Most times, magic isn’t due to rare talent or secret techniques but instead to patience, diligence and willingness to take a little extra care. Determination to do it again, and again and again if need be seems to be an important component too.
Last year, I stumbled upon just such a secret that truthfully took me a good 10 months to really, fully appreciate. It deepened the flavors of my jams & jellies tremendously. And then, as ideas sometimes do, it started creeping into lots of other things that had nothing to do with jam or jelly.
I first read of this secret in Christine Ferber’s inspiring book Mes Confitures. It’s funny how we will each travel different roads to the same place. Many of you probably knew about this long ago, while others may discover this idea here, today. So, you jaded old macerators, bear with me. Or forgive me – I’m not sure which; you may have been neglecting to mention it when sharing your world-famous recipe and without this technique, your magic cannot be matched. But we’re not that sort now, are we?
The universe shifting idea of which I’m thinking is of course macerating; essentially resting the fruit in sugar until all the precious liquid has been released. A revelation at the least. By allowing fruits to release their juices slowly overnight, the juices may be boiled separately while the fruit is left intact retaining its peak summer ripened flavor, texture and color. Some of the recipes in Mes Confitures are brought to a brief boil then put into a ceramic bowl and refrigerated overnight more than once, further amplifying the effect.
The down side of this technique is that on average, these recipes will take 2 – 3 days to complete. It takes a commitment of refrigerator space and a good non-reactive ceramic, glass or plastic bowl. The upside is you’ll achieve a special indefinable magic that elevates a jam from good to supernaturally great. The sort of luscious fruitiness that reassures us the cold, barren winter may be long, but abundant summer will come again.
I wouldn’t call myself a baker. I may have a trick or two up my sleeve, but surely I wouldn’t consider pie to be one of them. Pies are like the daisies of the confectionery world; cheerful, cozy reminders of home. Maybe not your real home, but the one you wish was real. They have an unassuming beauty that makes them so welcoming and pleasant. When I think of making pie however, first I get excited and motivated, but then I think through that whole crust thing and the mood tends to pass.
A beautiful crust is the siren call of pie; a great one cannot be resisted. The crust should be lovely and nicely browned with perfect scalloped edges or even more advanced, lattice. A rustic tart is exactly the same, but with a homey charming appearance and a more forgiving crust making experience. But the real reason I’m so crazy about these rustic tarts is because their open structure allows me to apply the magic of maceration to my filling.
One of my big pie turn-offs is fakey, gelatin-y tapioca-y or flour-y fillings. With that in mind, the technique for the filling in this rhubarb tart recipe (from Liana Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation) really caught my attention.
It solves the problem of a too liquid, runny filling by first macerating the rhubarb in sugar & vanilla bean, then straining the juice from the fruit, next reducing the juice in a saucepan while the tarts bake and finally spooning the reduced liquid back into the tarts while hot from the oven. The sauce is perfectly thickened without adding too much starch or gelatin and the fruit flavor is intensified by the reduction. Brilliant!
I have never been so excited for fresh peaches and cherries to hurry up and get here already!