Thursday, July 27, 2006

Jam Sessions: Fruit, Sugar, Water, Magic

Yup. Jam. Again. Lately, "Pour some sugar on me" is all I can hear ringing in my ears like an 80's hair metal anthem whenever I so much as glance at anything from a peach to an orange. Fruity? Perhaps. I am forever obsessing about one thing or another; I suppose preserving is as good a phase to be afflicted by as any other.

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.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Exotic...Orange?

In a lovely essay entitled "Pith and Skin" from Diana Henry's Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, the author describes how she went from regarding oranges as, well, ordinary, to the beautiful things they really are thanks to a visit to Mallorca and a sighting of magnificent orange groves.

Reading it, I can readily identify - growing up in Singapore meant being accustomed to an abundance of all manner of fruit. From momo to mangosteen (fruits revered in Asia as much for their rich symbolism as for their utter deliciousness), from raspberries to rhubarb (less familiar imports from faraway temperate climes, and thus correspondingly deemed more exotic), it was all available here.

Oranges? You could find them anywhere and everywhere - all too easy to take for granted. The joys of Seville marmalade or a perfumed khoresh would not be experienced till later in life - as a child, I turned my nose up at what seemed to my ignorant eyes to be neither terribly special or rare. It really wasn't until I started to cook, to enter the fantasy realms bound by the covers of books such as Claudia Roden's A New Book of Middle Eastern Food, that I began to appreciate the orange for its beauty and potential.

In fact, one of the first cakes I ever attempted to make comes from that much-beloved Penguin paperback - an orange and almond cake that, from written word alone, already glistened with so much sensual Moorish promise, a promise that seemed to me all the more intoxicating having on occasion eaten at London's Momo and Moro and having been seduced each and every time by their heady Arabic-Hispanic blend of magic. The cake, it goes without saying being a Claudia Roden recipe, turned out well - a boost not only of sunshine-on-a-plate on an otherwise dull grey day, but of confidence to my tentative baking foray.

I had bought some organic, unwaxed oranges with the vague intent of marmalade of some sort. One thing, as always, leads to another.

Orange with Earl Grey Tea Conserves

Adapted from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures. No ordinary marmalade, this - the oranges are sliced into whole pinwheels, which not only gives the resulting conserves a jewel-like allure, but ultimately out-marmalades marmalade on account of being altogether more intense in flavour and memorable in texture. Using Earl Grey as an underpinning adds nuance to the citrus character, seeing as the essential oil used to flavour the tea comes from the peel of the Bergamot orange. For that matter, Earl Grey works well with most citrus (witness the exquisite kumquat and Earl Grey mousse cake the fabulous Keiko of Nordljus created).

Any good loose-leaf Earl Grey tea will do for these conserves; I used my favourite Mariage Frères blend.

1.2 kg, plus 3, unwaxed oranges
750 gm Granny Smith apples
1.1 kg, plus 200 gm, caster sugar
750 ml, plus 200 ml, plus 200 ml water
5 Tbsp Earl Grey tea
Juice of 1 small lemon

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 (this is what will assist the set later) by pouring the mixture through a chinois. Discard the apples (or save to make a compote). 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; leaving sediment behind ensures a clear, as opposed to cloudy, jam.

Squeeze the 1.2kg of oranges. Measure out 500 ml of juice. Save the pips in a cheesecloth bag.

Rinse the 3 additional oranges in cold water. Dry. Slice into thin rounds. Carefully pry out pips and add to the cheescloth bag. Secure bag with kitchen string. In a preserving pan, poach the orange slices with 200 gm sugar and 200 ml water until they appear translucent, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the apple juice, orange juice, 1.1 kg sugar, lemon juice and bagged pips. Bring to a boil, stirring gently. Continue cooking on high heat for 15 minutes, stirring constantly and skimming vigilantly.

Meanwhile, bring 200ml water to a boil. Pour onto the tea. Steep for 3 minutes. Strain and discard the spent tea. Add infusion to the pan. Return to a boil and remove the cheesecloth bag of pips. Check the set - either use a candy thermometer (the temperature has to reach 221°F/105°C), or put a few drops on a cold plate to monitor the consistency. Ladle the jam into sterilized jars immediately and seal.

Besides turning breakfast from simple to special, these conserves, I've discovered, lend well to dessert ideas.

