2 June 2020

Birthday Under Lockdown

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We've now been in a lockdown for some 2 months and I've found a wondeful baker whose videos are just mesmerising. She publishes videos as Boone Bake and I believe she's from Korea and after spending a few hours watching her lovely creations, I decided to try this one for my birthday.

Ingredients

Pastry

125 g strong flour
125 g plain four
150 g unsalted butter
55 g water
6 g sugar
1 g salt
1 large yolk

Mould

grapeseed oil

Glazing

1 large yolk
5 g full milk

Strawberry compote

200 g strawberries
60 g granulated sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice

Vanilla cream filling

4 large yolks
60 g granulated sugar
20 g plain flour
10 g corn starch 400 g full milk 2 tsp vanilla essence
50 g white chocolate
60 g condensed milk
280 g double cream,whipped to stiff peaks

Decorations

selection of colourful fruit

For each part of the recipe, I measured up each ingredient in its own bowl and lined them up in the correct order before starting. I pretty much followed the video instructions, however, I split up the different parts and made them on different days, since I didn't want to go tired and mess up my cake by doing a shoddy finish.

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With regards to the pastry, one thing that isn't clear from the video is how long it takes to get the butter mixed in with the flours, I think I chopped and chopped around in the bowl with the dough scraper for ages, changing hands as they got tired. I tried using both hands with two scrapers and I also tried holding two scrapers in one hand with a finger inbetween, but still I didn't manage to get things well incorporated. So I think pinching with my fingers next time will be the way forward, as long as I can keep the kitchen and my fingers reasonably cool. It's been hot this week in the UK, so I've had difficulties keeping the kitchen below 25 °C. What I must remember to do is to use glass bowls for the mixing and chill them as well overnight before starting.

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What I really liked is that once the egg mixture had been stirred into the dough, it was just pushed down to the bottom of the bowl to form a lump and then moved to cling film, shaped into a square and wrapped tightly before chilling. It clearly was still very much in a crumbly state, but the three rolls and folds made it turn into a lovely smooth dough, so I'll keep this in mind for other shortcrust pastries I make. I did notice that when I made the basket handle at the end, having rolled out all the offcuts from the previous rolling, the dough had become elastic, so it developed gluten fairly quickly, thanks to the strong flour. But I think it is important to have it there, to make the basket sturdy enough to be filled with things.

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I was most nervous about the weaving part, but this turned out to be easier than expected. For the basket shape, I used one of our soup bowls, which has a diameter of 19.5 cm and is possibly a bit deeper than the one used in the video. It is important to make sure to have everything ready and organised and also to make space in the fridge for the basket, if it's a hot day, so that it can be placed there while rolling the dough and cutting new strips. Another thing to keep in mind is to try and weave as tightly as possible and have a small container with water and a small brush handy, to glue together the dough strips as required. During baking, the dough shrunk quite a bit and left largish holes in the basket and it came apart in a couple of places where new strips had been added.

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I had severe doubts about how long this contraption would hold, given that its filled with a pastry cream and fresh fruit, so I chose to be cautious and baked the basked for 40 minutes, which is almost twice as long as the video recommends. Of course the pastry wasn't as melt-in-the-mouth, but it tasted OK to me. The handle and the remaining dough were baked for 23 minutes as per the instruction.

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So on the morning of my birthday, I finished the vanilla custard cream, which is extremely tasty and ended up a bit firmer than it looks in the video, which was good. But bacause my basket ended up a bit larger than the one in the video, there wasn't enough vanilla custard cream. It barely filled half the basket and I struggled to cover the strawberry compote, so I've doubled the amounts in the ingredients above. It was so tasty, any left-over will not go to waste for sure.

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The baked fruit basket was ready just after lunchtime, so I was able to show it to my parents and my sister when it was looking its best. They were impressed. Lundulph then managed to get the barbecue going and we spent the early afternoon grilling a lot of meat and veggies before having a leisurly festive meal in the late afternoon. The fruit basket had started sagging a little, but was holding together OK. If I manage to make a tighter weave next time, it should hold even better.

