Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Homemade Jam and Tarts

As a child, I loved, loved, loved jam tarts. Mum didn't make them but once in a while, she'd buy a dozen or so from English Hotbreads, our go-to bakery for birthday cakes and tea time snacks. They sold the most delicious pineapple jam tarts I'd ever tasted and I could wolf down three or four jumbo tarts at one go. Yeah! I'd finish them so quick m mum had to ration the tarts: four each for the three of us kids. Sometimes, I'd steal one (or two) of my sister's share: she wasn't as greedy as me and more generous.

I still love tarts. The combination of tasty, crispy pastry against a sweet, gooey, jam filling is just soooo good. Though I love the pineapple tarts Malaysians have become quite renowned for (I've come to think our Nyonya tarts are among the best in the world), I also like other fruit-jam tarts too. Strawberry, lemon-curd, apple ... comfort food, for sure.

So when I read Dan Lepard's recent post on jam tarts in the Guardian, I was inspired to make some of my own. Lepard uses leftover jam for his tarts but as I don't usually store much jam at home, I had to make my own jam instead. My two favourite jam flavours are apple and strawberry and wouldn't you know it, I had both fruits at home. What luck!

Making jam is really quite simple; definitely easier than it sounds. You dice your fruit and cook it in a little water and some sugar (depending on how sweet your fruit is and how sweet you want your jam) and just let it cook until the fruit softens and the mixture thickens. You can add some corn flour (or pectin) to help thicken the mixture too.

That's a basic recipe/method for jam but you can also add to your flavours by combining ingredients (strawberry and raspberry, apple and citrus...) in a jam compound or you could spice up your jam with ... well, spice. I added some roughly crushed pink peppercorns into my strawberry jam and cinnamon into my apple jam.

I used Lepard's recipe for the crust which I must say produced the best tart crust I have ever made or maybe even tasted. I had to adjust the measurements a little -- a little less water and a little more flour. The pastry was soft but sturdy enough not to crumble en route to your mouth. It has a small measure of icing sugar in it but it's not at all sweet; there is a great balance between the sweetness of the sugar and the saltiness of the butter and the added salt. It was the perfect casing for my mini tarts so, "Thank you, Mr Lepard".

Strawberry and Apple Tarts

For the pastry recipe, refer to Dan Lepard's post in the Guardian.Here's the link.

Strawberry Jam 
24 strawberries, hulled and diced 
1/4 cup sugar (adjust according to taste)
1/2 cup water 
1-2 tsp pink peppercorns, roughly crushed
1 tsp cornflour, diluted in 1 tbsp water 

Put the strawberries, sugar, water and peppercorns in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring occasionally. As the mixture begins to boil, cover and leave to simmer, continue to stir from time to time, until the strawberries get really soft and mushy. Using a wooden spoon or a potato masher, roughly mash the softened fruit (you may want to leave some chunky pieces in for texture). Taste for sweetness (add more sugar if you want) and then, just before you're ready to take it off the heat, add the cornflour and stir until the jam thickens. 
Remove and allow to cool.

Apple Jam
2 large apples, skinned, cored and diced
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar (approximate, to taste)
1/2 cup water

Add all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. Cover and cook until the apples soften and can be mashed. Keep stirring until the jam thickens.

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