Claudia Roden's Middle Eastern Orange Cake, with Marmalade and Orange Flower Cream

The very recipe that first opened my eyes to the possibilities of orange. A bit of back-story. My original copy of that book had subsequently been misplaced or mis-appropriated. In its place, I had acquired the revised hardcover Knopf edition. Sadly, as fantastic a book this updated tome is, it also omits the flourless orange and almond Sephardic specialty I so well remember. The inclusion of cooked and pureed whole oranges not only gives the cake a beguiling depth of flavour, it also ensures a cake that's dense and moist, that keeps well and in fact improves with keeping. It's unlike any other, with a delectable dampness that borders on the creamy, making the texture reminiscent more of pudding or one of those sponges drenched with syrup post-baking rather than what one ordinarily thinks of as cake. Fortunately, so good is this cake it's made its way into a rather large clutch of more contemporary titles as so many inspired variants - fascinating stuff for anyone obsessed with recipe provenance. For instance, there's the one in Crazy Water Pickled Lemons; the addition of a little flour and the reduction in the number of eggs produces a cake with a more conventional crumb. Or there's the orange and almond number in Sam & Sam Clark's The Moro Cookbook, which soaks a zest-flecked flourless almond torta (leavened with whipped egg whites) that's not unlike a dacquoise in texture with a spiced orange syrup. Or the clementine cake in Nigella Lawson's How to Eat, using cooked clementines in lieu of oranges.

The recipe I now use and like most also happens to be the one closest to the original and forthrightly attributed to Ms. Roden, from Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion; that it should be included in this astounding compendium from one of Australia's most respected chefs/cookery authors seems surprising until you realize there does not seem to be a good cafe in Sydney or Melbourne that does not serve some version of this classic cake.

What's more, it's a piece of cake. How easy? The time you'll take to read the following (adapted from The Cook's Companion) is probably all the time you'll need to pull it together, minus the boiling and baking times:

Barely cover 2 large unwaxed oranges in a medium-sized pot with water. Bring to a boil, clamp on a lid, lower heat to a simmer, and simmer for 1 hour. Lift out oranges, allow to cool, cut open, remove and discard the pips. Chop oranges up, including the rind. Preheat oven to 190°C. Butter and flour a 24cm non-stick heavy-gauge springform tin you trust to be leakproof (the batter is very wet). Blend chopped oranges and 6 eggs thoroughly in a food processor or blender. Stir together 250 gm ground almonds, 250 gm caster sugar and 1 tsp double-action baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the egg-orange mixture, whisking to combine. Scrape batter into prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour; the cake is done when it's a deep golden brown, has come away slightly from the sides of the tin, and the top springs back when touched. If cake is still very wet, cook a little longer. Cool completely in tin before turning out gently. Store, tightly wrapped, in fridge.

Gorgeous with a dollop of kaymak, clotted cream, crème fraîche, or some such like. I went with the marmalade and orange flower cream - a mixture of mascarpone and Greek yoghurt flavoured with orange marmalade and orange flower water - Diana Henry suggests as the accompaniment to her recipe here seeing as I had plenty of the above conserves to spare.

Earl Grey Infused White Chocolate Ganache Tartlets

I simply couldn't resist using the pretty orange pinwheels for tartlets of some sort, although on hindsight, they'd probably look nice overlapped like so many tiles on a large tart too. So dark chocolate pâte sablée shells, filled with a white chocolate ganache - white chocolate, while possibly not to most people's taste on its own, is an excellent foil to assertive flavours like coffee, tea or citrus. I wanted a pronounced Earl Grey flavour without drawing out the bitter tannins so went for a layered approach - the cold cream sits overnight with the tea, the next day it is strained then brought to the boil with fresh tea leaves and finely grated orange zest, strained again, then used to make the ganache. When the mixture is smooth, a small splash each of Grand Marnier or Cointreau and orange flower water.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Jamón Jamón

An act of controlled spoilage in which food reaches the apotheosis of its flavour potential, ham is to pork what cheese is to milk, wine is to grapes. As Harold McGee has said in On Food and Cooking, "Rotten grapes, moldy milk and ripened meat make our lives much more interesting."

One of the first things W and I ever bonded over was a plate of thinly sliced saucisson sec and a wodge of profoundly funky epoisse. No vacation is considered complete unless we've plundered the depths of whatever artisanal cheeses and cured meats that happen to be on offer. Whenever he travels for work, he goes beyond bringing home the bacon by hauling back ham and cheese he knows I will like by dint of his liking it. Fortunately for both of us, his hunter-gatherer instincts are razor-sharp - he returned from a recent trip to Spain bearing jamón ibérico de puro bellota and serrano.

