don’t do what I did and not bother to remove the seeds before grinding the fruit; you’ll be picking out seeds one… by… one.

They're fragrant and delicious

Don’t have a food mill? Well, why would you? I didn’t have one until I decided to try making fruit butters. Try this variation on the recipe below: Peel and core the fruit before chopping into rough chunks. Reserve the peel and core and place in a cheesecloth bag. Tie the ends of the bag around the pot handle so that the bag sits in the fruit and liquid. Instead of using the food mill, grind cooked fruit (not peel and cores) in a food processor or blender.

You can make a bag too: tie the peel and cores in a square of cheesecloth, which is available at pretty much any supermarket.

Quince & Rosemary Apple Butter
3 pounds Orange quince
1 pound Spitzenberg apples
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
2 x 8-inch sprigs fresh rosemary
About one pound white sugar

Chop apples and quince coarsely, including seeds, cores and skins, and bring to a boil with wine, water, lemon juice, and one sprig rosemary. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit is soft enough to squash with a fork.

Transfer to a non-metallic container and refrigerate overnight.

Chop out the seed-filled portion on the quince core and remove what apple and lemon seeds you can.

Grind pulp through a food mill. Don’t complain. This part is what helps distinguishes fruit butter from a fancy apple sauce!

Weigh pulp, and warm half that weight in sugar in a ovenproof dish at 350’F for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, return fruit to pot and bring to a simmer. But first, either throw the second sprig of rosemary into the fruit pulp or tie it in a bouquet garni bag and attach the bag to the pot handle so it sits in the fruit.

Tip warmed sugar into fruit pulp, stir until dissolved, and cook at a firm simmer to gentle boil for about 20 minutes, or until fruit butter looks glassy and liquid no longer pools in the mixture. Stir frequently to avoid burning. If you are using the bouquet garni bag, occasionally press the bag into the fruit as it cooks to release the herb oils into the cooking fruit butter.

Pour into sterilized jars, seal, and can in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

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