Homemade Strawberry Jam

I had never made jam or canned anything in my life, just the idea seemed risky. Trusting a glass jar to keep food fresh for up to a year? No way! My girlfriend invited me to a book party in honor of Marisa McClellan, author of Food in Jars. During the course of the party, talking with the author and others who are passionate about the art of canning, I became intrigued and almost fascinated with the idea of canning. It’s like taking a snapshot of the best days of a harvest, preserving it for the rest of the year, so you and your family can enjoy it at it’s peak. This is what farm/house wives have been doing for centuries, and I can do it myself, and for very practical reasons. And if I make extra… well, who wouldn’t want a jar of homemade jam?

I tried Strawberry Jam for my trial experience, since it was the last weekend of strawberry season, and I really wanted to pick my own at my local orchard.

Ingredients

8 cups chopped fresh strawberries

5 cups sugar

zest and juice of 2 lemons

2 (3 oz) packets liquid pectin

This recipe yields 8 half-pint jars. The tools you will need are: 8 jars, rings, and unused lids, jar lifter (or tongs), candy thermometer, blender, 2 large pots, and a small saucepan. 

Mix the strawberries with 1 cup of the sugar, cover and refrigerate up to 12 hours. The longer the better, however I could only let mine sit for 4 hours. 

To prepare a water bath: In a large stockpot (I used a 10 quart) place a rubber mat or wire rack on the bottom (to prevent the jars from ‘jumping’ from the heat) and place empty jars on the mat. Fill the pot with water a 2 inches above the tops of the jars. Place the pot over high heat and bring the water to a boil. In a small saucepan or pot, place the rings and lids and cover with water. Bring this pot to a simmer, not a boil. This will sanitize, and soften the seal material on the lids. 

Pour the berries into a large stockpot and add the remaining sugar, lemon juice and zest. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 20 minutes, stirring often, until the liquid looks syrupy. The strawberries will foam, almost double in volume. The pot I used boiled over a few times, so make sure your pot is large enough. 

While the jam cooks, remove and drain the jars from the boiling water and place on a clean towel to dry with the tongs (the jars will be super hot!). Leave the heat on, you will be using the water for the hot water bath to process the filled jars. 

Scoop out about 1/3 of the berries and transfer to a blender and puree. Return the pureed fruit back to the pot and stir. Add the packets of pectin and bring to a rolling boil. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot and let the temperature rise to 220 degrees, let the temperature stay at 220 for 2 minutes and remove the pot from the heat. 

Using the funnel, ladle the hot jam into the jars. Wipe the rims with a damp cloth, if necessary. 

Fill all jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Place the lids and then the rims on each jar, tightening firmly, but not too tight. 

Using the tongs, place the jars back into the boiling water and process for 10 minutes. Make sure there are a few inches of water about the rims of the jars. The water bath will ensure the jars are sealed properly.

Remove the jars from the water bath using tongs. Set the jars in a place so they can remain undisturbed for 48 hours.  As the jars cool, you will hear the ‘ping’ from the dimples on the lids - this is the sweetest sound, it means the seals are working. And yes, you have to wait 48 hours to try the jam! 

Store the jars in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Refrigerate after opening.

I made a double batch of strawberry jam, and gave away a dozen jars. I have a few left for myself for the rest of the year. I really did capture this year’s strawberry harvest at its sweetest, juiciest, and most ripe. The flavor does not even compare to store-bought. I am plotting a summer full of jams, jellies, and fruit butters. 

Mini Strawberry Pies

It’s strawberry season! 3 weeks early too, from what everyone has been saying, and that includes almost all fruits this summer. My summer baking and canning schedule will have to be adjusted. I went to a Strawberry Festival in beautiful Delaplane, VA and picked up this crate of beauties:

I decided fresh strawberry pie was the way to go. Since my baked goods feed my office mates, I figured it would be easier to make mini pies instead of full size versions. I used 2 muffin tins to make 24. I made a double batch of crust to make all 24. Start with the crust:

Ingredients

2 ½ cups unbleached pastry flour or all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup vegetable shortening

1 stick cold unsalted butter

½  cup plus 1 to 2 tablespoons ice water


In a medium bowl combine the flour and salt. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut in the shortening until tiny lumps remain. Pre-cut the cold butter and add to the flour. Cut the butter into the flour until the lumps are pebble-sized. 

Add the ice water, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the mixture begins to hold together. Do not over water!

This looks good - you can still see dry spots and small butter chunks - this is ideal, you will have a tender and flaky crust. Transfer the mix onto a piece of waxed paper. Fold the paper onto the mound to create a ball of dough. If needed, spritz water on dry spots. 

Keep folding the wax paper in all angles so that you have a nice ball of dough. Cut the ball (or rectangle like I have) in half and form into disks. Wrap each separately and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. 

Ingredients for the Filling 

1 cup granulated sugar

4 cups chopped strawberries

3 Tbs instant clear gel or cornstarch

1 Tbs fresh lemon juice


Chop the strawberries and place in a large bowl. Add the sugar, clear gel or cornstarch, and lemon juice. Set aside while you prepare the crust. 

