Is there someone you know who is particularly difficult to buy gifts for? Don’t want to brave the crowds on christmas eve? Make some mustard! Ok… so I may have had one too many Christmas wines which may have impaired my ability to construct logical sentences. But the result is satisfying nonetheless! Who wouldn’t love a little jar of home made Honey Wholegrain Mustard as a Christmas present? Even if they don’t like mustard you will get brownie points for presenting something that looks time consuming and devilishly tricky. (But really isnt!)
Until I saw the recipe for this in Gifts From the Kitchen by Annie Rigg I must confess that I didn’t even realise it was possible to make your own mustard. I just assumed it appeared mysteriously on supermarket shelves and in my roast beef sandwiches. Imagine my amazement!
Sometimes I feel like i’m the only person on the planet who doesn’t like fresh strawberries. Not dipped in chocolate, not with fresh cream on a hot summer’s day, not even freshly picked. I’ve never been able to figure out why. It’s not like my aversion to fresh tomatoes (which make me throw up), I just don’t like them. But here’s the kicker… I LOVE strawberry jam.
After buying Gifts from the Kitchen: 100 Irresistible Homemade Presents for Every Occasion by Annie Rigg, I decided that I was going to be making some delicious christmas gifts for my friends and family. Each year I try to make some jam, sometimes a success (2009 Blueberry Jam) sometimes a failure (2008 Peach and Nectarine Jam… and I use the word ‘Jam’ very loosely here). This year I was determined to try the old faithful Strawberry and Vanilla Conserve. The recipe was straightforward and very easy to follow and, unlike many other recipes, it did not make litres and litres of jam that required bottles and bottles to contain it. This recipe makes enough to fill 3 X 125mL jars and doesn’t require a giant saucepan.
Firstly, you must make sure that you sterilise your jars. Not necessarily as difficult as it sounds. I bought these jars for $5.95 (a tad expensive but they were all I could find at the time) from The Essential Ingredient in Rozelle.
They came with instructions on how to sterilise them, but here is how I do it. First I take the rubber seals off then I wash the jars in hot soapy water then pop them on a tray and into an oven heated at 200 degrees celsius for 20 mins. When the jars are cool I pop the seals in boiling water for 1 minute then stick them back on the lids. The recipe can be found at the end of this post, but let me walk you through it.
After sterlising your jars, you need to behead your strawberries.
And chop them up into tiny pieces. (about 550g of strawberries are needed)
Then pop 450g preserving sugar (I use the CSR because its the only one I can find, and it’s pretty good) along with the juice of one lemon and the seeds and pod of one vanilla beans in a large sized heavy based saucepan. (I used two vanilla beans because… well… I just love them)
Put over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Add your strawberries and stir to make sure they are coated with the sugar mixture.
Leave to stand for around 1 hour so that the fruit can soften and release its tasty juices into the syrup.
Return the pan to a medium heat and cook at a steady boil without stirring for 20 mins or until it reaches setting point. Here are a few ways to tell if it has reached setting point. I prefer to use the chilled saucer method. (When I made this, I had to leave it for over 30 mins before it reached setting point, so if it takes a while, do not stress! Just keep testing every nowand then and be careful not to burn your jam.
When your jam has reached setting point, take it off the heat and pour it into your waiting jars.
Tah Dah! Fresh pots of Strawberry and Vanilla Conserve!
The jam will thicken after it has rested for a while, but the beauty of this recipe is that it tastes delicious so even if something goes wrong and it doesn’t set you can still use it as a sauce over ice cream or some delicious dessert. Mmmmmm!! Win win!
It is a relatively fuss free recipe due to the smaller yield so it is not too late to make this for someone for Christmas. Get cooking!
And, my lovelies, what kind of jam is your favourite? After trying Kaya and Champagne jelly, I am eager to try some other flavours!
Strawberry and Vanilla Conserve – Adapted From Gifts From the Kitchen by Annie Rigg
450g preserving sugar
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp water
1 vanilla pod (feel free to use more if you wish)
550g small, ripe strawberries (hulled and chopped)
1. Put the sugar, water and lemon into a large heavy based saucepan or preserving pan. Split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the sugar mixture. Add the pod and place over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved
2. Remove the pan from the heat and tip the strawberries in. Stir gently to coat the strawberry pieces in syrup then leave to stand for around 1 hr
3. Return the pan to a medium heat and cook at a steady boil for around 20 mins, or until it reaches setting point. Keep testing for setting point and don’t worry if it takes longer but make sure you resist the temptation to turn your heat on much higher or you might burn your jam on the bottom.
