Saturday, 24 September 2011

A journey of discovery - Classic Apple Date & Walnut Chutney

I've never been a fussy eater, and my family will testify to the fact that as a child I would always greedily finish every scrap of whatever was put on the plate in front of me.  And then ask for seconds.  But there are just a very few exceptions to this - I have always had a dislike and a completely irrational fear of 3 things:  baked beans, tomato ketchup and chutney. Especially chutney.  I had never actually tried it, but just looking at a jar of something worryingly brown and alien with little cubes of unidentified vegetables that's neither liquid or solid and both sweet and pungently vinegary freaked me out so much that I was scared to have any where near my plate. 

But a few years ago this all changed.  Melissa and I had our very first vegetable patch, and that September we were overrun with so many delicious homegrown courgettes and green tomatoes we didn't know what to do with them.  Not wanting to waste our lovely produce we'd spent so long nurturing, I reluctantly had a stab at the Courgette and Tomato Glutney recipe in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook.  This may just have been one of those rare occasions where I was wrong.  (Yes Melissa - you now have that in writing for all to see!)  Of course using our homegrown vegetables made it extra special, but this recipe was really good and I was converted. We gave jars away as Christmas presents and have done the same every year since.

For a while I thought we only ever needed this recipe - it wasn't too sweet or too acidic, just a really good balance of lovely flavours.  And to be honest, I was still a bit scared to try another recipe, in case my irrational fear came back.  But last year I discovered a fantastic recipe for Apple Date and Walnut Chutney.  And it might just go one better than the River Cottage recipe - sorry Hugh!

With 3 carrier bags of apples from my dad's garden in need of preserving I thought this would be the perfect chutney to add to our collection for the next Brighton Bakery stall (at The Lantern Fayre on The Level on 8th October - more details soon!).   For those of you that can't make it down to Brighton to buy a jar, I thought I would share my recipe, inspired by this one by West Ealing Abundance.

Oh and be warned - the peeling and chopping does take ages (as with all chutneys) so make sure you have several hours free and plenty of patience to make this, I promise you won't be disappointed with the result.  This recipe can always be halved if you'd prefer less chopping!

My Classic Apple Date & Walnut Chutney Recipe
Makes 15 x 340g jars

6 large brown onions, chopped
2.4kg cooking apples, peeled, cored & diced (prepared weight)
800g dates, chopped
250g walnuts, chopped
630ml cider vinegar
240ml balsamic vinegar
250g soft brown or demerara sugar
8tsp mustard seeds
8tsp finely grated fresh root ginger
450ml water
a little oil

1. Start by preparing and chopping the apples, onions and dates - these should be chopped fairly small and evenly - you want them all about the same size.
2. Grease a very large maslin pan with a little oil and add the cider and balsamic vinegar, the sugar, mustard seeds, ginger and water.  Stir over a low heat (without boiling) until the sugar dissolves into the liquid.
3.  Add the remaining ingredients (apples, onions, dates and walnuts) and give it a good stir with a long wooden spoon.  Turn the heat up to medium and bring to the boil.  This will take a while as there is lots in the pan - stir it every so often and liquid will start to rise and it will start to bubble.
4. Simmer the mixture very gently, for about an hour and a half, until thick and pulpy, but with the chunks of apple still clearly discernable.  Stir the mixture occasionally, more frequently near the end to ensure it doesn't catch and burn on the bottom of the pan.  You'll know when it's done when no excess liquid remains and you can draw your spoon across the bottom of the pan and reveal the base for a couple of seconds. 
5. Pour into warm, sterilised jars while still hot and cover immediately.  Mature for 2 months to develop the flavours before eating.  The chutney will keep well for a year.

