Jam Sessions: Fruit, Sugar, Water, Magic
And again, I have my nose buried in Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures . Trouble is, it's down the rabbit hole into a wonderland of never-ending tea parties and dancing sugar plum visions - even after narrowing down to the fruit in question, for every recipe I look at, there are 5 others I want to try. The light at the end of the tunnel nears not.
Pear with Spiced Caramel Preserves
Adapted from the book (the original recipe juliennes the pears, uses ground spices, and specifies green apple stock jelly to be made separately). The rich caramel flavour and warms accents of cardamom, cinnamon, star anise and vanilla bean make this luxurious and special. Hands down, my favourite thus far amongst the recipes I've had a go at - worth every anxious second of the long fortnight I waited for the pears to ripen perfectly (I used Sugar/Ayers pears, although Bartlett, Packham or Forelle would also work).
1.2 kg pears, ripe but still firm
600 gm, plus 300 gm, caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 4 oranges (to obtain 200 ml)
8 cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks
3 whole star anise
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
750 gm Granny Smith apples
750 ml water
Peel the pears. Remove the stems and cores. Slice each pear lengthwise into eigths. In a ceramic bowl, combine the pears, 600gm sugar, and lemon juice. Let macerate for 15 minutes.
Heat 200ml freshly squeezed orange juice till lukewarm in a small pan. Set aside. Use the remaining 300gm sugar to make caramel in a preserving pan. Once it is an amber hue, pour in the warmed orange juice (be careful, it will splutter), stirring until the caramel is completely dissolved. Bring to a boil, then add the macerated pears and spices. Bring again to a boil, then immediately turn contents into a ceramic bowl. Cover the preparation with a circle of parchment paper to help keep the fruit submerged. Clingwrap the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
Meanwhile, rinse the apples in cold water. Dry. Remove stems and quarter them without peeling or removing the cores. Place in a preserving pan, cover with 750 ml water, bring to a boil over high heat. Once water comes to a boil, turn heat down to low and simmer gently for 30 minutes until the apples are soft. Collect the pectin-rich juice by pouring the mixture through a chinois. Discard the apples. Filter the juice a second time through wet-then-wrung cheesecloth. Let the juice run freely so as not to force more sediment through than will already occur. Cover and refrigerate the juice overnight.
Next day, ladle out 500 ml of apple juice without disturbing the sediment that has sunk to the bottom. Set aside. Pour the pear preparation into a sieve placed over a preserving pan. Set the pear slices and spices aside. To the collected pear syrup in the pan, add the apple juice. Bring to a boil. Skim rigorously of any scum as you cook on high heat. Clip on a candy thermometer - the syrup should be sufficiently concentrated at 221°F/105°C.
Add the pear slices and spices to the cooking syrup. Return this to a boil and cook on high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring gently. Keep on skimming diligently. Check the set - either use the candy thermometer (the temperature has to climb back to 221°F/105°C), or put a few drops of jam on a cold plate to monitor the consistency. Ladle the jam into sterilized jars immediately and seal.
Pear and Lime "Charlotte"
I was going to make a honey genoise, soak it in a Poire Williams liqueur-spiked syrup, fill the split cake with pear preserves, and enrobe the whole in a buttercream flavoured with more honey and more Poire Williams. To cut a long story short, it was a sweltering afternoon, I couldn't face turning the oven on, and so promptly got sidetracked by this fabulously simple number from Christine Manfield's Desserts.
Instead of the ladyfinger sponge of a classic charlotte, Ms. Manfield uses poached pear slices to line the dariole molds. I simply used the segments from the preserves (the reason why I decided to slice rather than julienne the pears - greater versatility where dessert applications are concerned) - thanks to the maceration and twice-cooked process, sugar is gradually absorbed by the pear pieces, allowing them to cook to succulence without losing their shape. The sweet, fragrant pear is gorgeous against the light yet luscious lime bavarois and the refreshingly tart layer of lime jelly - just the sweet for when you're wilting in the heat. Then, irrationally feeling a tad guilt-stricken for the sheer easiness of it all, I spun some sugar.
As for the honey genoise idea? It can wait - for the pear preserves certainly can, surely the nicest thing about preserving - for a cool, balmy post-morning showers afternoon.