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The only thing is, this pastry is not possible to cut in a gracious manner. So as soon as I stuck the knife into it, it collapsed, but it was extremely tasty and light, with a very good balance of crunch from the pastry, vanilla custard and fruit. A perfect dessert for a Summer's day and it did hold together for the 4 hours between completing it and cutting it up, though it had started to sag a little. Since I had lots of fruit left over, I had placed some underneath the basket and that added a little support.

I suspect we have at least 2 more portions each to work through, so I'd say this makes enough for 6 - 8 people and for anyone who wants some extra crunch, they can take a piece from the basket handle.

I how have 4 egg whites left over, so I will be making meringues in the coming days.

16 May 2020

Vegetarian Moussaka

I've been meaning to try my hand at a vegetarian moussaka for a while and in this week's shop, there were some lovely aubergines, so I bought some. I had intended to make this earlier in the week, but there were some urgent gardening activities required, so I kept putting it off.

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This time, I decided to do this on my own, without consulting with my Mum or the internet and to be honest, the gamble payed off this time. This morning I was thinking about the film Julie & Julia for some reason, I'm not sure why and I came to think of boeuf bourguignon. A bourguignon is a fairly simple dish to do, you chuck things in a pot and bake for a while, but you can go to the trouble of following the Julia Child recipe and you end up with something amazing. This got my head milling - a moussaka is also a fairly simple dish, would it make a difference to work along the same lines as Julia Child? It turns out that it does matter, so before I forget what I did, I'm writing up the recipe.

Method

2 x 400 g cans of black-eyed beans in water
400 g button mushrooms
butter
3 medium aubergines
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 large courgette
1 x 400 g choped tomatoes
500 g boiled waxy potatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp fresh thyme
3 tbsp fresh parsley
1 tbsp dried dill
1 tbsp dried savory
1 tbsp sweet paprika
salt and pepper 3 tbsp plain flour
3 - 4 dl semi-skimmed milk
3 large eggs

Method

  1. Drain and rinse the beans, then place in a pressure cooker, add water to cover some 5 cm above the level of beans and boil under pressure for 30 minutes. Leave in the pot until required.
  2. Wash and trim the aubergines, then slice to 1 cm thickness. Butter a round deep baking dish of 30 cm diameter and 5 cm deep.
  3. Peel and slice the mushrooms. Peel and dice the onion. Peel the garlic. Dice the potatoes into 1 cm pieces.
  4. Dry-fry the aubergines in a frying pan on high heat until they soften, then use half of them to line the baking dish, while keeping the rest separate.
  5. Now turn down the heat to medium and dry-fry the mushrooms in the same pan, but sprinkle with salt to help release their liquid. Once they start going dry, add about 10 g butter and stir through, then set aside.
  6. Continuing in the same frying pan, melt some 15 g butter and fry the onion. Press in the garlic and stir regularly to avoid burning them. Set aside once they are translucent.
  7. While the onions are frying, trim and peel the courgette, then slice to ½ cm thickness and cut each slice into 1 cm squares.
  8. Once the onions are done, change to a large casserole dish, bring the heat to medium-high and melt some 30 g butter until it starts bubbling.
  9. Add the courgette, sprinkle a little salt over it and fry until it begins to soften, stirring regularly. In the meantime, drain the beans well.
  10. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C fan.
  11. Once the courgette begins to soften, add the beans, mushrooms, onion, the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée and all the herbs, salt and pepper and stir everything together.
  12. Remove from the heat and transfer to the baking dish and level off. Arrange the remaining aubergine slices on top.
  13. Place the casserole dish on high heat and melt about 30 g butter. Measure up the flour and add salt and pepper to it.
  14. Once it bubbles, add the flour and stir vigorouslly with a wooden spoon.
  15. After about a minute, begin to add the milk, a little at a time and stirring constantly to make sure it doesn't burn. Keep adding milk until it becomes a thick batter.
  16. Remove from the heat and swap the wooden spoon for a balloon whisk. Add one egg at a time and whisk into the batter mixture until it's smooth, then pour the topping over the aubergines in the baking dish.
  17. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes until the topping puffs up a bit and goes golden brown.
  • Overall, this took almost 5 h to do, from opening the cans of beans until we sat down at the table, but I think the result was very good, even if Lundulph didn't go for seconds. Possibly I've finally learned how big portions he needs. He certainly seemed to enjoy the moussaka, as did I. We ate a quarter of the dish, so there are 3 more meals in it, which we'll work through in the coming week. I don't think this dish will freeze well unfortunately, but I'll keep this one on the list for the vegetarian family members, once we get to socialise with them.

