Monday, 21 September 2015

Easy Apple Jelly

Autumn is my favourite time of year and apple picking time is one of the best things about autumn.  We only have two tiny, espalier apple trees growing in pots but they produce lots of lovely apples. 

The apples are all different shapes and sizes.  Some are a large and perfect. Some are a bit bug bitten and spotty.  It doesn't matter.  The perfect ones I eat for a treat.  The less than perfect get baked into cakes, crumbles, and scones. The smallest ones are made into jelly. 

If you've never made jelly before, apple jelly is a good place to start.  It's probably the easiest jelly to make.  Apples have a high pectin content and pectin is the magic ingredient that makes jelly 'set'.   You don't have to buy expensive apples, windfalls will do.  There are hundreds of apple trees growing along the roadside and in the open spaces around our little town with fallen apples free for the taking. 

You don't have to fuss with the apples too much. Give them a wash and make sure there aren't any critters inside the less than perfect apples.  Chop them into small-ish pieces and put them into a large pan.  Add enough water to JUST cover the apples.  Grate in a the rind of a lemon and cook over a medium heat until the apples are VERY soft.  Leave the apples to cool a bit before pouring them into a jelly bag to strain out the juice.   

I must confess,  I don't have a jelly bag.  I use a colander lined with a linen cloth I keep just for making jelly. I give the linen a short boil in a sauce pan to sterilize it before using it.  Place the lined colander over the biggest bowl you have, pour in the apple pulp and leave it to strain for several hours or overnight. DO NOT squeeze the bag ...I know, you want to...but don't.  Just let time and gravity do the work.  Squeezing will make the juice cloudy, not a sin but jelly should be as bright and clear as possible. 

So far, so easy, right?   Now, let's turn that apple juice into jelly.  The recipe is really a ratio of juice to sugar.  I like to make small batches of jelly and don't have a giant jam making pan.  To make a larger batch, simply double or triple the ingredients.

600 ml of apple juice
225 grams granulated sugar
225 grams jam sugar (contains pectin)
Juice from 1/2 lemon 

Pour the juice into a large pan, add the lemon juice and sugars.  Stir over a low heat until the sugars have dissolved.  Increase the heat a little and slowly bring the mixture to a full rolling boil.  You must be patient, if the heat is too high you will burn the sugar and ruin the jelly. Let the jelly boil for about four or five minutes then test to see if it has set.  

There are several methods of testing if the jelly has set. I like to use the flake method. Dip a wooden spoon into the jelly, remove it from the pan and let the liquid drip from the side of the spoon.  If it makes a wobbly drip that doesn't fall from the spoon then the jelly has set. This is called a flake.  

If the liquid pours from spoon, leave it to boil for a minute or two and test again. 

You can also use the 'saucer' test.  Place a saucer into the refrigerator before you begin the jelly making process.  Drop a little bit of hot jelly onto the cold saucer, allow it to cool for a minute or two.  If it crinkles when you push it with your finger, the jelly is set.

Once set,  remove the jelly from the heat and give it a good stir to settle down the bubbles.  Carefully pour into sterilized jam jars and screw on the jar lids. Let the jelly cool completely before eating.  It's really best if you can wait a day or two. 

For a real treat, make a batch of GINGERBREAD JELLY. Click HERE for the recipe.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Tinkering Around The Edges and Apple Loaf Cake

I have a friend who loves it when I bake brownies.  I've given her my recipe but she swears they just don't turn out like mine when she bakes them.  I tried and tried to figure out what was going wrong; was the oven temperature too hot, the baking tin to small?  Then, by accident, I found out she was using self rising flour.  

My recipe calls for plain flour.   No wonder her brownies are more like cake. Self rising flour has more raising agent in it than the recipe requires.  The point I am trying to make is by changing just ONE ingredient you can change a recipe beyond recognition. 

Using a different size or shape tin will also change the way a recipe turns out. My father called this deviation from the prescribed method 'tinkering around the edges'.  I do a lot of tinkering when it comes to baking.  For example, I did a little tinkering with this recipe for Apple Loaf Cake:

1/3 cup soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cups white (caster) sugar
1/2 cup butter at room temperature 
2 eggs 
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1 apple - peeled and finely chopped

Heat the oven to 175C/350F.  Grease a 8x5 inch loaf pan and line it with baking paper. 

Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together and set aside.

Beat the white sugar and butter together until they are light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.  Add the vanilla.

Place the flour and baking powder in a bowl and stir well to combine.  Turn the mixer down to low speed.  Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter, eggs and sugar mixture.  Mix at low speed until the flour is just combined. Pour in the milk and mix to make a smooth batter. 

Pour half of the cake batter into the prepared loaf tin.  Sprinkle over half of the chopped apple and half of the cinnamon-sugar.  Top with the remaining batter. Smooth the batter to the edges of the pan, sprinkle over the rest of the apple pieces and the rest of the cinnamon-sugar.  Using a table knife, cut through the batter a few times to give a 'swirl' to the batter. 

Bake for about 30 - 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out without any wet batter.  Remove the cake from the pan and cool completely before serving. 

Now for the tinkering around the edges,  I substituted a large spoonful of cornflour (corn starch) for some of the flour to lighten the sponge.  Instead of using 1/2 cup milk I used 2 ounces of plain yogurt and 2 ounces of milk.  Baking margarine was substituted for the butter.  

These changes will make a lighter textured cake, different from the original but just as delicious.  Of course, one could always avoid the tinkering and just follow the recipe.  

**** Flapjacks are also featured in the first photo.  You can find the recipe HERE.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Apple Harvest 2015

Ask any gardener and they will tell you, this has been a tough summer for growing fruits and vegetables.  We've battled bugs, cold nights, and dry days. The tomatoes are dismal. The strawberries were sparse.  Somehow, the two little apple trees managed to give us a good crop!

Some are a bit wonky, bug bitten, and small but there are lots of them.  I'll use the spotty ones to make apple jelly.  

Some will be baked into cakes, muffins, and crumbles.  None will go to waste. Best of all, we had the pleasure of watching them grow from delicate pink blossoms into fragrant autumn apples. I love apple picking time!