It has certainly been a wonderful year for blackberries. The best are the cultivated sort – these are the ones you will find growing in peoples gardens and allotments. They tend to be larger, juicier and I think more flavoursome than the wild variety found in practically every mixed hedgerow. I have always loved making a classic blackberry jelly that you keep in a jar and spread on toast but lately I have been revisiting that old nursery favourite and serving it as a pudding. Marry it with some home made custard and serve in a pretty glass or tea light and you will have something that can hold its own in the most sophisticated of company.
Make these jellies with just blackberries or add in some plums. The flavours work marvellously together. Raspberries would be delicious as well and at the end of July, when blackcurrants are in season you can use those. Their extraordinary depth of colour and intense flavour is quite wonderful.
This recipe is very simple. Gelatine leaves are very easy to use and as long as you measure the liquid accurately and use 1 gelatine leaf per 100ml of liquid you will have a perfect set. The jellies last for a good few days in the fridge so are brilliant for a dinner party as you can get them made well in advance. The custard is best made the day before so that it has time to chill and thicken before settling on top of the set jellies. Flavour with lemon verbena, vanilla, cardamon, citrus rind or cinnamon.
4 plums, chopped and stoned
180g – 200G caster sugar
Dash of cassis or creme de mure (optional)
Gelatine sheets (about six)
Put the fruit in a saucepan and cover with the cold water. Add the sugar (save a couple of tablespoons for later) and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer very gently for about ten minutes until the fruit is very soft. Add the cassis or creme de mure. Taste the liquid and if you like add a little more sugar. Strain into a big jug and let any excess liquid drip through. Do not press the fruit as this will result in a cloudy jelly.
See how much liquid you have and take one sheet of gelatine for every 100 ml of liquid. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for a few minutes. Squeeze out in your hands and put into the hot strained liquid. Stir with a whisk and then divide between eight glasses or whatever container you are using. Cool and put in the fridge to set.
When ready to serve, top with the cooled custard and serve with crisp little biscuit (recipes below)
250ml whole milk
250ml double cream
Vanilla pod, seeds scraped out or big handful of lemon verbena
or use a dash of vanilla essence or vanilla powder
50g caster sugar
5 large egg yolks
Heat the milk and cream together in a saucepan with your vanilla pod or lemon verbena leaves. Leave to infuse for about an hour.
Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Re-heat the milk/cream mixture and pour through a sieve onto the yolks, whisking gently as you go. Clean out the saucepan and return the custard mixture to it.
Cook over a VERY gentle heat, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. Do not boil or let it get too hot. You will end up with scrambled custard which will have to go in the bin!! It will take about eight minutes of patient stirring. Always make sure you are able to put your have on the base of the saucepan. Also have a bowl of iced water to hand in case you have to cool the mix down quickly. If it does look as if it is going a bit grainy plunge the base of the pan into iced water and whisk like mad until you have a smooth custard again. Better to do it longer and slower or if in doubt, use a bowl over a pan of simmering water. It takes a while but you will have a smooth result. The custard is ready when it coats the back of a spoon. Then take off the heat and continue stirring for a few minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir every time you walk past until cold enough to put in the fridge. Cover and leave until it is time to serve your jellies. Or put in an ice cream machine and turn into ice cream!
Divide amongst the jelly glasses so there is a good thick layer on top. It is quite nice to have a bit left over so people can help themselves to more if they like.
LITTLE CRISP BISCUITS
90g plain flour
60g unsalted butter
30g golden caster sugar
Pinch of vanilla powder or dash of essence
Heat oven to 180c
Whizz everything together in a food processor until just coming together. Turn out and knead to a dough.
Roll out thinly. I use clingfilm to help me do this otherwise it just sticks in a very unfortunate way to the rolling pin. If the dough is getting too warm, just pop back in the fridge for a few minutes and it will be easier to handle.
Use a small fluted cutter to stamp out rounds of biscuit dough and put onto a flat baking sheet. Bake for about eight minutes until just turning lightly golden. Take out and cool on a rack. Store in an airtight tin until needed.