The nation is once again gripped by Bake Off fever, with millions of people tuning in each week to see the remaining contestants baking triumphs and disasters, who will be going home and who reaches the dizzy heights of star baker. Aside from the entertainment of it all, it’s great that this show has inspired so many people, including children, to have a go at baking and discover the simple joy of making food that you, your friends and family love to eat. You’ll be pleased to know that I have resisted the temptation to do any recipes as scary as the “Technical Challenge” so I hope you give this month’s recipes a go.
With so many of our local fruits coming in to full swing right now, it would be rude not to make the most of it. The first of my seasonal recipes is for a Seedless Blackberry Jam, this is a useful jam method for all berries with pips in, I can’t be doing with lots of pips and for a little bit of extra effort I believe you get a much nicer jam. My second recipe, the Blackberry Frangipane Tart is very similar to a Bakewell Tart, but with a seasonal and local twist to it. Again, it is a useful base recipe to have in your repertoire, in that can be modified to suit whatever is in season and ingredients you have to hand. You just need to avoid putting fruit in that will give out too much moisture, otherwise it makes the frangipane and pastry too wet and you end up with a soggy bottom!
Please forgive me as I now go off on a bit of a tangent. Having ventured out on the first Bramble forage, signalling that summer is drawing to a close, I wanted to know when autumn officially starts and summer ends. I referred to my Times book on such matters and it said the 8th September, but it appears to be far from clear cut. The Met Office divides our seasons up into convenient 3 month chunks - September, October and November making up autumn. Then you get the astronomical division of seasons, which seems to be based on equinoxes and solstices. The summer solstice is on the 21st June, when the hours of daylight are at their longest, and you can irritate people by saying immediately “Ooh the nights are pulling in.” The Winter Solstice falls on 21st December, as the days are then at their shortest – “Ooh the nights are pulling out.” We have our next equinox coming up on 21st September, when the days and nights are of equal length and this is the astronomical start of autumn, a good three weeks after the Met Office. Then you have Phenology, which takes into account plant and animal activity to determine the seasons. I will leave it there, as my brain is beginning to hurt, all because I wanted to know if Brambles were classed as a late summer or autumn fruit – the answer is both.
If you want a reason to celebrate this month, it’s Michaelmas on the 29th September. Although largely forgotten now, the feast of St Michael (the archangel) and All Angels used to be widely celebrated and was an important date in the church and agricultural calendar. For many centuries it was one of the quarter days and a time generally for getting your accounts in order, making payments and settling up rent. It was also the time when workers could end their employment and go to one of the Hiring Fairs which were held around this time all over the country. They were sometimes called Mop Fairs, workers looking for a new employer would carry an emblem of their trade – a Shepherd would take a crook, a mop for a maid, a whip for a carter and so on. When a deal between worker and employer was struck, the emblem would be swapped for a ribbon and a shilling to be spent at the fair.
The traditional food for Michaelmas Day is Goose and the old rhyme goes “Whoever eats goose on Michaelmas Day shall never lack money for his debts to pay.” Goose fairs are still to be found on this day, the nearest being Nottingham, which has been going for over 700 years. Geese used to be walked to these fairs over very long distances, in the 16th century it is recorded that over twenty thousand geese were walked to the Nottingham Goose Fair from Lincolnshire and Norfolk. The poor Geese’s feet were prepared for the long journey with a mixture of tar and sand – ouch!
Back to brambles, once you have picked them, rinse them off a few times to get rid of any dust and insects that might be hiding. Drain them off and put them into a large maslin pan. These recipes have a few processes, but the jam can be made separately. I made one large tart and I think you would get at least a dozen generous portions out of it, you can do smaller or individual ones, but just remember to adjust the cooking times accordingly.
Seedless Blackberry Jam and Blackberry Frangipane Tart
Large maslin pan, bowl big enough to house all your blackberries, jam spoon, jam thermometer, sieve.
Sterilized jam jars, number obviously depends on your quantity of brambles. I wash my jam jars in hot soapy water, rinse, put on a baking tray and in the oven at 100c. Put in cold oven and let them heat up slowly, pop the lids in too.
Plate put in freezer to test for setting point. Jam funnel, heat proof measuring jug and jam labels, wax discs and a pen.
Scales, wooden spoon, 1 x 11 inch/28cm greased loose bottomed flan tin, 2 mixing bowls, measuring spoons, jug, fork, broad bladed knife, cling film, sieve, rolling pin, baking tray, cooling rack, cocktail stick, large serving plate or I used a wooden chopping board.
Blackberries, at least 2lb in weight. (If making your tart at same time, reserve 21 of best berries for decoration)
Jam Sugar to match the weight of your sieved fruit.
200g/8oz Plain Flour
1 Tbsp Icing Sugar
50g /2oz Lard (cubed and chilled)
50g/2oz Butter (cubed and chilled)
Jug of Ice cold water (see method)
200g/8oz Caster Sugar
4 Medium Local Free range Eggs (I used Fairburns)
200g/8oz Ground Almonds
2 Tbsp Plain Flour
Couple drops almond essence
200g/4oz Icing Sugar sieved
Few drops cold water
Lilac Food colour (optional)
Keeping 21 of your best blackberries for decorating the top
Four good tablespoons of your Blackberry Jam,
Seedless Blackberry Jam
Wash your fruit gently and strain.
Pick out 21 ish of your best blackberries, pop on a plate and put in the fridge
Put the rest of your blackberries in a large maslin pan with a ¼ pint of water. Cook them for about 30 minutes until really well broken down. I use a potato masher to break them up. Once they are very mushy, sieve the pips out and put the liquid pulp in your large bowl. Discard the seeds.
