February 8, 2013 § 3 Comments
I drink quite lot of Earl Grey tea and enjoy the instant flavour hit that bergamot can bring to an otherwise indifferent teabag. So when I recently saw bergamots on sale in their natural state for the first time ever I just had to buy a bagful. They’re a spherical greenish-gold citrus fruit the size of a small orange, a speciality of Calabria in Southern Italy. They don’t look anything special but scratch the surface of the skin and the powerful and unmistakeable aroma is released.
Having inspected and admired by bag of bergamots, the question was what on earth to do with them? They look a bit like small oranges and have a sour juice so they are obvious candidates for marmalade. I decided that for starters, I’d make a half-size batch of marmalade, modifying my favourite seville orange recipe to suit these strange and exotic citrus fruits.
I decided that a fine shred marmalade would be most appropriate so as not to overpower the preserve with overly-thick chunks of that highly aromatic peel. This requires carefully peeling the fruit with a sharp potato peeler, in a single spiral if you’re up for the challenge, then cutting the peel into the finest shreds possible with a sharp knife.
The shreds of peel together with a muslin bag containing the peeled half-fruit shells and pips are soaked overnight in the quantity of cold water specified in the recipe to which the squeezed fruit juice is added. This soaking has a dual purpose: it begins to soften the peel and helps dissolve the all-important pectin which is mainly contained in the white pith and pips.
The next day, the peel is boiled, partly covered, for a full 2 hours so that it softens thoroughly. It should be meltingly soft, the texture of overcooked pasta at this stage as, weirdly, once the sugar is added it stiffens up again.
The boiled liquid, once cool enough to handle is measured (or weighed if you prefer) in order to calculate the required quantity of sugar (450g sugar per 500ml liquid). Also at this stage you can decide whether you want to remove some of the precious bergamot shreds to achieve the right balance between clear jelly and pieces of peel. You could always try and crystallise any spare peel for an unusual cake ingredient.
You’re then finally ready to combine the calculated amount of sugar with the citrus liquid in a preserving pan to achieve a set. This shouldn’t take long so it’s essential to have all your preserving bits and pieces laid out and ready (sterilised jam jars and clean lids ready; jam thermometer and funnel to hand; and several saucers chilled in the freezer). It’s also worth tasting the liquid before you begin boiling to check acidity levels. The liquid should taste distinctly sour and if it doesn’t, you can add the juice of a further bergamot (or a lemon if you have bergamots to hand!) to the pan.
I would guess that the bergamots have a high pectin content as I achieved a set quite quickly (less than 15 minutes’ boiling) and rather suddenly. I took the mixture off the boil at about 103 degrees C, ie before the mixture reached my seville orange soft set temperature of 104.5 degrees C. The set I ended up with was quite firm though not the dreaded “rubber set” but ideally I’d have gone for something softer.
The end result was a delicately coloured marmalade with greenish tinge and, though I say so myself, exquisite flavour, not too sweet with plenty of acidity. My only quibble was that in a jar the marmalade looks a tad cloudy, and as I mentioned before, the set was just a little firmer than my personal ideal.
Rereading my notes from last year (should have done this before I started!) I see that one suggestion to avoid cloudiness is to skim regularly during boiling rather than adding a knob of butter to prevent scumming
I reckon the marmalade is still good enough to send off to the 2013 World Marmalade Competition so a jar is winging its way to Dalemain in Cumbria as we speak, entered under the “Any Citrus” category. Fingers crossed…
A fortnight later, the rest of the bergamots had ripened a little and become more golden in colour:
This lot were destined for an experimental batch of bergamot curd. I decided to use a lemon curd recipe, swapping the lemons for bergamots which are approximately the size of large lemons and have similar acidity levels. Recipes for lemon curd are many and various so, for simplicity, I chose one using whole eggs rather than just egg yolks. This gives the curd a tendency to become a little lumpy as the coagulation temperatures of yolk and white are different, but this is not a problem as the finished curd is sieved before potting.