4. When the jam has reached setting point, take the pan off the heat and let the mixture stand for 10 mins to let the strawberries settle.
5. Pour or ladle the mixture into waiting bottles (it should take 3 and a bit 125mL bottles) and seal immediately. They will keep for months unopened in a cool, dark cupboard or up to 1 month in the fridge once opened.
The lights are twinkling, the tree is up and all the presents are wrapped and underneath! (I was super organised this year.) This is the first christmas in many years that I have not been working which means that i’ve been very relaxed and able to thoroughly enjoy the lead up to the festive season. Decorating the tree was something I could spend time doing without being zombified from lack of sleep or worried sick that I was meant to be spending that time doing something else. I particularly enjoyed putting up my favourite ornament…
It’s how I imagine I would look if I had a bob… and wings…
she says ‘life is short eat dessert first’
some wise words, don’t you think?
Another great thing about being on Christmas holidays is that I have time to do some Christmas cooking. I try to do this every year but this year I can enjoy it properly. Yay! Ive been doing a big of cooking for gifts which I will post about in the next few days, but first I want to show you some quick and easy and delicious Christmas Cupcakes. I got this recipe from Nigella Lawsons How to Be a Domestic Goddess (recipe can be found here) to make for my friend’s annual christmas party. The recipe is very straightforward but makes the most deliciously light and christmassy cupcakes with chocolate and spices. The chocolate is not overpowered by the spices and it was good to find something christmassy without ginger (as the mothership has a great aversion to ginger). These were definitely a winner!
and you can decorate them to look like christmas puddings!
I know that holly leaves are a much darker green but hey, you can only work with what you have! If you have a darker green food colouring feel free to use it
So they are pretty straightforward to decorate but here are some tips if you have not used fondant before. I baked my cupcakes in red and green paper patty pans and iced them with white royal icing. You want your icing spreadable but not too runny or it will slide off the cupcake, or too thick as it will not stick properly. Remember that royal icing starts to set as soon as you finish mixing so you will want to work quickly.
To make the holly berries and leaves you will need:
1. 1 quantity of fondant (I use Orchard White Icing from any supermarket but you can use any fondant you like. Im just too lazy to make my own or go to a specialty store to get some)
2. Red gel food colouring (use gel as liquid food colouring will make your fondant too slippery and sticky. You don’t want it to be too wet!)
3. Green gel food colouring
4. a rolling pin (I find a small plastic rolling pin is best for rolling out small quantities of fondant
5. A small holly leaf cookie cutter
6. an implement to make leaf vein indentations on your holly leaves (I use the scalloped end of a fondant shaping tool. Pictured below)
7. Some icing sugar to dust your work surface and stop your fondant from sticking (the fondant will be quite soft in the summer heat so its good to have some icing sugar on hand in case it becomes too soft or sticky)
Now that you have your ingredients, you can begin!
Firstly you need to colour your fondant.
Dust your work surface with icing sugar and add a little green food colouring to your fondant to make the holly leaves.
Knead your fondant until the colour is evenly distributed. Wash and dry your hands, and repeat with a new piece of fondant and the red food colouring for your holly berries.
You will end up with two smooth coloured balls of fondant. You will need more green than red but you can always make up some more if you run out.
Roll your green fondant out to a thickness of about 5mm. I bought this little Wilton rolling pin in Melbourne and its fantastic because of the little rubber rings on the end. They allow me to consistently roll the fondant out to an even depth. Cool hey!
Use your leaf cutter to cut two leaves from the fondant
This is the tool I use to create the veins in my leaves. I like it because it looks a little crinkly and interesting.
Dot a vertical line from the bottom of the leaf to about 3/4 of the way up. Then dot some diagonal lines from the center of the leaf outwards to the pointy edges.
Like so! You can be a bit rough as it just adds to the charm of the finished product. When are leaves ever perfectly identical?
Roll three small balls out of the red fondant and attach in a cluster like holly berries. And there you have it!
It is easier to attach them to the cupcakes as you go so that the royal icing doesn’t set. Therefore it is important that you make the leaves before hand as they can be a little time consuming. You can make the berries as you attach them to the cupcakes.
So, my lovelies, what do you enjoy baking for christmas? And were my instructions ok? Any tips?