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    A comment on the beans - it doesn't really matter what type are used, but as I've bought the full range of canned beans for Lundulph, he asked me to use the black-eyed ones in particular as these seem to be a bit on the crunchy side, even though they are canned. Other beans are less so. So this step could probably be skipped if using another type of bean.

    As I was transferring the mixture into the baking dish, I realised that I'd forgotten the 3 small carrots I intended to include. They would probably have been nice to have there too.

    Looking at the photos, it looks like a moussaka, but the insides are somewhat more like a weird gyuvetch. Still I'm very pleased with the result. Lundulph's comment was that it was very nicely filling and he could have gone for seconds, but decided not to, probably leaving room for some chocolate. Though if he could choose between this one and a regular moussaka with meat, he'd go for the meat alternative. He did say that it would have been nice to have some additional vegetables on the side, perhaps a salad or such like.

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  • 7 May 2020

    Fudge Cake

    I'm immensely pleased about being able to make this fudge cake, it is a recipe from the mid-1970s at least. As I mentioned in the early days of the blog, we were neighbours with a family from Afganistan. This is a recipe from them and given the name, I suspect it is an English recipe that has made its way to Afganistan originally. My Mum used to make it regularly, it was always very popular with guests, but at some point before the year 2000, the recipe got lost.

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    But it seems that my Mum had shared it with various friends over the years and now that everyone is in lockdown, a friend living in Milan piped up that she still has it and sent it back to my Mum. Thus it immediately made its way to me and I didn't waste any time baking it. In fact, the file that my Mum's friend sent over was actually titled with the originator's name, so there is no doubt that this is the correct recipe.

    Ingredients

    125 g butter + butter for greasing the baking tin
    140 g plain flour
    1 tsp baking powder
    2 tbsp cocoa powder
    270 g icing sugar
    3 large eggs
    3 tbsp desiccated coconut + more for the baking tin
    chopped walnuts for decoration (optional)

    Method

    1. Melt the butter on low heat. Grease a 20 cm springform cake tin with butter and coat with desiccated coconut. Pre-heat the oven to 175 °C.
    2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder.
    3. Beat together the icing sugar and the eggs until pale and fluffy.
    4. Add the flour mixture in 3 parts, making sure each part is well incorporated.
    5. Pour in the butter and stir in the coconut into the cake mixture.
    6. Transfer the batter to the cake tin and level off. Sprinkle with walnuts if using.
    7. Bake for 1 h, check that it's done with a stick and if yes, then take out of the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes in the cake tin before carefully releasing it out onto a cooling rack.

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    I'm so glad this recipe got found again and that it turned out so well too. I have vague memories that my Mum used to make this as a tray bake, and cut it into small diamond shapes. In this case the baking time is about half, as the cake is thinner, but as I wasn't sure of what amount I'd end up with, I opted for the safe with the springform. Even after an hour, the cake was very nicely moist and retained a little bit of chewiness. We experimented with a caramel ganache as topping on it, which Lundulph really liked. I was happy with just the fudge cake on its own though. I think some whipped cream would have been nice, and no need to sweeten it either, the cake is quite sweet. We needed a week to eat the whole lot.

    I also used a finer version of the desiccated coconut, which I spotted in our supermarket some time ago. It's not good for müsli, but for cakes where it shouldn't be too obvious, it is much better.

    I skipped the walnuts because Lundulph seems to get an allergic reaction to them these days, though I suspect after an hour's baking it would have been OK. Nevertheless, he thoroughly enjoyed this cake, so I'll probably try it again and make it into a tray bake.