To say jamón is a national obsession in Spain would be an understatement. It's been the subject of many a learned study by leading jamón experts at the country's most prestigious universities and research agencies. Poets have waxed lyrical about it; Baltasar del Alcázar's Tres Cosas is as much a tribute to Inés as it is to jamón. It's even starred as both muse and metaphor in Bigas Luna's campy cult classic. Hamming it up as lethal bludgeon in the hysterical final scene, it's most tempting to surmise the moral of this farce - good jamón is truly to die for.

If ham is to pork what wine is to grapes, than jamón ibérico de puro bellota is to ham what Vega Sicilia Unico is to wine. Jamón serrano from the domestic white-coated pig is Spain's everyday cured ham (even so, its flavour and texture can be excellent). Jamón ibérico, which accounts for a tiny fraction of Spain's total cured ham production, is produced from the black-coated Iberian pig (most famously, from Salamanca, Jabugo and Sierra Morena amongst other towns) and what many experts and ham fanatics name as their swish spoilt swine of choice. The differences between jamón serrano and ibérico lie not only in breed and curing times (choice jamón ibérico is dry-cured for as long as 30 months), but also in diet. And within the jamón ibérico family alone, the various quality grades are in fact a direct reflection of diet during the montanera, the final fattening period in fall prior to slaughter - bellota (a diet of acorns), recebo (acorns and grain), and pienso (grain).

Bellota ham needs to be tasted to be understood. And if yet to be tasted, it alone is worth a trip to Spain. (Need more convincing? Read Peter Kaminsky's Pig Perfect, a gripping account of the author's quest for artisanal pork and sublime ham.) To eat it is to experience new meaning to carnal pleasures of the flesh. In appearance alone, it is distinctive, with a rich, deep red colour verging on mauve (thanks to the presence of myoglobin in the muscle fibers of the free-range pigs), generously marbled with a soft, creamy white and delicious fat. The aroma is almost resinous in its intensity, the complex scent of artful decay. With a remarkably sweet and nutty flavour, and a texture that's seductively supple, silken and melt-in-the-mouth courtesy of the luxuriant streaks of fat, it's not hard to see why Spaniards revere it with a fervour bordering on the mystical, spiritual and religious. It begs to be eaten alone, and if to be accompanied, by nothing more than a few fat oily olives, a handful of marcona almonds, a ripe fig or a luscious slice of melon, all washed down by a glass of fino sherry.

Jamón serrano, on the other hand, while delectable on its own, is also perfect for cooking, not least because of its less exotic cost. Below, a small selection of tapas or pintxos type things.

Grilled White Peach with Mascarpone Foam & Jamón Serrano

The idea for this lovely number comes from Rick Tramonto's Amuse-Bouche; the original features grilled Black Mission figs topped with mascarpone foam (yes, yet another perfect excuse to go acquire that Adrià-chic iSi Gourmet Whip) and wrapped with a slice of prosciutto di Parma. It's a classic combination of sweet fruit, salty ham and fresh, young cheese found in many permutations in any ham-producing region. The genius touch is lightening the rich cheese into an ethereal foam - thusly, the mouthful of intense flavours is given textural interest.

Croquetas de Jamón Serrano y Pollo

A much-beloved classic tapas on which filling variations are endless - bound by a thick béchamel, use all ham or all chicken if you prefer, go for quail in lieu of chicken, add some chopped hard-cooked egg, shrimp or crab, enrich the milk with ham or chicken stock, sherry and cream, make the croquetas as dainty as wine corks or as robust as lemons. Any which way, it's very very good. The recipe I used is based on one from José Andrés' Tapas.

Habitas, Alcachofa y Guisantes con Jamón Serrano

Favas (broad beans), artichokes or peas with ham can be found in many guises all over Spain. Reading Fiona Dunlop's New Tapas - a fabulous collection of essays on and recipes by Spain's most exciting chefs, tapas bars and restaurants today (and an indispensable guide to anyone planning a tapas-centric trip to the Basque country, Catalonia, Rioja and Castile, Madrid, the Levante or Andalucía) - will not only inspire you to buy a one-way ticket to Spain, but provide a wealth of easy ideas requiring minimal prep yet bursting with stunning flavours.

In the end, I decided to make a mixture not unlike the Roman vignole (an excellent recipe for which can incidentally be found in The River Cafe Cook Book), bringing together broad beans, artichokes and peas, and exuberantly flavoured with masses of mint. Matchsticks of jamón serrano add savoury meatiness, while a garnish of chopped hard-cooked egg both looks and tastes wonderful.

Just looking at the varying hues of lovely green atop garlic-rubbed toast makes me happy.

