Hello! You may have noticed that summer is over and I’ve been a bit quiet of late. Well, for the duration of summer actually! I’m sorry about that. I have been busy and I have been working, I just have been doing it very quietly! I hope to be a bit more vocal in the autumn and winter and certainly in the next few weeks, I’m sure I’ll more than make up for months of silence!
You may remember last Christmas, when the very lovely and talented Vanessa Kimbell organised ‘Let’s Make Christmas’ at Fortnum and Mason? (To refresh your memories, I made some amaretti biscuits and won a Kenwood food processor and a Fortnum and Mason Christmas hamper!) Well, she’s done it again! Vanessa was recently in Uganda and on her return, has highlighted the plight of vanilla producers and has championed ndali vanilla
So, to get people using ndali vanilla and to bring awareness to their wonderful produce, Vanessa has organised a vanilla gift swap at Fortnum and Mason tomorrow.
So, it stands to reason that I should join in. I love baking, I adore vanilla and meeting fellow bakers and bloggers is always fun. So, what could I possibly make? I’ve decided to make some chocolate, hazelnut and vanilla cupcakes, with a whipped vanilla ganache icing and some Viennese Whirls, filled with a vanilla buttercream and plum and vanilla jam. If I’m going to celebrate vanilla, I’m going to make sure I use a lot of it!
Today, I’ve made the jam and the ganache. I’m not entirely convinced that either have enough vanilla, though I thought I was being generous! I imagine (I hope!) that by the time I’ve made all of the constituent parts, that they will all be sufficiently vanillay, and hopefully I’ve not gone for overkill. There’s a line between not having enough and having it so strong that it’s all that you can taste. I’d like not to cross that line!
So, today I’ll share my jam recipe. Over the next few days, the recipe for the biscuits and the cupcakes as well as my thoughts of the day will follow. After that, I’m hoping to rediscover my love for this blog and I’ll share more thoughts and recipes with you all.
Plum Jam (enough for 5-6 7oz jars)
1 kg plums (I used Victoria)
2 Ndali vanilla pods
Begin by ‘preparing’ your pan. Before I make jam, I always wash my pan in hot, soapy water. Once it has dried, I then melt some butter (enough to coat the base of the pan). This helps to stop the jam from sticking to the base, which also makes washing up easier! Then, pre-heat your oven to 120C and once you have done this, place a small saucer into your freezer.
Rinse the plums in water, then halve and stone. Cut in half again and put into your prepared pan. Add the water and the vanilla pods. Before you add the pods, score one lengthways and open up to reveal the seeds. Scrape these out using a sharp knife and add to your pan. Cut the pod in half (so that you can later add this to your jam jars) and repeat for the other vanilla pod.
Put the pan on a low-medium heat and leave for the fruit to soften, which will take about 20 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the jam jars. Start by washing your jars in hot soapy water. Then rinse them in hot water and place in your pre-heated oven. Ideally, you need to leave them for between 15-20 minutes and this will sterilise them.
Once your jars are in the oven, your plums should be nicely softened and you are ready to add the sugar. I have used granulated sugar. You could use vanilla sugar if you choose; as I’ve only just thought about this, I didn’t! You can warm your sugar to help it dissolve. You don’t have to do this and it’s not something I always do, but I do sometimes. (If you wanted to do this, weigh your sugar out, and then pour onto a large baking tray. Put in the oven on a low heat – no more than 100-120 degrees – and leave for about 5 minutes. You don’t want to cook the sugar, all you want to do is warm it up. Remove from the oven and then add to your pan.)
Put the sugar into the pan and stir occasionally. You don’t want to turn the pan up – you want to leave it at its low-medium temperature. Before you start to boil the fruit, you want to ensure that the sugar has fully dissolved, otherwise you will be left with a very grainy jam. It will take somewhere between 5-10 minutes for the sugar to dissolve fully. Once you are sure that there are no little grains of sugar in your jam, turn up the heat. I had my hob at 4 for this (it goes up to 6) and I felt that was high enough. You want your jam to come to boiling point and then to boil for about 5-10 minutes, but you don’t want your jam to burn and I feel that by having a slightly lower temperature, I’m more in control.
Once you have turned the temperature of your jam up, you need to watch your pan like a hawk! Stir occasionally too. After about 5-10 minutes, take the jam off the heat, remove the saucer from the freezer and then test your jam. Take a teaspoon of jam from the pan and put it onto your saucer. Leave for about 20 seconds. Then, push the jam with your finger. If you notice that when it moves it starts to wrinkle a bit, it’s ready. If not, return to the hob, return the saucer to the freezer and try again after a couple of minutes.
When your jam has wrinkled, you can turn your hob off and you’re ready to pot the jam! Before you do this however, move your pan to your work surface. You may notice that there is a light ‘skim’ on the surface of your jam. If this is the case, stir a small knob of butter into your jam and this will disappear. Leave your jam for a couple of minutes before you jar it. This will ensure that when your jam has cooled, the fruit hasn’t all risen to the top, but remains evenly dispersed throughout your jam.
Remove your jars from the oven and you’re ready to jar the jam! You can use a funnel, but I tend to use a tablespoon and just spoon it in. As you’ve cut your vanilla pods in half, try and get a pod in each of the jars. Once you’ve reached the top of the jar (you don’t want to go right to the top – leave a gap of about 3mm), I always place a waxed disc before sealing. This isn’t always necessary, especially if you’re using new jars, but if you’re using second hand jars, it is advisable. (As an aside, if I were making plum chutney, I would always use wax discs, so the vinegar in the chutney does not react with the lid.)
Place the lid on the jam and then screw. Once the jam has cooled, you can tighten the lid and voila! Your plum jam is ready!
(Another quick aside. You can and probably should, remove the skins from your jam before you bottle it. As I went to remove one, I noticed vanilla seeds all over it and I thought it would be criminal to take them out. So, although when the jam is cool and I go to eat it, I won’t eat the skins, in the meantime, I don’t think it will do any harm to add a little more flavour to my jam. It’s really up to you though, whether you remove the skin before you jar your jam, or later, when you eat it.)
I’m not going to enter the jam in the gift swap (I only have 3 jars of it!), but I will use it to sandwich my Viennese Whirls together and I’ll post the recipe for that over the next few days.