    5 May 2020

    Mushroom pie

    It's been many weeks in lockdown in the UK and as I've still not been able to find a new job, I'm using some of my time to cook new things. In the past few weeks, I've bought several batches of lovely button mushrooms, which I've baked with a little salt and this has led to an accumulation of mushroom stems in the freezer. My initial intention was to make mushroom soup with them, but I've yet to find a recipe that I like. Thus I decided to use some of them to make a pie.

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    Last week I also had the first ever opportunity to talk to my lovely friend Dr Cutie, who's reorganised her working life to be online for most things. She recently got diagnosed with coeliac disease and as she's been an avid baker for over 30 years, she's been experimenting with gluten-free flours and told me about a bread she'd made with teff flour. This reminded me that I've had a bag of teff flour in the larder for some time with the intent of making ingera bread, but never getting around to doing it so far.

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    These things spurred me to try out teff flour and so I reviewed the pie recipes in the blog and made adjustments to this recipe from my Mum.

    Ingredients

    Pie crust
    150 g plain flour
    100 g teff flour
    50 g wholemeal flour
    1 ml salt
    150 g unsalted butter
    3 tbsp water
    plain flour for dusting if required

    Filling
    1 medium onion
    1 clove of garlic
    30 g unsalted butter
    1.5 dl parboiled ceps
    4 dl parboiled button mushroom stems
    1 tsp dried rosemary
    1 small pinch of grated nutmeg
    2 large eggs
    1.5 dl whipping cream
    1 dl semi-simmed milk
    salt and pepper

    Method

    1. Stir together the flours and salt in a large bowl, then dice the cold butter into the mixture and pinch together to fine crumbs.
    2. Add the water, 1 tbsp at a time and keep carefully mixing the dough until it just comes together.
    3. Divide into two equal parts. Wrap each part well and freeze one and put the other one in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
    4. Peel and dice the onion, peel the garlic.
    5. Heat up the butter in a deep frying pan on medium heat and fry the onion and press in the garlic until translucent.
    6. Add the mushrooms, rosemary and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper and fry until the mixture is dry.
    7. Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C and take the dough out of the fridge and roll to a thin sheet, about 3 mm thick.
    8. Line a round pie dish of 27 cm diameter and let the dough go a little over the edge of the dish so that it doesn't sink back.
    9. Prick with a fork and blind-bake for 10 minutes until it's dry.
    10. Whisk together the eggs, cream and milk in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
    11. Spread the mushroom mixture in the pie crust and pour the egg mixture over.
    12. Bake the pie until the surface of the egg mixture has turned golden brown, about 30 minutes.

    This was very tasty and I'm particularly pleased that I have a second batch of dough in the freezer for the next savoury pie. The filling was a bit too little. I should have used one more egg I think and topping with cheese would have filled the pie dish. Obviously the last bit is not an option with Lundulph sadly, so if I make this recipe again, I'll need to revise the amounts.

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    Otherwise, the pie disappeared quite quickly, Lundulph did like it, as did I, and it would be a good one to serve the vegetarian contingent of the extended family if they ever come to visit us in the future.

    26 April 2020

    Poussin Stuffed With Aromatic Herbs

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    A couple of years ago, a lemon balm plant had seeded itself next to our pond. I like the smell of this herb and left it there. Chatting to a neighbour, she confirmed that it probably came from her garden. What we hadn't realised is that lemon balm is from the mint family, which means it is quite rampant and can take over fairly quickly.

    A few years before that, we made an attempt to rejuvenate our little pond and purchased several pretty looking aquatic plants, one of which was water mint. Again, this plant took over the pond and seems to have no issues growing on land either. Lundulph is not too happy about either and I humoured him, by removing some of the lemon balm seedlings in the flower patch around the pond now that we're in a lockdown. Thus I liberated a rose bush, my beloved ramsons and some lovely Welsh poppies.

    But the lemon balm got me wondering and googling on what can be done with it. Mostly it is tea, which I tried last week - it was quite nice, but the plant is way too large for us two to use up. I've also read that lemon balm is not suitable for drying. In Sweden it is used as decoration to desserts, very much like you'd do with mint leaves in the UK. It's also nice to put in drinking water now and then as well. But I managed to learn what lemon balm is in Bulgarian, and I searched for recipes, which resulted in this one (in Bulgarian) that seemed decent enough to try. So as it's Sunday today, I made it into our roast lunch. I did some tweaks to the recipe, the original instructions were on the sparse side.