Here's how mine went, step by step:

All the ingredients filled my maslin pan nearly to the brim!
After an hour it has reduced and turn a lovely deep colour
It took 10 attempts to take this picture revealing the bottom of the pan!
Do I really have to wait 2 months to try this? :o(
I hope you try this recipe out, it's a real winner.  I'd love to hear how yours turns out if you do!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Damson and Sloe Gin Jam

Damsons are a proper old school English fruit, a small plum with indigo skin and green flesh, about the size of a queen olive.  I'm lucky enough to have grown up with a damson tree in our back garden which faithfully produced a great crop every year of these little blue beauties.  They made their way into many a good damson crumble throughout my childhood.

Now that my brother and I have left home, even though my dad loves a crumble and happily eats it for breakfast, there are way too many for him to get through on his own.  Luckily I'm here to rescue the whole crop every year to turn into jam - it would be a crime to let them rot on the tree.

This year Melissa and I gathered just over 1.5 kilos which we rushed back to Brighton to make into a beautiful preserve (I learned the hard way last year that damsons don't last long at all once picked).  This just happened to be the perfect amount for my Damson & Sloe Gin Jam recipe.  The sloe gin adds an extra dimension without being overpowering and it has a lovely set - perfect for spreading onto hot buttered crumpets or on a scone with clotted cream and a pot of tea.  Mmmm.

Damson & Sloe Gin Jam
Makes about 6 x 340g jars

1.5kg damsons
1.25kg granulated sugar
50ml sloe gin

1. Start off cutting each damson in half and removing the stones (there's no need to wash the fruit beforehand).  Place a side plate in your freezer for later.
2. Pop the stoned damsons in a large preserving pan and cover with 400ml water.  Bring the fruit up to a simmer and cook gently until the skins have softened and the flesh is tender (about 25 minutes, but keep checking).  While this is happening, sterilise your jars and lids.*
3. Once the fruit is tender, add the sugar to the pan and stir until the crystals have all dissolved.  Bring the mixture up to a full rolling boil until you reach the setting point,** usually about 12-15 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  If you notice the fruit is bobbing on the surface then give it another couple of minutes as it's probably not cooked enough for the fruit to have absorbed the sugar.
4.  Stir in the sloe gin (bask in the lovely aroma mmmm) and pour into your sterilised jars while still hot and cover immediately.  This deep purple preserve will keep well for a year in a cool dark place - refrigerate after opening.

I hope you enjoy the recipe - if you make it please leave a comment and let me know how it turns out!

* To sterilise jars, I wash the jars in very hot soapy water and rinse clean and leave to drain.  Then place the jars upright in a large roasting tin lined with a teatowel and dry the jars in a low oven at 120C for about 20 minutes. Keep them warm until ready to use.  Sterilise the lids by boiling in a pan of water for 10 minutes.

** To test for a set, the foamy bubbles will have given way to deeper glossier bubbles and it starts to look more jammy.  Take your side plate out of the freezer and place a teaspoonful on the plate and leave for a minute (take the jam off the heat while you're testing so it doesn't over set).  Push the jam with your little finger - if it crinkles then the jam is done, if not give it another couple of minutes at a rolling boil and test again.

Brighton Bakery launches a new line of preserves

Now that we've done a few market stalls at various events we realise just how much work goes into making all our cakes and sweet treats with a huge bakeathon the day before.  After the last stall at Nigel's Eco Market, Melissa and I decided it would be a good idea to diversify the products we offer that have a longer shelf life than our cakes.  And we came up with the cracking idea of making a small range of delicious preserves. 

As is typical with us, we concocted our cunning plan rather late in the season, missing out on much of the summer bounty and so there are many fruits that are just not available locally or would simply cost to much to turn into lovely jam.  Sorry Melissa - no strawberry jam this year.

But one very cost effective seasonal fruity offering we were just in time for was my annual raid of the fruit trees in my dad's back garden!  He kindly donated several carrier bags full of damsons and three kinds of apples, plus some plums and raspberries and he even helped us forage some sloes and blackberries from the woods behind his house.  Fan-fruity-tastic - thanks Dad.

