Thursday 26 January 2012

Marmalade Gingerbread

Ready to cut
A couple of years ago I made Seville orange marmalade with crushed coriander seeds, but neither of us really likes the bits of seed in it, so I decided to try using it in a cake. Hilaire Walden in her book "Sensational Preserves" claims that, having once made Marmalade Gingerbread, she no longer uses black treacle or golden syrup, just marmalade. I substituted a few items, and it still worked very well. Instead of preserved ginger, I had some rather elderly crystallized ginger from Julian Graves, bought before we moved over here. It had gone a bit dry, so I soaked 14 pieces of it overnight and then chopped it. I also substituted a mixture of currants and sultanas for raisins, as all the raisins had been snacked!

225g/8oz butter, cut in bits
225g/8oz dark brown sugar
300ml/10floz milk
225g/8oz marmalade
350g/12oz self raising flour (if you only have plain flour, add 2 teaspoons baking powder / 1 sachet levure chimique)
1½-2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten
7 pieces preserved ginger, chopped
115g/4oz raisins

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/310°F/gas mark 2. Butter a 20-22.5cm/8-9inch round cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper or baking parchment.
In a saucepan (not a small saucepan....), gently heat together the butter, sugar, milk and marmalade stirring occasionally, until the sugar and marmalade have all dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Sift together the flour, bicarb, baking powder (if using), and ground spices. Make a well in the middle and pour in the liquid a bit at a time, stirring to make a smooth batter, and adding the eggs towards the end. Stir in the ginger and raisins. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 1½ hours until the cake is firm to the touch and a kebab skewer inserted into the middle comes out dry. Leave to cool in the tin. Store in an airtight container. Leave for a day before eating, if you can bear it!

The first slice...
My 9-inch springform tin looked ideal, but the cooked cake turned out not to fit my storage tin! Somewhere in a box is my Tupperware cake box... Hilaire Walden suggests Tangerine Marmalade and Peach Marmalade work as well as orange. I wonder whether cherry jam would work?

A succulent texture

Friday 20 January 2012

Seville Orange season

Real English marmalade requires just three ingredients - bigarade oranges, sugar and water. That's correct, no vanilla pod! Bigarade oranges are usually called Seville oranges in the UK and oranges amères or bigarades in France, and they are available right now if you know where to look. The season is less than a month long but apparently they freeze well (I like seasonal stuff, in season!). They are normally untreated, never wax-coated and often come with leaves, bird droppings and so on. I'm told that supermarkets in both countries have them, but I've never found them in France and only at Morrisons in the St John Centre, Leeds (not the Kirkstall branch). My usual source, the organic greengrocers in Otley, closed not long before we left the UK. Fortunately our friend Susan told us that the fruit stall in Preuilly sur Claise market "opposite the fish stall" had them, but only in mid January. And indeed they did.

Tim likes coarse cut dark Oxford marmalade and I like fine cut Golden Shred, so I bought enough to make both.

Originally, marmalade was not made with oranges at all, but with quinces (marmelo in portuguese). The name has the same origin as the spanish membrillo, which means "quince". Dulce de membrillo is a thick delicious quince jam called marmelada in portuguese.  Seville oranges (citrus aurantium) are not the same species as sweet oranges (citrus sinensis). They are rather bulgy and ugly, with somewhat longer stalks than sweet oranges, and a texture to the skin of the sort you wouldn't like to see on your thighs. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in a Guardian article of 29 January 2011 relates the story of how marmalade came to be.

Bigarade - full of Spanish sunshine

My recipe for Oxford Marmalade came from Hilaire Walden's Sensational Preserves, as you can see a well-used volume. One really nice thing about Sensational Preserves is, it has a number of recipes for yummy things to make with your preserves, such as Marmalade Gingerbread.

Ready to go!

Oxford Marmalade - for about 5 1-lb jars
Imperial measure:
1.5 pounds of Seville oranges
3 pints boiling water
3 pounds of sugar
Metric recipe (don't mix them!):
1 kilo of Seville oranges
2.5 litres of boiling water
2 kilos of sugar
Scrub the oranges and remove the stalks. Peel the oranges and cut them into chunky strips, pith and all (don't use a food processor). Put the peel into a large heatproof bowl. Chop up the flesh, extract the pips and put them into a small bowl. The flesh and juice goes in the big bowl. Pour half a pint of the boiling water onto the pips and the rest onto the peel and flesh. Cover both bowls and leave overnight.

