Tag Archives: sugar

Crème Caramel

Creme Caramel, a.k.a “flan” and “pudim”, has much to recommend it: you use whole eggs (so no separating and then wondering what to do with the whites) and you can prepare it completely in advance, so no need to stay sober until you wield the blowtorch as with crème brûlée.

This will produce four servings assuming, like me, you’re using four 150mL china ramekins. For the custard you’ll need:

  • 3 eggs (this is where free range will really make a difference)
  • 400mL full cream milk (semi skimmed will do at a pinch, but consider adding a splodge of cream)
  • 25g caster sugar for the custard
  • another 100g of caster sugar for the caramel
  • 1tsp vanilla extract or stuff to infuse, e.g. spices and peel

Start with the caramel, but first, have your ramekins ready at one side. You’ll need a scrupulously clean stainless steel saucepan; under no circumstances try this with non stick. Put the sugar in and add just enough water to cover; two or three tablespoons. Get the heat up to medium and stir gently until dissolved, that is, until you can’t see any sugar crystals, nor feel them crunching under the spoon. The liquid will go clear. This ought to take a minute or two. Once that’s done, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle but constant bubble. From time to time, use the handle of the saucepan to gently swirl the contents around, but do not insert a spoon or anything else. The liquid will stay clear for around ten minutes, but within the space of a minute will go from being the colour of weak tea to being burnt and horrid.

Don’t wait for that to happen, but take it off the heat when it’s the colour of dark honey, and tip it into the bottoms of the ramekins that have been waiting patiently to one side. Working quickly, swirl each of the ramekins around to make sure the caramel is in an even layer. Put them somewhere to set, at room temperature; not in the fridge.

Whilst they’re setting, pour the milk into the saucepan in which you made the caramel. Heat it gently, but take it off the heat before it boils, and add anything you’re infusing, although if you’re using vanilla extract, I’d be inclined just to beat it in during the next step. Leave the milk to cool for about ten minutes, so it gets down to a whisker under 50°C. (Get the oven going, now.) You’ll notice the remains of the caramel will have been absorbed into the milk – this is a trick from Delia. (Boil the kettle, now.)

Plonk the eggs, the vanilla extract, and the 25g of caster sugar into a large bowl, beat well, and gradually add the hot milk, still stirring.

Put the ramekins into a roasting tin, pour in the custard, almost to the top, and then add enough hot water from the kettle to come two thirds of the way up the outsides of the ramekins. Generally easier to do this with the baking tray already on the shelf in the oven.

My fan-forced oven needs to be set to 150°C for this, and the custards take around half an hour, although start to check every few minutes after the first twenty minutes have elapsed. You can tell they’re done when they go from splashy to wobbly when you very gently nudge the roasting tin. Any sign of bubbling or puffing and they need immediate rescue. They will also tend to form a rubbery skin in a fan-forced oven if left too long, not really sure I have an answer for this.

Take the ramekins out of the roasting tin (tongs!) and leave them to cool. When mainly cold, cover with cling film and pop them in the fridge for a at least a few hours so the caramel softens and merges into the custard. You can happily leave them overnight, or even for two nights.

Unmoulding them needs a little practise, and expect at least one to land upside down on your first attempt. The custard generally sticks to the ramekin just around the edges at the very top, so detach gently with a butter knife. You’ll probably then need to run the knife down to the bottom all the way around around the edge. Put a small deep rimmed plate upside down on top of the ramekin and invert. It may come out, otherwise slip the butter knife in between the custard and the wall of the ramekin, and it will come slithering out. Serve immediately.


All sorts of fun to be had:

  • replace some of the milk with cream
  • add a yolk or two for extra richness
  • infuse the custard with lemon or orange peel
  • infuse with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg etc
  • maybe a splash of rum?
  • intriguingly, Portuguese recipes seem to use half milk and half condensed milk, although I’ve never tried this


Marmalade III

I’m slightly miffed as the season’s first batch of marmalade has failed to set, and is sloshing around those oh-so-carefully sterilised jars, as neither liquid nor something you could get out of the jar with a knife.

Why did it fail? A couple of reasons. It was done with the “whole orange method”, which seems superficially reasonable, except you can’t tell when the peel is properly cooked, and it wasn’t. Also, the squishy peel is much harder to shred. On top of that, I really didn’t cook the bag of pips and pith for sufficiently long, so there simply wasn’t enough pectin on hand.

However, it’s very tasty, and can still be used for cooking: in between the layers in bread and butter pudding, filling pancakes, or maybe one of these.