Grease the muffin wells with a healthy amount of butter. Roll out the crust one ball at a time. I used a make-shift cutter (the bottom half of an onion keeper) that created a big enough disk for each muffin well. Form each circle of dough evenly in each well. 

Spoon the strawberry filling into each cup, be sure not to overfill. Decorate the tops as desired. 

Bake in a pre-heated 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Let cool completely and scoop out each pie with a small spoon. 

Buttercream Blossoms

Remember back to being a kid at a birthday party, eyeing up the cake and hoping to get a piece with a rose. Chances were slim, unless it was your own birthday - that’s the only time when you were guaranteed to get one. There were never enough to go around for everyone else though. Most people still wants that rose, and that’s why these cupcakes are perfect. Not only are they pretty and delicious, but you get a huge rose bloom on the top of each cupcake - and that gives you the warmest, most special feeling. It’s everyone’s ‘day’ - enjoy it!! 

The cakes are a basic yellow cake recipe with fresh fruit additions. Perfectly sweet and fruity, a balanced compliment to the fluffy buttercream blossoms. 

Ingredients

2 cups sugar

3 ½ cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 tsp salt

¾ cup unsalted butter, very soft

1 ¼ cups milk, at room temperature

2 tsp vanilla extract

4 large eggs, room temperature

2 cups chopped fruit of your choice 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffin tins with paper liners. This recipe yields 28-32 cupcakes.

Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer. Then add the soft butter. The mixture will look sandy. 

Combine the milk with the vanilla, and add all at once. Stir on low speed for 30 seconds, and then on medium speed for 30 more seconds. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well (about 30 seconds) between each addition, Scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl, then beat for 30 more seconds. 

Hand stir in your fruit, and divide evenly into the muffin tins. 

These are my fruits of choice. I split the batter into 3 bowls, and added 2/3 cup of each fruit to each bowl. 

Bake the cupcake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely on racks.

I made my favorite Buttercream Frosting, and colored and flavored to match the cake flavors. Champagne flavoring for the strawberry cupcakes, blueberry flavoring for the blueberry cupcakes, and almond flavoring for the peach cupcakes. I filled an 18” pastry bag fitted with a petal tip (Wilton #104). 

To start the blossom, make a base swirl in the center. 

Next, rotate the cupcake, and swipe petals to overlap the breaks in the petals from the previous rotation. (See picture - it’s hard to explain, but easy to see) 

Keep rotating, and build the petals onto each other. 

For the last row, angle the tip so the petal turns downward, to hide any cake around the edge. 

These are by far the prettiest and most fun cupcakes that I have ever made. Almost too pretty to eat, but they are so flavorful and delicious, it’s hard not to.

Strawberry Cupcakes

Nothing makes me happier than baking something pretty, and you can’t get much prettier than pink cupcakes with pink frosting! I went to Costco a few days ago to stock up on some baking supplies. While there, I picked up a huge container of strawberries, perfect for making these Strawberry Cupcakes. The recipe is Martha Stewart’s Strawberry Cupcakes

First step: cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla until pale and fluffy. 

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well to incorporate each. Next, add half of the pre-sifted flours, baking powder, and salt. Pour in one cup of milk, then the remaining flour mixture. 

Fold in 2 cups of chopped Strawberries by hand. My advice is to chop all the strawberries before mixing any of the ingredients, it took forever!

Ready for the oven! This recipe yields 34 cupcakes (I ended up with 39 and I did accidentally overfill a couple) so be prepared to line 3 trays with cups. 

Time to whip up the frosting. I am making a simple butter cream frosting. To make the frosting, dissolve 3/4 cup sugar in 1/2 cup boiling water. Using an electric mixer, whip the sugar syrup and 1/4 cup meringue powder until soft peaks form. Next, add flavoring of choice (I used vanilla extract), 4 cups powdered sugar, followed by 1 1/2 cups butter. 

I added 1/3 cup of pureed strawberries for flavor and color. 

I piped tall peaks to accommodate the strawberry slice topper, since it each will get smooshed down a bit. 

Perfect! 

I sampled a cupcake (the ugliest one, of course) and it was delicious. The cake was moist and the strawberry chunks added a burst of flavor. The frosting was light and fluffy, not too sweet, with a fresh strawberry flavor. My office mates are in for a treat tomorrow morning!

Lemon Creme Cake

It’s finally feeling like spring here in the D.C. area! The warm and sunny weather turns my desires from heavy desserts to light and fruity treats. I have a thing for lemon desserts; I can’t get enough lemon in my cakes, puddings, pies, ice cream, cookies, and bars -so bright, crisp, and delicious! I went to my favorite recipe resource: King Arthur Flour for their Lemon Custard Cake recipe.

 

This is me and my new “Maryann” style cake pan, which is perfect for a light and fruity custard cake. The pan is 8” and has an indented center that will hold fillings and fruit. 

The cake looks like it turned out great. Although there is no intended recipient, I would feel guilty cutting into it all by myself. Any takers?