A very berry Christmassy jam

Here in New Zealand Christmas is all about strawberries! To my Southern hemisphere mind, Christmas would just not be Christmas without a great big helping of strawberries on Christmas morning (some chocolate dipped, of course) and a strawberry-related dessert of some description. Now I understand this may seem like a very foreign concept to Northern hemisphere readers, whose minds must be about as far away from strawberries as possible, but please… let your mind wander.

We are a little bit spoiled here in New Zealand, we get to pilfer all the lovely wintery Christmas traditions of our English forebears, while making our own new summery traditions to enjoy at the very same time – the best of both worlds! But with enjoying fleeting traditions that come to an end all too soon, comes the need to stretch those enjoyable things out for just a little bit longer, if at all possible. This is when my mind turns to jam: strawberry, apricot and plum, they are all a jar of summer, sitting there on the shelf just waiting for the time they are taken down in winter, opened and enjoyed. For a moment, it’s like summer all over again.

Each December I make this much loved recipe for Strawberry and Vanilla Jam. It’s one from my Victoria Room cookbook. For those not familiar with Sydney’s astoundingly fabulous Victoria Room… let me just say, if you’re a fan of Victoriana like me, this is a must visit!! And strawberry jam with scones really doesn’t have a rival…

Strawberry and vanilla jam

For the jam:

2 kg strawberries, washed, hulled and chopped
650gm caster sugar
1 vanilla bean pod, split
Juice of 4 lemons

Strawberry jam
All chopped up and ready to go!

Add all the ingredients to a pot with a heavy base, and gently begin to heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has all dissolved. Then turn the heat up until the mixture is boiling. You want the jam to be on a ‘gentle boil’ if such a thing exists… still boiling, but not quite so fiercely that the bottom burns. Stir regularly while you prepare your jars (you’ll need to sterilise them). The mixture takes around 30-40 minutes to reach setting point (because strawberries are not particularly high in pectin you won’t get a super strong set with this jam – but the lemons do help to add to the pectin content), keep checking until you reach your desired consistency. While the jam is still hot divide it up between your jars (this recipe makes about 5 standard jars). If you get a good seal it will last for months!

Vanilla bean cupcakes with dreamy creamy frosting!

Vanilla is much underrated… we use the term ‘vanilla’ to describe something that’s bland, boring, mundane, run-of-the-mill. Please do not dismiss these gorgeous little cupcakes as any of those things, they are sweet, charming, and ever so elegant! Imagine light, silky cake crumb flavored with the tropical tang of Tahiti, topped with a delicate cream cheese frosting made even better by the addition of good quality white chocolate – now you’re getting the idea, right?

So, the cupcakes are the vanilla cupcake recipe from Hummingbird Bakery’s Cake Days book (yes, I’m a total Hummingbird fan, just hope I get to try the real thing some day!). They only take a few minutes to make, and are super simple – the vanilla bean is my own addition, and I also double the amount of vanilla extract. You might as well TASTE it, right?

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The little specks of black in the cake are not something that fell in the mixing bowl while I was making them… I swear!

The frosting recipe is from another one of my favourite cookbooks – Rose Levy Beranbaum‘s ‘Rose’s Heavenly Cakes’ (and for anyone that hasn’t read it, let me attest to the heavenliness of her cakes!)

Rose’s Dreamy Creamy White Chocolate Frosting

85 gm white chocolate, chopped
115 gm cream cheese, softened
30gm butter, softened
1/2 tbsp sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Gently melt the chocolate, and leave to stand while you process the cream cheese, butter and sour cream for a few seconds until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides and add the chocolate and vanilla. Pulse it a few times, until it is smooth and all ingredients are incorporated.

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This recipe makes about 1 cup. As you can probably tell from the ingredients, it results in a looser frosting and I don’t think it holds its shape so well for piping, so I added approx 3/4 cup of icing sugar too, just to make the mixture slightly stiffer.

And being the vanilla fiend that I am, I also added vanilla bean to the frosting too. Enjoy!