In the morning you will find the pips coated in a transparent jelly. This is mainly pectin which is the agent that makes your marmalade set. You need this! So get as much of it off the pips as you can and into the bowl with the peel and flesh. Wash it through a non-metallic sieve, placed over the large bowl, dunking it up and down in the liquid as much as you can without spilling the pips. The best way to do this is with your fingers. Discard the pips.

Transfer the contents of the large bowl to a big saucepan with a lid, bring it to a boil then simmer it partially covered for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally until the peel is really soft. The longer you cook it, the darker it will be after the sugar is added. You don't want the liquid to reduce by more than about half - top up if necessary.

Warm the sugar using the keep-warm setting of your oven if you have one (80 C). Add the sugar to the cooked fruit a bit at a time, stirring until it dissolves. Meanwhile, put the jamjars in the oven to sterilise and warm to jam temperature. Bring the jam to a rolling boil and cook for 10-15 minutes or until setting point is reached. I used a jam thermometer, but the quantity is rather small for one of these to be accurate, so I backed up by plopping a blob of liquid on a chilled plate. The blob wrinkled nicely when poked with a fingertip, so the marmalade was ready. If you pot it straight away all the peel floats to the top, so the trick is to let it stand for a quarter of an hour or so, then stir it gently. This will also disperse any froth that appears on the surface of the marmalade. Fill pots and cover. Leave overnight to set.

The finished article ready for labelling

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Masculine, feminine or a bit of both?

We use a hydraulic log splitter to feed the ravenous maw of our chaudIère. I thought the French word for a logsplitter was a fendeuse for the machine and a fendeur for the (obviously male) user, by analogy with many other machine tools which are feminine - une tondeuse, une scieuse etc. By gum, I was wrong, judging by these specimens in the Bricomarché, both labelled "fendeur de bois".

An electrically powered fendeur de bois, at a burning-tenners price

Definitely un fendeur then.

Uh-oh, I was right after all....

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Apprentice, workman, craftsman

Like most people in Touraine, we have ready access to fresh walnuts. Ours mostly end up in cakes, both sweet and savoury, though some growers have the patience to crack walnuts by hand in order to take the meats to a traditional huilerie such as Lepine, and return with their own freshly-pressed walnut oil. Because our nutcracker is still in a box somewhere, we had only a mole wrench to crack the walnuts - not a particularly successful tool! I remember as a child using a piece of pressed steel with a point that you inserted in the tiny slot in the base of the nut, and twisted, rather like opening an oyster. This tool was supposedly just the thing for walnuts, but I had no success with it!

When we saw James Gassiot's hand-turned wooden nut crackers, they had to be right - locally made (in le Grand Pressigny) from carefully selected pieces of timber with glorious patterning in the grain. Elm wood is strongly featured, along with yew and fruit woods. The casse-noix is in two parts - a bowl rather like a candle-holder for the shells, and a wooden hammer. The nut fits upright in a little cup and you smite it smartly with the hammer. If you catch it correctly, you chip pieces off both halves of the shell, and you can pull the entire nut meat out undamaged. You can crack hazel nuts in the same way. Bits of shell fly across the room, but it's much more fun than the mole wrench!

M Gassiot demonstrates the casse-noix. The book to his right is his autobiograpy.

A selection of nut crackers and mortars
M. Gassiot takes his portable lathe on its trailer to Marchés Gourmands so that he can create these utensils in front of your eyes. The pictures were taken at the Christmas Market at La Celle Guénand, where he set out his stall in one of the huge cellars of the castle.

Turning a "casse-noix"
On his retirement as compagnon charpentier in 2002, M. Gassiot wrote the story of his life's work as "Apprenti, Ouvrier, Artisan". The son of a master carpenter, he never considered another career, having, as he says, "fallen in at an early age", like Obelix in the magic potion. He started his training at the age of 14 at a wage of 6 Francs a month. A charpentier is a roofer and constructs the skeleton of large wooden buildings. The book is full of pictures of semi-clad buildings where he was involved in re-roofing (including the church in Le Grand Pressigny). There are also pictures of the more modern single-spanned buildings constructed using vast laminated beams. The earliest picture, taken in 1960, shows the proud newly-qualified 18-year-old James with his father and another master craftsman, holding a model roof, and standing in front of a lovely 2CV. Several of the later photos feature a white 2CV van! He started making the nut crackers in 2000, and his description in the book reveals the love that goes into them. Ever innovative, he is the inventor of a rolling seat on rails, made from an old garden chair and the wheels from some roller skates, for picking saffron...