THIS week, we are going a wee bit fancy. We’re on a bit of a flight of fantasy, and cooking something that should only be attempted with a clear day in the diary.
This one’s a dish for playing a few classic albums on the iPod, or letting the gentle burble of Radio 4 suffuse the kitchen. It’s not an easy recipe, nor is it incredibly hard, but it does take commitment and patience. Clear the decks, shoo the cynics away and enjoy the pleasures of devotion to the cause.
Because when you’ve finished this recipe, the adulation you’ll get will be immense, and rightly so, because I think this is one of the most visually pleasing things I’ve ever cooked.
Today, because we’re bang in season for these amazing tart fruits, and because we may just have a little spare time on our hands, we’re making striped spiced clementine jellies. These amazing little filled fruit shells slice to reveal layer upon layer of contrasting jellies, one made from the pulp of the fruit itself, and the other a spiced egg-nog flavoured blancmange.
They look absolutely amazing, and the recipe’s open to plenty of little tweaks, so you can really get creative once you know the basics.
I’ve adapted the original recipe by the lunatic jelly-makers Bompas & Parr, whose gelatinous creations are to be seen wobbling at all the right parties in London and around the world, although it was actually the great French chef Antonin Carème who first devised the multi-layered stuffed fruits back in the late 1700s.
What Bompas & Parr don’t know about jelly isn’t worth knowing, and their book on the subject is pretty much a standard reference. Those who like their jelly should invest in a copy and get to work – for instance, their gin and tonic jellies glow brightly under ultraviolet light, and if that isn’t a reason to make them straight away and buy a UV torch, I don’t know what is!
You’ll need to invest in some proper gelatine for this recipe, which, I’m afraid, makes the dish non-vegetarian. I have tried making jellies with agar, but they simply don’t have the required wobble and snap that jelly should have and which only comes from animal gelatine, I’m afraid. That’s not to mean you don’t need to try something for yourself. And while we’re at it, you can always make up packet jelly if you don’t fancy the hard slog of making from scratch – perhaps experiment with other flavours, too. Those of you crazy enough may wish to make rainbow colours using three or four jellies. It’s all up to you.
The basics are set out here – from there, the world is your oyster. Or clementine, I should say. I just made things a bit more seasonal by making the blancmange a bit more Christmassy by using spices and zest. When you’re out shopping, look for clementines with good, firm but baggy skins – they need to be loose enough to make removing the fruit easy and not a nail-biting battle of wills. And if the clementines in the shop aren’t up to scratch, you could also use small oranges, tangerines, or any of the hybrid Christmas citrus fruits. If you have kids about, and they can be prised away from the games console / chemistry set (showing my age?), they will find it quite exciting to help with the mixing, pouring and testing the set-ness of each layer.
It gets quite tense but the results are breathtaking! So, if you have the time, and the inclination…here goes. Aprons on!
For the basic sugar syrup:
500g unrefined golden caster sugar
For the Clementines and jelly:
6-8 large clementines, in good condition
Sugar syrup (see recipe above)
1 small carton fresh orange juice
A few gelatine leaves
For the egg-nog blancmange:
400ml fresh whole milk
2 tbsps caster sugar
4 leaves gelatine
1 Star anise
4 green cardamom pods
½ stick cinnamon
The zest of a lemon, grated
Plenty of jugs, sieves, trays and bowls
First make your syrup. This is a handy liquid to have around, for poaching fruit and
scenting with anything from herbs to spices for use as drizzles with ice-cream or
many other courses, both sweet and savoury. Gently heat the water and sugar together
until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 5 minutes before taking off the heat
and cooling. It will refrigerate or freeze and keep for yonks. OK, here goes. Take a
small sharp knife and make a hole about 1.5cm in size around the stem part of the
clementine. Then, using a small spoon, carefully remove all the flesh and membrane,
being very careful not to break the skin. This will take some time, and you may need a
few ‘spares’ in case of accidents. Place the flesh in a bowl for use later. You will end
up with half a dozen completely hollowed clementines; place them on a tray, nicely
snug, in the fridge. Pass the flesh through a sieve (plastic ideally) and measure the
juice. Then make up the liquid to double the volume of the clementine juice using
half sugar syrup and half fresh orange juice. You should have a lovely sharp liquid
– measure this and use 1 gelatine leaf per 100ml of liquid. Take a little of the juice
and soak the gelatine leaves until soft, then warm very gently over a low heat until
dissolved, and mix back into the juice. Pass through a sieve into a jug. To make the
blancmange, soak the gelatine leaves in the water in a pan, and when it’s completely
soft, warm very gently over a low heat until it has dissolved. Remove from the heat
and keep warm. Gently heat the milk with the spices, sugar and lemon zest, and when
just simmering, strain over the gelatine and stir the two together. Pass through a sieve
into a suitable jug. Now for the fun part; make sure your jellies are cool but liquid,
and the clementines are nice and level in their tray (use kitchen paper if you have
wobble issues) and fill with a small amount of the liquid blancmange. Allow this to
set in the fridge, which should take about 30 minutes. Then add a similar layer of the
jelly and chill again. Repeat this process until the clementines are all filled, and leave
to set completely. Then, when you’re ready, cut through into wedges with a very
sharp knife and wait for the gasps of admiration! These are perfect with a glass of
mulled wine as a New Year drinks party treat. Have fun!