Put your jam jars in the oven to sterilize as mentioned above.
Clean your maslin pan and weigh the sieved smooth pulp into the pan. Match the weight of the pulp with jam sugar. So if you have 1lb of pulp, you need 1lb of jam sugar. This jam doesn’t achieve a strong set, so you must use jam sugar with the extra pectin in.
Pop back on the heat and gently dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved and you can’t feel any sugar crystals when you stir it, start to increase the heat until you reach setting point.
I use three tests to check for a set, firstly look at your jam thermometer, when it gets to 105c/220F you should be there. Then with your wooden spoon held horizontally lift some jam up and if it leaves a flake of jam at the bottom of the spoon, that’s another good sign and thirdly get your plate out of the freezer and put a spoonful of jam on it, let it cool and if it wrinkles when you put your finger through it, bingo you’re there.
Take the pan off the heat.
Take your jars out of the oven and carefully using the jam funnel fill up to the top of your jars.
Put your wax disc on, then the lid and that creates a vacuum as the jam cools down and ensures a good seal.
Write up your jam labels with what it is and the date. Give your jars a wipe when cool enough to do so, making sure you don’t tip them about and then pop your labels on. As this is quite a runny jam, once it is open its best stored in the fridge to firm it up a bit.
If you are making the tart on the same day I would do a little bowl of jam that you can put in the fridge to enable you to use it sooner, as it saves a jar and will cool more speedily. Of course the tart can be made at a different time altogether and just store your jam as normal.
Blackberry Frangipane Tart
Shortcrust Pastry Method
Put ¼ pint of cold water in the fridge.
Sieve flour and icing sugar into your mixing bowl.
Cut your chilled lard and margarine into small cubes and put in with the flour and sugar.
Rub the fats into the flour using the tips of your fingers until it is all incorporated and you have a fine rubble texture.
Put 5 TBSP of your very cold water into the flour and fat mixture and stir with a broad bladed knife. Put a bit more water in drop by drop if needed until you are able to gather the mix together with your hands and it holds together in a smooth ball. It’s hard to give you an exact amount of water as different flours have different absorbency rates. It’s important that you only put just enough liquid in to bind it together and that you handle it very lightly. You don’t want to work the gluten in the flour or your pastry will be tough. Once you have it the right consistency, squash it into a disc shape, cling film it and put it in the fridge to settle down.
When making pastry in warm weather I find it helps to chill all of your equipment in the fridge before you start, the colder everything is, including your hand the better.
Lightly whisk the eggs together with a fork in a jug and mix in your drops of almond essence.
Cream together the very soft butter and sugar, then gradually add the eggs.
When all of the eggs are incorporated, mix in your almonds and flour and beat well together.
Assembling the Tart
Grease your tin
Take out your pastry from the fridge and remove the clingfilm
Preheat your oven to 180c and put your baking tray in.
Tear off two big squares of Clingfilm and lay the first one on your worktop. Put your pastry on top of the first layer of Clingfilm and then cover with the second layer. This negates the need to flour your worktop and rolling pin, as that can toughen your pastry up. Roll pastry out so it’s big enough to line your tin. Take the top layer of Clingfilm off your rolled out pastry and carefully turn it upside down onto your tin, so the bottom layer of Clingfilm is now on the top. This makes it much easier for you to push the pastry down nice and evenly and thinly. When you are happy with the pastry lining, carefully take off the Clingfilm. Don’t trim the pastry off yet.
Put a good layer of jam on the bottom of your pastry, I used about 4 heaped tablespoons.
Cover with the frangipane, the easiest way to do this is to put heaped tablespoons of the mixture dotted about, as it’s quite stiff and gently smooth it over the jam. You don’t want it all mixing up with the jam as you want a distinct layer. If your kitchen is warm, you might have to chill the pastry and jam in the fridge to firm up a bit before you put the frangipane on top. Fill the Frangipane to about ¾ full, as it will puff up.
Gently, holding the sides of the tin only, put in the middle of the oven on top of the preheated tray for approximately 40 minutes,( the preheated baking tray will help cook the bottom of the pastry.)
Whilst it is baking, make your icing.
Sieve your icing sugar into a bowl and add a few drops of water and beat well with a wooden spoon so it is a good spreading consistency. If you want to make it look a bit prettier you could add the tiniest spec of lilac food colouring using a cocktail stick, this colour goes well with the blackberry. Keep beating it until it is smooth and glossy, don’t panic if it goes a bit runny, it will firm up as it stands. If you feel it needs it you can always sieve a bit more icing sugar in to get it how you want it.
After baking the Tart should be a nice brown colour and have puffed up. When it is firm to the touch, take out of the oven and cool still on the baking tray but on top of a cooling rack.
Carefully with a serrated knife, trim off the excess pastry and tidy it up.
When totally cold take out of the tin. I find the easiest way to do this is to put the tart onto a tin of beans, or same size tin and then you can gently push the sides of the tin down, just leaving it on the base. Then very carefully slide it onto a large plate or I used a wooden chopping board.
If the icing has started to set a bit in the bowl, just put a tiny drop of water in and beat it again. Pour your icing onto the tart and push gently to the edges, whilst still runny, pop your blackberries on for decoration.
Marvel at the loveliness you have created and enjoy your very own Show Stopper.
Sadie Hirst is an award winning artisan baker, with a keen interest in our Lincolnshire food heritage. She is a member of the prestigious British Society of Baking and Select Lincolnshire. For all of her previous Target recipes please see www.rjhirstfamilybutchers.co.uk. If you would like to contact Sadie you can do so on firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter Sadie Hirst@RJHirstfamilybutchers