Greek Yoghurt with Condensed Milk & Oranges

No ham here. Nor is it a particularly Spanish dessert (unless the use of Valencia oranges counts). But certainly in keeping with the fuss-free spirit of things. From Tessa Kiros' Apples for Jam, orange juice, zest, and condensed milk are folded into thick Greek-style yoghurt. The mixture sets to a very soft and creamy pudding to be draped over fruit. Languorously piled into long-stemmed glasses and finished with more zest, there's no reason why something so simple should not be easy on the eyes as well.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

How to Read a Peach

Apart from "Eat me. Now."? Sure, if you're lush and ripe.

But faced with a mixed lot of varying ripeness, what's a girl to do but tamper with nature?

It's been close to a year since such a bountiful windfall of Wuxi and Okayama Shimizu white peaches landed in my lap (courtesy once again of paternal generousity). Which led me to realize it's been more than a year since I first discovered the joys of of blogging. But that's not news - I've never been very good at remembering birthdays, anniversaries and their ilk.

Back to the peaches. The verging on over-ripe are ideal for ice-creams, sorbets, parfaits and mousses. In other words, recipes which call for a puree of peaches; the soft texture of the fruit doesn't matter in this instance, while their full-flavoured juiciness ensures an end result that's sufficiently intense (important, as the flavour will be muted by the addition of cream and eggs).

The young and firm-of-flesh, just this shade of under-ripe? The texture, a flaw when raw, becomes an asset when the peach is poached or roasted - it's sufficiently resilient to hold its shape whilst being cooked without becoming mushy, and is vastly enhanced flavour-wise by the syrupy bath in which it sits.

As for ripe peaches, they are ideal for jam-making. It's a prevalent myth (outrageously, one that's perpetuated by the odd cookbook here and there) that you can bung any old fruit from all walks of ripeness into the preserving pan and expect decent jam to emerge. Just as the stockpot shouldn't be treated as a garbage bin for tired old carcasses and "off" scraps - not if you're aiming for a good stock, that is - the preserving pan shouldn't be used as a catchall for anything less than perfectly ripe specimens, unblemished and with no bruising whatsoever. Ripe fruit posesses the ideal balance of acidity and pectin, the latter being what sets the jam.

Below, how I sorted the three.

White Peach Parfait with Hazelnut Financiers

The sensational yet easy recipe for the parfait can be found in Gordon Ramsay's Just Desserts. It's made by combining peach puree with pâte à bombe, meringue, and whipped cream, and garnished with wafer-thin slices of oven-dried peach (incidentally, another good use for firm, under-ripe fruit).

That's a lot of whipping. But a heavy duty stand mixer takes the elbow grease out of the equation. In fact, I don't think I would bother with pâte à bombe otherwise, made by vigorously beating a just-boiled sugar solution cooked to hard ball stage into whisked egg yolks to create an endlessly useful base for many mousse and parfait recipes.

The droplets of gelée that sit alongside were made from a surprise my Dad had tucked into the box with the white peaches - a punnet of yamamomo, the deliciously tart fruit (also known as Japanese bayberry) with an all-too-fleeting season.

The rich and buttery little financiers give madeleines a good run for the money in France, yet don't seem to be quite as popular elsewhere. Financiers get their very special flavour from beurre noisette - good unsalted butter, preferably French, cooked to a deep brown until beautifully caramelised in flavour and smelling like toasted hazelnuts (hence the name). They are typically made with ground almonds, but I love the recipe using ground hazelnuts from Pascal Rigo's The American Boulangerie (which despite the title is a fabulous collection of very French recipes for pastries and other baked goods from Bay Bread). For a full treatment on the financier subject, and the many dessert possibilities it presents, there's also an excellent chapter in Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking.

Baking the batter in anything other than the traditional rectangular mold with sharply angled sides (measuring 4 by 2 by 5/8 inches), say oval barquette molds or mini-muffin pans, would taste as sweet. Just don't call them financiers - these tea cakes were named not just for their rich ingredients, but for the moneyed clientele they were originally created for by a Parisian pâtisserie near the Bourse, with a form inspired by - what else - ingots of gold. Once baked, they will keep for up to a day. But like madeleines, they really are at their best moments after their exit from the oven - fortunately, as with madeleine batter, financier batter should be given an overnight rest, and in fact keeps well for several days, making it easy to bake up a batch shortly prior to serving. Not quite so freshly baked, that's when they're just right - again like madeleines - for a spot of Proustian tea-dipping.