    Ingredients

    a handful of lemon balm leaves
    a handful of mint leaves
    a handful of wild garlic leaves
    a handful of curly parsley
    a handful of dill
    2 poussins at 500 g each
    salt and pepper
    50 g butter

    baby potatoes
    chestnut mushrooms

    50 g butter
    3 tbsp plain flour
    4 dl semi-skimmed milk
    1 dl whipping cream
    nutmeg

    Method

    1. Wash all the herbs well and shake off the excess water, then cut them finely and mix together in a bowl.
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    2. Wash the poussins and pat them dry with kitchen paper, then sprinkle with salt and pepper inside the cavity.
    3. Stuff the herb mixture into the cavities, but keep about a dl of the herbs aside for the sauce.
    4. Tie together the legs of each poussin, so the herbs don't fall off and rub butter over the breasts, legs and wings.
    5. Place the poussins in a roasting bag and season, then tie the bag, making sure to leave space or it to expand.
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    6. Wash the baby potatoes and place in a pot ready to steam.
    7. Peel the mushrooms and line up on a roasting rack, then sprinkle some salt on each.
    8. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C fan. Once hot, place the poussins to roast for 55 minutes.
    9. After 15 minutes, put the potatoes on to steam and after a further 10 minutes, put the mushrooms in to roast as well.
    10. When there are about 10 minutes left, heat up the butter in a saucepan.
    11. Once it bubbles, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to soak up the butter and fry it for a couple of minutes while constantly stirring.
    12. Slowly start adding the milk, a little at a time to prevent the saucepan temperature to drop too much and stir it in. It will look like a stretchy dough at first, but will eventually become a batter and finally a sauce.
    13. After the mixture has turned into a sauce, add the cream, season with salt and pepper and grate a little nutmeg into it.
    14. As it starts to bubble, stir in the remaining herb mixture.
    15. When the time is up, carefully remove the poussins in their roasting bag from the oven, then grabbing the top of the roasting bag, hold it over the saucepan, incline it towards one of the corners, then carefully partially snip this corner and let the roasting liquid drain into the sauce, while stirring.
    16. Once all the liquid is drained, let the poussins rest a couple of minutes, covered under a towel.
    17. Take out the poussins from the roasting bag and carve up onto pre-heated plates. Serve with the potatoes and mushrooms and pour the sauce on top.

    I don't know if any of the herbs permeated the chicken meat, but it was delicious. Lundulph concurs - a small but very nice chicken. The poussins were so tender and juicy. I'm also quite pleased with the sauce. We ate one of the poussins and kept the other one for next week. For dessert we had some of the lovely rhubarb ice cream. I really must start using my garden more and pick the stuff that grows on its own with no effort on my part.

    19 April 2020

    Crispy Tofu

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    It's been ages since we had stir-fry and in last week's online food shop, I added a couple of bags of ready cut vegetables. But what to do along with them. Normally I'll get tiger prawns for Lundulph or some nice fillet steak, but I forgot to do that this time. Then it struck me, we have several packets of extra firm tofu in the fridge, on Lundulph's request. The intention was for him to have tofu as protein replacement, but he did some searching on the internet and established that tofu seems to have a lot lower protein content than the soy beans themselves, so I think he's now gone off the idea. Besides, he feels the texture is too close to cheese, which he still disapproves of.

    But a look at the packets indicated that they were about to go out of date, so I searched for how to make crispy tofu and the recipe I decided to try is this one. I converted the amounts to metric and also had to make some adjustments as the two packets I wanted to use were 280 g each. Otherwise, I was determined to follow the recipe as closely as possible.