Once more unto the breach.

Poached Pears

A ridiculously easy procedure that defies the standard approach for recipe writing, as it all depends on the size and consistency of your pears.

First, catch your pears. They may be big ones, in which case you want one per person, or tiddlers, in which case, two per person is better. Peel them, but leave the stalk intact if you’re being fancy. You needn’t worry about them discolouring for reasons that will become obvious.

Put them in a pot so they fit in one layer, and then pour over enough red wine to cover them. Ideally the wine should be something soft, like a Merlot. Six average sized pears will probably need an entire bottle of red; maybe more. You can always drink the rest. Now, for each 750mL of wine you’ve used, add 250g of caster sugar to the pot.

Add some spices. I’d go for a vanilla pod, split down the middle, plus half a bashed up cinnamon stick. You could go the whole hog and use ginger, cloves and nutmeg, but that might be over-egging your pudding.

Bring the pot to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and then reduce to a mere simmer. The pears are done when they’re done, and not before. In practical terms, this means waiting for about half an hour, and then sliding a metal skewer through the thickest part of a test pear. Repeat every five minutes until you’re met with no resistance. Small, really ripe pears will probably be done in half an hour or less, artillery grade fruit may require the best part of an hour.

Remove the pears with a slotted spoon, and then turn up the heat, reducing the liquid as much as you dare, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. After a while the liquid will thicken, and a spoon drawn through it will leave an obvious furrow, that hesitates before closing up. Don’t leave it unattended at this stage.

Pour the hot syrup over the barely warm pears and serve. Vanilla ice cream or custard is not out of the question. You can also let them go cold and serve later, but do pour the syrup over the pears first, so it doesn’t solidify in the pot!


Most of the time, I use this space on WordPress to keep notes, which can later be used to jog my memory, or at least accurately populate a shopping list. And then sometimes, it seems to encourage me to do foolish things that take time and make mess. This is one of those foolish things, but as foolish things go, it’s damned tasty.

You will need a copy of Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, for therein are many wonderful things, including this. The quinces came from The Creaky Shed. They were very furry (a polite way of saying a bit mouldy) so needed a good wash and scrub.

They need to be hacked up, and this requires a certain amount of caution as they are hard and slippery. In the end a large serrated bread knife seemed to do the trick. You can see how rapidly they discoloured.

Icky bits discarded, and thence into the pot.

They need to be brought to the boil, and simmered until soft. This may take an hour. It may take three. So far so good. This isn’t too hard, you think. This isn’t too messy or demanding, you think. Now, you’ve got to push those stewed quinces through a sieve. This is a lot of work, and the results look like baby food, or possibly something else baby related.

In the end, 1.5 kilos of quinces, minus icky bits, yielded 864 grams of pulp. Back into the pot with an equal weight of sugar.

And feel slightly scared as it starts to resemble lava. Regular stirring to avoid burning on the bottom. If you need to destroy The One Ring, now is your chance.

Finally, heave it into a dish, lined with baking paper.

After an overnight stay in the oven at 50°C (central heating turned off) it comes out darker.

And then finally sliced up, with the baking paper left on the underneath. Mrs Grigson reckons it ought to keep six months in an airtight container, but somehow I don’t think it will survive to the other side of Christmas.

Marmalade II

Found a kilo of Seville oranges in the freezer which I’d forgotten about so made the final batch of marmalade for the season. Did it slightly differently, with the end result being softer, paler, cloudier, and much more orange flavoured.

Oranges were washed and put whole into 2 litres of water, brought to the boil, and simmered for two hours, and then left to cool. Oranges fished out (water retained of course!) and sliced in half. The insides had detached from the peel, and shrivelled slightly, so were easily detached with a metal spoon and tossed into a bowl lined with a two foot square of muslin. The peel was then easily shredded.

The pot, meanwhile, was heated up again, and 1.5kg white sugar dissolved, and the whole lot topped up to 3 litres. Shredded peel returned to pot, along with the juice of two lemons. The muslin was tied into a bag and added as well, after a vigorous squeeze to get all that lovely slimey pectin into the pot.

Once boiling, it took about fifteen minutes to get a set, and yielded 2.5 litres of finished product.


I’m wondering what possessed me to make some marmalade, other than the undeniable onset of middle age. Not really my area of expertise, so I’ve had to consult the Cookery Pantheon. Pomiane is reticent and defers to the English housewife, and Eliza Acton intriguingly calls it “Scotch” marmalade. (This will also be “scotch” marmalade, but for a different reason.)