Over the last 2 weeks Melissa and I have been busy peeling, chopping, simming, stirring, rolling boiling and potting nearly 40 jars worth (so far) of lovely preserves, including Damson & Sloe Gin Jam, Tangy Russet Apple & Honey Jam, Plum Jam, Apple Date & Walnut Chutney and Plum & Russet Mincemeat which will make some delicious mince pies this Christmas.

Apple Date & Walnut Chutney
If you're feeling frugal or fancy a spot of jamming on a rainy day I can heartily recommend our preserving bible, the fantastic River Cottage Preserves handbook, where we found the recipes for the Plum Jam and the Plum and Russet Mincemeat.  I have made both of these a few times and they are great recipes to start off with as they are quite straightforward.  But we've gone a step further and developed a couple of recipes of our own which will make an appearance at our next stall.  If you can't wait until then to buy a jar then you can get out your pinny and make your own by following one of the recipes I'll be posting shortly.

Happy jamming xx

Yellow rose birthday cake

It's been a busy week in the Brighton Bakery house and I've finally had a chance to catch up with my blog posts :o)

You may already have noticed the fruits of my labour this morning - the new and improved design to this blog.  I'm the first to admit that I'm no whiz when it comes to these things (I'd rather be baking and eating cake than trying to figure out how to use html code or use photoshop with anything other than trial and error guesswork) but I'm pleased that it now ties in with our new Brighton Bakery website branding.  Please drop me a comment and let me know what you think :o)

And speaking of the new website, I'm delighted to say that it's already had a positive impact on our business.  We were invited by Theatre Royal to present our cakes for consideration for their new Parlour Cafe and have already received another cake commission just a few days after the site was launched.

The cake was a standard 10" square cake with some handmade sugar roses and a piped message.  I'd just taken down the order when the customer told me, "it's a shame that the birthday girl is diabetic so won't really be able to have any".  That defeats the whole point of a birthday cake!  Now I can't make any claims about cakes being diabetic-friendly, but I recommended our speciality Orange and Lemon cake which uses carrot, courgette and ground almonds in the recipe.  It is a really moist and delicious cake, but has less than half the fat and sugar of a regular lemon madeira cake.  It also has the bonus of being gluten free which is great if any of the party guests have wheat intolerances.

When I delivered the cake, the client was really pleased.  I hope that her mum Jacqueline enjoyed it too - especially as she would actually be able to eat a slice!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Happy 30th Karrie! Carved lush lemon cake

Last weekend was my best friend Karrie's big 3-0.  She was my bridesmaid when I got married last year and did such an amazing job, I really wanted to make her something a bit special for her birthday.  I'd been wracking my brains about it for weeks - it had to be something pretty unique and personal to Karrie, she ain't your average kinda gal. 

Karrie is a graphic novelist and comic artist (check out her website so something comic related would be perfect.  I thought about doing a square cake with a comic story across the top but this didn't seem grand enough for a thirtieth birthday cake.  I had to go one better.  Something bigger that would really pop out.

And then I had the idea that I could do a cake that looked like a comic, but in 3D like it was literally popping out of the page.  Karrie wrote an autobiographical comic strip for the Guardian G2 a while back.  The perfect choice had to be to make a cake in the shape of a giant 3D head like the comic version of Karrie in her G2 strip.

I was going to deliver the cake at her birthday bash "Kafest - or Karrie starts to fester..." -  a mini festival in the secret park near her house.  On the bill she advertised a pie eating contest, snail racing, silent disco, fancy dressing up, pillow fighting and much much more.  So this gave me the perfect inspiration for the final cake:

Here's the comic strip I based it on to get the face just right:

And proof there really was a live snail race:

Karrie really loved the cake.  Not that you can tell that from the brutality of how she butchered it, starting with a Kill Bill style slicing the top off her own head:

And ending up in a complete massacre:

Whenever I make a cake I know that the sole purpose is for it to be cut up and eaten but even still, this was harsh!

Still everyone seemed to love it, especially Karrie, and that couldn't have made me happier. 

Ka - here's to the next 30 and neither of us ever actually growing up x