    Ingredients

    560 g extra firm tofu
    2 tbsp olive oil
    2 tbsp soy sauce
    2 tbsp cornflour

    Method

    1. Pre-heat the oven to 205°C (not fan) and line a large baking tray with baking paper.
    2. Drain the tofu, if it is in liquid, then cut into cubes, about 1.5 cm and lay out on a clean and lint-free tea towel with a little space around each cube.
    3. Fold the towel over the pieces,then place a large chopping board on top and press down, I actually sat on top for a couple of minutes.
    4. Place the cubes in a large bowl and drizzle the oil and soy sauce over, then using one hand turn the cubes gently to get them coated.
    5. Sprinkle the cornflour and turn the cubes further to get them coated. Don't worry if some of the cubes crumble and break.
    6. Tip the tofu into the baking tray and spread them out, again so they don't touch each other. Then place in the oven.
    7. After 15 minutes, stir the cubes to turn them and bake for a further 15 minutes. They are now ready to serve.

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    Both Lundulph and I loved these, the texture was very good, they were nicely crispy on the outside, but soft in the middle and worked really well with stir-fried vegetables and quinoa. Lundulph thought they were a bit on the salty side and possibly the tofu itself was salty and adding soy sauce took them over the top a bit. We ate most of them for our dinner, there's about a handful left and as I was putting it away, I ate one piece that looked particularly crunchy and it was tasty still, even though it was cold. I suspect they would be very nice in a Thai curry too, instead of chicken.

    Next time, I'll swap the olive oil and soy sauce for green masala, I've used it with silky tofu before and it's been very nice, so I have good hopes for this.

    12 April 2020

    Rhubarb Jam with Agar-Agar

    As mentioned in yesterday's post, I've harvested the rhubarbs for the first time this year (and I definitely expect one more harvest in the coming weeks) and there is work to be done to preserve it. As also mentioned, I have no pectin in the larder, but loads of agar-agar, so some searching on the internet resulted in selecting this recipe which seemed quite straightforward.

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    Before listing the ingredients and the method, a note on my activites in the last few weeks. We in the UK have now been under a lockdown for almost 3 weeks and as I'm out of a job as well, I've taken the opportunity to tackle some jobs around the house. One of them is to thoroughly empty and clean the larder. This hadn't been done since I organised it in 2014, which I discovered after copying the clean-out photos to my photo album. This was long overdue and I did manage to fill a rubbish sack with stuff that was out of date or looked suspicious. It is also amazing how much stuff it's possible to fit in there. Now everything is nice and clean and has been shifted to new drawers, with the concept of often-used items are easy to reach, rarely used items are further back. What this means is that I end up going through all drawers for every single thing I need. But I now know what I have and what I don't and I do need the exercise.

    In this activity I also established that I have an astonishing variety of small containers with sugar in different forms or stages of refinement. Thus I took this jamming opportunity to use them up. The below amount is a combination of some 260 g soft dark sugar, about ½ dl light cane sugar flavoured with cloves (a gift from brother-in-law Roger after a trip to Mauritius), another ½ dl pink sugar for cookie decorations that I don't intend to use, a further ½ dl of palm sugar and a couple of tablespoons of crystallised golden syrup (didn't realise this was possible). There's no way I'll be able to reproduce this jam if it turns out well.

    Ingredients
    Makes about 1 litre

    750 g rhubarb stalks
    500 g sugar
    1 tbsp lemon juice
    1 tsp vanilla essence
    5 g agar-agar powder

    Method

    1. Heat up the oven to 120 °C fan and place jam jars and their lids to steralise for at least 20 minutes.
    2. Wash and slice the rhubarb into 2 cm pieces.
    3. Place in a saucepan together with the sugar, the lemon juice and the vanilla essence and bring to the boil while stirring.
    4. Let simmer for about 10 minutes uncovered and stir occasionally.
    5. Add the agar agar and stir in well. Let simmer for a further 5 minutes.
    6. Take one jar at a time out of the oven and fill with jam as much as possible, close tightly and move to the next one.
    7. Leave to cool down completely.

    Because I used so much dark sugar, the jam is quite dark in colour, but looking at the first time I made rhubarb jam, it was pretty dark too, even.

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    We've not tried it yet, as we already have several other jams "on the go" as Lundulph says and I'm not opening another one until we've finished these.