The pot. Some people probably have jam pans. I don’t, so am just using my second largest stockpot. What you want is a wide pan, so the liquid will reduce easily, with a heavy base, so the heat is evenly distributed, and nothing burns. (The inside of mine is also discretely marked with a number and an arrow for each litre.)

Safety first, kids. You will be working with liquid that is not only hotter than boiling water, but will retain its heat and stick to your skin. Make sure the pot is reasonably deep to avoid the possibility of boiling over.

Grim warnings aside, here’s what I used to make just over two litres of finished product.

  • 1kg Seville oranges – the bitter nâranj of Persian cooking (sweet oranges don’t turn up until the 16th century, brought back from China by the Portuguese) – these are in the shops from mid Jan to early Feb – the Iranian shops at the fat west end of Kensington High St may have them later
  • 1.5kg sugar (I’m using 1.4kg of preserving sugar plus 100g Muscovado, preserving sugar should dissolve more easily and result in less scum – that’s the theory anyway) – have an extra half a kilo on standby
  • 2.5 litres water
  • 2 lemons (I used a single giant one)

Wash the fruit thoroughly – Blessed Eliza suggests rasping it but I don’t think this is necessary.

Peel the oranges, retaining the peel – easiest way is to score them from top to bottom as though you were going to cut them into four segments.

Balance a metal sieve/strainer on top of the pot and spread a square of muslin into/over it. Squeeze each orange over this, so the juices go into the pot, and the seeds get caught in the muslin. Screech when the juice squirts in your eye. Drop the grisly remains of each orange into the muslin when you’re done.

The lemon is there for the acid – so you just need its juice.

Tie the muslin into a bag, and give it a good squeeze over the pot to get the remaining juice out. You’ll notice that it oozes a bit of slime. This is pectin, and will help the stuff to set.

Whilst the pot’s coming to the boil, finely slice the orange peel, and add to the pot. Quickest way to do this is to stack the quarters of peel four deep and slice laterally. Add these, and the muslin bag to the pot.

Once the pot finally comes to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for two hours. This is a good opportunity to wash your jam jars.

(This is a rather marvellous part of the process: the kitchen, and then the house, will start to smell of Summer. Which on a cold rainy day can only be a Good Thing.)

Once the two hours are up, the peel should be translucent, and easily crushed between your thumb and forefinger, and the liquid may have reduced by half. (Obviously if the liquid is reducing too fast, top up.) At this point I have 1.5 litres, top it up if you have less. (The gradations on the inside of the pot are indispensible.)

Remove the muslin bag to a bowl. When cooled enough to handle, squeeze all the juice and goo out of this and into the pot. The two hours’ simmering will have encouraged a lot of the pectin to dissolve out of the pith and seeds, so don’t be surprised at how much comes out. If this feels like wrestling a treacherous slimy alien monster, you’re doing it right.

Turn the heat up to medium, start stirring in the sugar, and keep stirring until it has dissolved. Have a taste – careful! it’s hot! – and see what you think. If the oranges are particularly savage you may need your reserve half kilo. A fruit:sugar ratio of 1:2 is quite respectable – if you were making this using normal oranges you’d want a 1:1 ratio.

Pop some china saucers in the freezer. Also, get the oven going at about 120ºC, and put the jam jars in it to sterilise them. (Alternatively, if you have a dishwasher, do them on the hot cycle.)

Bring the pot to as murderous a boil as you can manage, occasionally skimming scum if it surfaces. After fifteen minutes, remove a teaspoon of the mix, place it on one of your chilled saucers, and return to the freezer. It should form a skin in a couple of minutes. To test, run your fingernail lightly over the top. If the skin wrinkles, you’re done. If not, keep performing the test every five minutes until it does.

Turn off the heat and allow to cool for about fifteen minutes. Turn the oven off, but leave the jars in it.

Stir the pot to distribute the peel and then pour into the jars. Easier said than done, and I’d recommend spending a few quid on a metal jam funnel. (The marmalade will still be hot enough to melt a plastic funnel at this point.)

A wee dram? No, not you. The marmalade. I bottled half of it, and then stirred in three tablespoons (45mL) of whiskey, before the bottling the remainder. A small amount into a bowl and straight into the fridge for – ahem! – testing.

Label and enjoy.

The whiskey and muscovado sugar are optional, of course. Some people put grated ginger in the muslin bag, and others add spices. Neither sounds appealing to me, but good luck if it floats yer boat.