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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Preserves for Christmas

Making a batch of Plum and Mulled Wine jam this morning and filling my kitchen with festive aromas, my mind turned to thinking about Christmas. This time of year is always my busiest in terms of sales of my homemade preserves so why do people want preserves for Christmas?

There seems to be two main reasons for this - one is as a gift for someone else and the other is for the Christmas table. It is also a time for straying away from the usual brands and looking for something "a bit different" and "special".

There are certain people who are very difficult to buy presents for - the ones who end up receiving a pair of socks or a monogrammed hanky. When I do Christmas fayres, some people admiring my stall suddenly realise that it does not need to be socks again this year. It seems to me that jam is the ideal gift for pretty much anybody from the secret Santa colleague to Great Aunt Ivy and Uncle Bert. And the small size of my jars makes them particularly appealing for this purpose as they are ideal for those people who live on their own and who have to eat up a whole jar on their own. They also seem to work out about the right price as a gift for these people. For Granny, a gift bag of 3 jams for £6 is perfect!

As for the Christmas table itself, there are a some preserves which seem essential at Christmas. Mincemeat is the most obvious one and, with 3 different varieties on offer, Jammy Cow mincemeat can make a change from the usual supermarket jars. But there are other things too such as redcurrant jelly that go well with a nice joint of lamb or the Christmas goose. Chutneys too are a requirement with the selection of Christmas cheeses on the cheeseboard and for the cold meat meal eaten on Boxing Day. Again, the small sized jars I make mean you can buy a range of different chutneys to suit all tastes and meals.

I did once plant a cranberry bush but sadly it required ericaceous compost to grow and the heavy clay of Milton Keynes is far from ideal. It struggled on in a container for a while but never did bear fruit before succumbing to neglect one hot summer. Fortunately, fresh cranberries are available in the produce department of supermarkets from mid November and they are dead easy to make into cranberry sauce. Not being grown in Milton Keynes, I can't add cranberry sauce to my Jammy Cow range of preserves so instead I shall share my recipe with you - it is very simple. And don't worry that it makes more than you need for your Christmas Day turkey because it keeps well in its jars and can be used as an ingredient in flapjacks and brownies. Remind me in January and I'll share my recipes for those too.

Cranberry Sauce

Makes 2-3 1lb jars
2 Oranges
12 oz (275g) granulated sugar
5 fl oz (150ml) port
1lb 5 oz (600g) cranberries
2 eating apples

Grate the zest from the oranges and squeeze out the juice. Put the juice, sugar and port in a pan and heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the cranberries, orange zest and grated apples. Cook, uncovered, for 10-12 minutes until the fruit is soft and the juices are thick. Ladle into warmed jars and seal immediately. Job done!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Chelsea Buns

Years ago I cut a recipe for Chelsea buns out of a magazine, thinking that I would make them some time soon. However, the recipe remained unmade for a long time as every time I came across it I was reminded that I had neither strong white flour nor yeast in my cupboard. I was also somewhat hesitant to move away from the more familiar cake making technique into what was essentially bread making.

Since those days I have obtained a bread machine and indeed mastered the whole mysterious bread making technique with its help. So now, rather than being a slightly daunting recipe, Chelsea buns are something I make when I'm a bit too busy to fuss with making a cake. Thanks to my bread machine, it can get on for an hour and half, kneading, proving, resting and all that stuff whilst I get on with other things.

This weekend was one of those occasions. And having lovely stocks of mincemeat and jam, the whole process is made even less of an effort. All it requires is a few minutes loading the ingredients into the bread machine, then an hour and half later, knocking back the dough and rolling it out. Then I smear it with mincemeat, roll it up and cut into 12 pieces. These are arranged in a square tin and left to rise for another half an hour whilst I get on with jobs. Next into the oven for 20-25 minutes (another chance to do more chores). Finally out of the oven, onto a rack and a quick wipe all over with jam to glaze. Job done.

Today I used a combination of Figgy Pear Mincemeat for the filling and Pear & Vanilla Jam as the glaze, giving a delightfully fruity flavour. It would work equally well with Apple & Cider Mincemeat and Apple & Ginger Jam, or Plum and Orange Mincemeat with Plum & Cinnamon Jam. In my house, mincemeat is not just for Christmas!

Chelsea Buns (makes 12)

100ml milk
1 egg
225g strong white flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
55g butter, diced
1 tsp fast-action dried yeast
2-3 tbsp mincemeat
2-3 tsp jam

Whisk together the milk and the egg and put into the bread machine pan. Put the flour on top to form a complete layer. Put the salt, sugar and butter into separate corners of the pan and the yeast in the centre. Set the machine for dough. Once the machine has finished, remove the dough from the pan and place on a floured surface. Knock back then roll out until about 1 cm thick. Smear a layer of mincemeat over the dough, leaving about 1cm around the edges. Start at one edge and roll up completely. Cut the roll into 12 equal slices and place each slice onto a well greased 20 by 20cm square tin so that the swirl is horizontal. Cover and leave to double in size. Bake in a pre-heated over at 190°C, gas mark 5 for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Remove from the tin onto a wire rack then use a pastry brush to glaze the upper surface with jam.