Olive Oil and Sauternes Cake with Slow Roasted Peaches in Orange Caramel

Another peachy winner from Gordon Ramsay's Just Desserts - the heat of the oven helps intensify the flavour of the peaches.

The orange caramel sauce used to baste the peaches is infused with vanilla, all of which really gives the fruit a boost.

Olive oil cake makes more than an occasional appearance in many a modern cookbook, but the grand dame of them all is probably the Olive Oil & Sauternes classic developed by Linda P. Guenzel from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, which re-appears later in Lindsey Remolif Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts in a slightly tweaked form for a lighter cake. It's a heavenly idea that's inspired many others; I first came across it in a roundabout fashion - not in either of the Chez Panisse titles but in Alastair Little's Keep It Simple.

As an elegant dinner party dessert, it is sublime paired with fresh or poached peaches and a Sauternes-laced sabayon, accompanied by a glass of more of that divine golden nectar. Nectarines and apricots also work. When peaches aren't in season, or simply to ring the changes, try a compote of dried fruit poached in an Earl Grey tea syrup or spiced red wine syrup. As an afternoon tea treat, have it alone or topped with a dollop of softly whipped cream, a tumble of raspberries and a trickle of raspberry coulis.

No one's suggesting you bust out a vintage d'Yquem to flavour the cake. A less prohibitively priced bottling will do, and most other dessert wines also do a fine job - from other noble rot numbers (like an Austrian or German Trockenbeerenauslese, Alsatian selection de grains nobles, or Hungarian Tokaji aszú), to eiswein/icewine, late harvest wines, and passito-style. Even more accessibly, a fortified sweet muscat from Beaumes-de-Venise or Australia. The olive oil, however, must be the very best you can afford - extra virgin, bursting with fruit, and likely to be as dear as a mid-priced Sauternes (try to avoid an oil with too peppery a bite) - seeing as it completely takes the place of butter in the cake batter.

However, for all its apparent simplicity, getting the texture right is a tad tricky - a deft but assured touch when folding is necessary so the cake doesn't become heavy (although if it is, it will still be delicious and full of flavour). So I really like the virtually fool-proof recipe for Olive Oil Cake in Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques - she's significantly bumped up the olive oil quotient so the flavour is pretty pronounced, while the inclusion of semolina gives the cake a lovely texture - very moist and appealingly close-crumbed, with excellent keeping properties. This time round, I used Sauternes instead of the brandy called for in Ms. Goin's recipe, and also added some orange zest for a subtly citrusy dimension. (For an all-out citrus take, I'm keen to check out the Olive Oil & Orange Juice Cake with Pinenuts in Tessa Kiros' Apples for Jam.)

White Peach with Rose de Chine Tea Preserves

Very feminine preserves, based on a recipe from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures. Instead of using Rose de Chine (hibiscus) tea, I went for a hibiscus and rosehip blend - either way, loose leaf please. The recipe is not in the least complicated (there's no need to make an apple stock jelly beforehand). The key, as always, lies in Ms. Ferber's technique; the fruit is macerated and cooked several times so that the sugar is absorbed gradually by the fruit - this way, the succulent texture of the fruit is not compromised. Fresh lemon juice is used for macerating not only to prevent oxidation and preserve colour, but its acidity enhances the fruit flavour while awakening the gelling power of the natural pectin present. If you have ripe white peaches to spare, there are few nicer ways to extend your enjoyment of them than making jam - this one's deliciously different.

1.3 kg white peaches
800gm caster sugar
Juice of 1 small lemon
25g hibiscus tea, or a hibiscus and rose hip blend
200ml water

Blanch the white peaches for 1 minute in a pot of boiling water. Refresh them in ice water. Peel them (the skins should slip right off if the peaches were nicely ripe to begin with). Remove the pits and slice the flesh.

In a preserving pan, mix the peach slices, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a gentle simmer, then pour into a ceramic or glass bowl. Cover the preparation with a circle of parchment paper to help keep the fruit submerged. Clingwrap the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, pour the preparation into a sieve placed over a preserving pan. Set the peaches aside. Bring the collected syrup to a boil. Skim rigorously of any scum, foam and flotsam as you cook on high heat. Clip on a candy thermometer - the syrup should be sufficiently concentrated at 221°F/105°C.

Meanwhile, bring the water to a boil. Pour onto the tea. Steep for 3 minutes. Strain and discard the spent tea.

Add the peach slices and tea 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. This is intended to be a soft-set jam with a consistency much like thick honey. Ladle the jam into sterilized jars immediately and seal.