Friday, 18 March 2011

J is for... Juniper junket, jasmine jelly and jumbles


I am a huge fan of milk puddings and rarely went a whole week, as a child, without being dished up a serving of rice pudding, macaroni pudding, ground rice or semolina. Junket is supposed to be soft set and the most obviously comparable modern equivalent is panna cotta. Soft, delicious comfort food - no chewing required.

Junket is a mediaeval pudding that was fashionably served at the banquet tables of the nobility. It was traditionally made with cream, flavoured with spices and rose water and set with rennet, but it began to fall from fashionable favour in Tudor times as syllabubs became the vogue pudding of the day. Then junket became an everyday food for the everyman, but made from milk instead of cream, until eventually it was only really seen on the trays of convalescing children and then not even on those. I blame Heinz tomato soup. It has found a re-birth of sorts in recent years, as the past has become the trendiest place to seek culinary inspiration. I found junket recipes in Elisabeth Luard's European Peasant Cookery and in David Everitt-Matthias' Dessert and made my own hybrid adaptation of the two, but I flavoured my junket with juniper for an extra J.

I took great pains to find rennet, ringing up every chemist, health and whole food shop in the local vicinity, but it was good old Waitrose that ended my search. It wasn't entirely successful, as I read afterwards that you shouldn't move the junket at all until it's set or the rennet enzymes become inactive, leaving the junket unset. I moved the junket several times and after 7 hours the junket was still as runny as single cream and so I cheated and added a couple of sheets of leaf gelatine and in my panic, may have gone a sheet too far as the junket was far too firmly set, but despite the mis-hap with the texture, the flavours still sang through. 

Juniper junket

450ml whole milk (or half milk and half cream)
Seeds of 1 vanilla pod

10 juniper berries, slightly crushed
1 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tbsp brandy
1 tsp rennet
Fresh grated nutmeg, for sprinkling on top

Place 100ml of the milk and the juniper in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn the heat off and leave to infuse for half an hour to an hour. Strain the infused milk into the remaining milk and place in a saucepan with the vanilla and sugar. Place over a very gentle heat, stirring all the time until the sugar has dissolved and until the milk reaches 98°C (just before boiling point). Remove from the heat and stir in the brandy.  Add the rennet and stir well. Divide the mixture between your serving glasses and leave, without moving them, until the junket is set. This will take at least two hours, but overnight is best. Once set, cover each glass with cling film and place in the fridge 3-4 hours. Grate a little fresh nutmeg over the top before serving.

Moving forward in time from the mediaeval era, I looked to a Tudor classic: jumbles. Jumbles are little knot-shaped biscuits. I found a recipe for jumbles in Thomas Dawson's The Good Huswifes Jewell dated 1596 in which he uses the spelling iombles and another by Henry Fairfax:

"Take 12 Yolkes of Egges, & 5 Whites, a pound of searced Sugar, half a pound of Butter washed in Rose Water, 3 quarters of an ounce of Mace finely beaten, a little Salt dissolved in Rose Water, half an ounce of Caroway-seeds, Mingle all theise together with as much Flower as will worke it up in paste, & so make it Konttes or Rings or What fashion you please. Bake them as Bisket-bread, but upon Pye-plates"   

I worked out a recipe which attempts to keep the spirit of the original Tudor jumbles, but I also added a little lemon zest as I love lemon with caraway. I made the dough and Richard tied them into knots. I was quite tired when I made these having just polished off a carbohydrate-heavy lunch and, as such, my brain seemed to be working at a strangely hazy bread-induced speed. Every time Richard passed me a newly tied knot, I couldn't help observing ALOUD, "they're funny little things, aren't they?" while he looked on in bemused amusement. Well they were funny little things.

While still warm, they had a very similar texture to bagels, but once cooled they became extremely firm and, though not unpleasant, I'd much rather have had a hobnob.


2 oz/ 50 g unsalted butter
A generous splash of rose water
4 oz/ 100 g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1 medium egg white
9 oz/ 225 g plain flour
1 tsp ground mace
3 tsp caraway seeds
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
A pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180 C (160C Fan)

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs and add the rose water. Stir in the salt and spices and then add the flour. Mix it together thoroughly until a fairly stiff dough is formed. Roll the dough into a long sausage about 1.5cm wide and cut it into approximately 8cm pieces. Form each piece into a knot shape and pop them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before serving. 

Jasmine jelly is an extremely quick and simple dish to make and has a refreshing taste and is particularly delicious if you like jasmine tea. I don't.

Jasmine jelly

1 tbsp of Jasmine tea leaves
250ml boiling water
1 tbsp caster sugar
4 leaves of gelatine

100 ml whipping/ double cream
Some finely chopped fresh mint for scattering on top

Soak the gelatine leave in a bowl of cold water for 5-10 minutes or until the gelatine leaves are soft and pliable. Meanwhile pour the boiling water over the tea leaves and leave to infuse for five minutes. Pour the tea through a tea strainer into a small saucepan and stir in the sugar over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Squeeze any excess water out of the gelatine and whisk into the sweet Jasmine tea. Once dissolved, pour the hot jelly into a jug to cool. Once cool, pour into serving glasses (I used shot glasses) and pop them in the fridge to set for an hour. Once set, whip the cream and top each jelly with a spoonful and use a palette knife to smooth it flat. Sprinkle a little chopped fresh mint on top and serve alongside the juniper junket and jumbles.

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