Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Cherry Jam With Your Cheese

If you happen to wander down to south west France, then sooner or later the Pyrénées will come into view. At that point, hungry and tired from your journey, you may be tempted to sample some of the local sheep’s milk cheese. Don’t be surprised if you’re offered some jam with it. The black cherry jam of the region is a classic accompaniment to the slightly sharp, rather nutty and definitely delicious cheese.

This is my somewhat anglicised and eccentric version of cherry jam inspired by that region. It makes a fine alternative to membrillo or similar quince jelly or paste. Any good, ripe cherry can be used. I know it’s not very serious jam making but this recipe will make just a single jar. I keep the amount small because cherries can be expensive and, more importantly, because I tend to shove jam to the back of a cupboard and forget about it if I make too much. It’s easy to scale the recipe up, if you want to make more.

I know that if you’re not used to making jam then the setting point can be a concern. The great thing about this jam, though, is that it’s really down to your personal preference how set the jam should be. Soft set jam will spread and scoop nicely rather like a sauce or loose chutney while a firmly set jam will be much more in line with a quince jelly. In other word, this is a pretty worry-free jam; if you get it slightly wrong the result will still be delicious and you can always claim that it was deliberate.

The jam will accompany a cheese from the south west such as Ossau Iraty very well, but it will work with other cheeses too. A slightly sharp flavour in the cheese is best I think. To be honest, this jam also works perfectly well if you don’t have any cheese and just spread it on toast or brioche.
Cherry Jam and Cheese
250 g cherries (this is the weight after the stones have been removed)
130 g granulated sugar
2 tbsp runny honey
juice of ½ lemon
2 tbsp cranberry sauce
½ tsp sloe gin (optional)

Remove the stones from the cherries, then simply mix everything except the sloe gin together in a non-reactive bowl. Cover and leave overnight.

The next day, pour the contents of the bowl into a non-reactive pan and place on a medium heat. Stir frequently to ensure the sugar has dissolved but don’t be too vigorous or the cherries will lose too much of their texture. Bring to the boil and skim any undesirable-looking material from the top. (Don’t overdo the skimming or you’ll start to skim away the flavour). Continue boiling until you reach the setting point; this will probably only take 5 to 10 minutes. I tend to rely on a sugar thermometer these days to find the setting point, but there’s always the saucer in freezer test. (Drop a small amount of the hot jam onto a freezing cold saucer, leave it for a minute or so and push it with your finger. If it wrinkles, then you should be there.)

Take off the heat and stir in the sloe gin, if you’re using it. Let the jam cool a little, pour into a sterilised jar and seal.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Tarte Au Sucre

There are different types of tarte au sucre from the various regions of France and I've not found one that I don’t like yet. I first came across this particular tart in Normandy (in the Cotentin, to be precise). It’s a very northern French type of tart in that it’s a brioche-like dough with sugar and the local, rich crème fraîche on top. Probably not the healthiest thing you’ll ever eat, but very satisfying nonetheless.

The sugar used in the topping varies from recipe to recipe. I prefer some combination of brown and white but use whichever you fancy. I used white sugar crystals (or pearls) as part of the topping just for a little contrast in texture but it’s not critical, I'm just being fussy. A stand mixer fitted with a dough hook is very useful when making the base of the tart. Of course, you can make it by hand but I'm not really convinced by the ‘kneading is good for the soul’ argument. I find incorporating the butter into the dough by hand a little tedious.

This mixture will fill a tart tin of 32 cm diameter, but don’t worry if you don’t have one. You can simply flatten the dough out to roughly that size on a lined baking sheet, raising the edges a little in case of crème fraîche overflow. It might not look quite as neat at the edges, but this isn't a gourmet restaurant dish, so who cares?

The tart is fine on its own, but it also goes well with fresh berries or a fruit compote and a dollop or two more of crème fraîche. It should serve at least 12, although it’s quite difficult to avoid getting greedy and cutting larger slices.
Tarte Au Sucre
For the base:
     80 ml milk
     2 tbsp and 1 tsp caster sugar
     6 g dried active yeast
     320 g plain flour
     2 eggs, lightly beaten
     120 g unsalted butter, softened
For the topping:
     100 ml crème fraîche
     70 g white sugar crystals or pearls (or just white granulated sugar)
     40 g granulated sugar
     30 g unsalted butter, softened

Warm the milk, stir in the 1 teaspoon of caster sugar and then add the dried yeast. Stir vigorously until the yeast dissolves and set the mixture aside.

Place the flour and the 2 tablespoons of caster sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Add the cooled milk and yeast mixture and the eggs. Bring the dough together using the dough hook of the mixer. Once everything had been thoroughly combined, start adding the butter a little at a time while continuing to knead.

Once all the butter has been completely worked in, continue kneading for a few extra minutes. The dough should now feel reasonably elastic. Cover the bowl and leave the dough to prove in a warm place for 1 to 1½ hours until roughly doubled in volume.

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Butter and flour a 32 cm tart tin (or simply line a baking sheet if you don’t have one – see above). Knock back the dough, then press and shape it into the tart tin (or spread it out onto the baking sheet, raising the edges a little).

Now add the topping. Dot small pieces of the butter around the tart. Sprinkle over both sugars. Finally, pour on the crème fraîche. If it’s a good, thick crème fraîche, then it’s more a case of dropping blobs of it over the surface of the tart as evenly as possible. Don’t worry if the topping isn't completely evenly distributed, it will spread out as it bakes and, anyway, a little unevenness is part of the charm of the tart. You could thin the crème fraîche with a drop or two of milk to get a more even covering, if you prefer it that way.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes until the edges look golden and the filling appears amalgamated and very inviting. Allow to cool before serving.

Perles de Sucre