Today is the third installment of Sugar High Friday, where participants are asked to create a sweet dish using the topic of the month.This edition is hosted by Zarah Maria from Copenhagen, my new favourite European city, where I recently spent some time performing with my vocal ensemble and has the exciting theme of spices; specifically allspice, nutmeg and cardamom. I love all of these, and enjoy my cooking endeavours with spices so was overwhelmed with choice! I thought of dozens of items I could create, however, as much as I would love to make gooey, sweet, baked goods in the lead-up to Christmas I have to take one important aspect into account; the weather. Here in Melbourne it's HOT. And to compound this it's HOT and HUMID; my least favourite weather combination (it turns my hair into a complete frizzball!). So, whilst I would love to make all kinds of baked, spicy, boozy, mince-meaty rich dishes, I really can't justify it just this week.
Such weather is a bit unusual for Melbourne which has quite a dry climate during its Summer heat; this type of sticky humidity is more typical of Sydney or Brisbane summers (and they're welcome to it!) so I'm feeling a bit wilted and none too happy about it all; therefore my quest was to find something light and refreshing I could create, which still included one of the spices on the list. I knew this would probably be cardamom, due to its use in Middle Eastern cookery, so I decided to focus my search on that.
I leafed through all my cookbooks, and focused particularly on Nigella, but her recipes were all a bit too heavy for what I had in mind, so I turned to the internet and found just what I was looking for. Nigel Slater, the British chef and writer wrote a column in early 2001 in praise of oranges and alongside a recipe for a steamed orange and jam pudding (I don't think so!) was a recipe for a cardamom-infused orange jelly. PERFECT, I thought! Only recently I had bought some gelatine, with the intention of experimenting with making my own jellies this summer. This recipe sounded light and refreshing, easy to prepare, headily spiced with cardamom and a jelly to boot! My decision was made.
It was quite simple to prepare, and I managed to get it all done very quickly, even running upstairs for a quick shower while the grapefruit and lemon juices were infusing. When I tasted it, just before putting in the fridge to set, I felt it needed a little sugar (well, it is Sugar High Friday...I obviously had to include it somewhere!) to lift the taste a bit, so added a few spoons of icing sugar and stirred to dissolve. I decided to take Nigel's advice and use the lesser quantity of gelatine, and therefore, to serve it in a glass. But the idea of serving the jelly in a martini glass, with a blanket of fresh cream on top is straight out of Jill Dupleix's Very Simple Food (her cranberry juice and port wine jelly is going to be my next jelly experiment). I love the presentation of the shimmering orange layer lapped by the smooth cream in the elegant martini glass; it'd be just perfect at a dinner party, as long as you weren't serving martinis earlier in the night!
The taste is excellent; light and refreshing, with a subtle hint of cardamom scent lingering throughout. I think it wouldn't hurt adding even more cardamom to really accentuate the flavour, but I do have some troubles sticking to a recipe...! Also, I think it'd be even better using the more tart, sour oranges available in winter; I could only get Navels imported from the US which were a milder, sweeter flavour, but I'm certainly not complaining about it!
It's going to be just perfect later tonight, sitting on the balcony in the sticky, steamy heat, listening to the cicadas chirping, watching the lightning flash over the Melbourne skyscrapers (I just know that's what will happen...it's been happening all week!). It reminds me of the lyrics of one of my favourite Australian rock songs, "Sounds of Then", written about the singer's childhood growing up in the tropical sugarcane growing town of Bundaberg (also home of Bundaberg Rum!):
That certain texture, that certain smell,
brings forth the heavy days,
brings forth the night time sweat
Out on the patio we'd sit,
and the humidity we'd breathe,
we'd watch the lightning crack over canefields
laugh and think, this is Australia.
"Sounds of Then" Gangajan (1985)
Hopefully regular, dry, sunny weather programming will be returned to us in time for Christmas but until then.....
Orange jelly with lemon and cardamom
Sunday January 28, 2001
(I halved the quantities to make enough for 4 people.)
"I get a childish kick out of serving jelly to adults. But they always enjoy it, and especially after a spicy meal. Use as little gelatine as you can get away with, so it shimmers, barely set, on the spoon. I use 7 sheets of gelatine to 1 litre of liquid, which means the finished dessert is too fragile to turn out, and I usually serve it in wine glasses. I add the extra one (leaf gelatine comes in packets of 8) when I am offering it to people who prefer their jelly to have a distinct wobble. The addition of cardamom is a subtle one and, I suppose, gives it a faintly Moorish tone. Enough for 8."
12 large and juicy oranges (to give just under 1 litre of juice)
1 unwaxed pink grapefruit
1 unwaxed lemon
6 green cardamom pods
7-8 sheets of gelatine
Squeeze the oranges. You need just under 1 litre of juice, so stop when you have enough, or do a few more if you stop very short of a full litre. Much will depend on the size, type and age of your fruit.
Squeeze the grapefruit and the lemon, but keep the juice separate from the orange, then remove 3 or 4 strips of zest from each with a short sharp knife. Pour these juices into a small stainless-steel or enamelled saucepan with an equal quantity of water and drop in the pared zest. Split open the cardamom seeds by pressing gently on them with the flat of a large knife, then add them to the juice and bring it almost to a boil. As soon as the juice is about to start bubbling, cover it with a lid and turn off the heat. Leave the juice to cool a little - about 15 minutes should be long enough.
Now slide the gelatine sheets - one or two at a time, rather than in a big lump - into a bowl of cold water, and let them soften for 5 minutes.
Remove the lid, stopping for a second or two to breathe in the wonderful smell of citrus and cardamom, then pour through a sieve into a large, scrupulously clean bowl. Reserve the cardamom seeds. Lift the softened gelatine sheets from the water (they will be just short of dissolving), and stir them into the warm grapefruit and lemon juice. The gelatine will dissolve in seconds.
Pour the orange juice into the grapefruit and lemon juice and stir thoroughly, making certain that every bit of gelatine has melted. Add the reserved cardamom pods into the juice - they will float around, apparently pointlessly, but will in fact discreetly give some of their flavour to the jelly as it sets. Refrigerate for a good 4 or 5 hours.