You need to rig up an impromptu double boiler but this is easily achieved by setting a heatproof bowl into a pan of water and then it’s simplicity itself to combine the zest and juice with the eggs, butter and sugar:
The curd will thicken quite quickly but does requires constant stirring with a wooden spoon or balloon whisk as it does so. Once it’s passed through a sieve you’re ready to pot:
The end result is silky smooth, golden and packs a punch in terms of a powerful perfumed bergamot aroma. Personally I think it’s a bit much spread on your morning toast but it’s perfect for puddings, swirled through Greek yoghurt or combined with crème fraîche and fruit for a pavlova or roulade filling.
Recipe for Bergamot Marmalade
Makes approximately 1.1kg marmalade – 3 regular sized jars
1.3 litres cold water
Approximate 1kg granulated sugar
1. With a potato peeler peel the skin from the bergamots, leaving as much white pith on the fruit as possible. Slice the peel into thin shreds and put into a large pan lidded pan.
2. Line a large bowl with a piece of muslin, leaving plenty to overhang the sides of the bowl. Cut the bergamots in half. With your hands, squeeze the juice from the fruit over the bowl, dropping the leftover squeezed fruit, pith, pips and flesh, into the muslin. Lift the muslin out of the bowl, gather the sides and squeeze any remaining juice into the bowl. Tie the muslin together to keep the fruit in and form a bag.
3. Place the muslin bag in the saucepan with the peel, leaving the top of the muslin overhanging the saucepan. Add the squeezed fruit juice and 1.3 litres cold water to the pan. Heat until boiling, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours, until the peel is tender.
4. Remove the muslin bag and squeeze all the sticky juice from the bag into the pan. An easy way to do this is to put the bag in a colander and use a spoon to press it out. Measure the contents of the pan in a jug (or weigh in the pan using a suitable pair of scales having had the foresight to weigh your pan in advance). Return to the pan and add 450g of sugar for every 500ml liquid. Gently heat until the sugar crystals have dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 5 minutes.
5. Test that the marmalade has reached setting point by putting a teaspoon of the liquid on a cold saucer and gently pushing with the back of a spoon. If the liquid starts to wrinkle, setting point has been reached. If no wrinkling happens, keep boiling and retest every 5 minutes. If using a sugar thermometer, setting point is likely to be achieved at about 102 degrees C. Turn off the heat as soon as you reach setting point.
6. Skim any scum from the surface. Leave the mixture to stand for 15 minutes. Stir gently, then carefully spoon into warmed sterilised jars. Put screw top lids on while the marmalade is still hot and turn upside down for 5 seconds to sterilise the lids.
Recipe for Bergamot Curd
Makes about 600g curd enough to fill 3 or 4 small jars.
4 whole eggs, lightly beaten
150g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
350g golden caster sugar
Before you begin, you need to set up an impromptu double boiler. I did this by setting a medium sized metal mixing bowl over a large saucepan of cold water. It’s OK in fact desirable that the bowl sits in rather than over the water as it would if you were aiming to melt chocolate.
Grate the zest and squeeze the juice from the bergamots and put into the bowl part of your double-boiler set-up. A microplane grater makes grating the zest a doddle. Add the eggs, butter and sugar to the bowl, set it over the pan and turn on the heat. Stir with a wooden spoon regularly as it slowly warms through.
Once the water is boiling, keep stirring as the eggs coagulate and the curd thickens.
As I’m a curd-making novice, I checked the temperature of my curd once it looked sufficiently thickened and removed the bowl from the heat once it reached a temperature of 80 degrees C. This worked well as the finished product has a soft spreading consistency and for my taste is neither too runny nor too thick.
Don’t worry if your curd is not perfectly smooth as the next step is to push it through a sieve into another very clean and dry medium bowl. This removes the grated zest and any stray eggy lumps that may have formed.
Once the curd has been sieved, carefully spoon it into small jam jars sterilised in your preferred way. As the flavour of this curd is so intense, small jars are best. I like to warm them in the oven set to its lowest temperature of around 120 degrees C. Cover and once cool, the curd is best stored in the fridge.