A quick internet search reveals a mind-boggling number of recipes for jam. Recipes for fruit cheese, however, are a bit harder to come by. The recipe below is based on one I found for crab apple with chilli which I’ve adapted for cooking apples as a friend had given me some lovely Bramleys from her north London allotment and I was keen to put them to good use. Apple is a great base for other flavours and can be taken in lots of different directions, but this one is a sweet fruit cheese with a lingering heat to it.
Makes 900g-1kg of finished product.
Approx. 1kg of tart cooking apples = around 700g once cored and peeled
Granulated sugar – 2/3 the weight of the cored and peeled apples i.e. around 465g in this recipe.
Red chilli peppers to taste (I used 2 medium strength ones)
Approx. 2 tbsp lemon juice (the amount you should get from one medium/small lemon)
Pan (as wide as possible – I use a maslin jam-making pan)
Small pan for cooking chilli
Food processor or stick blender
Mould(s) for the finished product
Greaseproof paper for lining the mould (optional)
1. Gather together all the things you need. (Ha – great advice! I invariably forget something and end up scrabbling in the cupboard at just the time it is crucial to watch the pan, but I’m sure you’re better organised!) Line the mould if you wish. Here I have used a loaf tin and put a strip of greaseproof paper at the base to make it easier to get the “cheese” out when it has set. Another way to make it easy to remove is to coat the mould with glycerine, which has the added bonus of giving a super-smooth, glossy finish.
2. Wash the apples and the chillies
3. There are different ways of doing the next step:
i) The method I used here: If your apples have good pectin levels (which they should have if they are fresh, tart, just ripe or slightly under-ripe) then peel, core and chop them, weigh them and put in the pan with the minimum quantity of water needed to cook them. Simmer gently until tender and fluffy. This might take 15 minutes or so. Blend to a puree (I find a stick blender easiest).
ii) If your apples have slightly lower pectin levels (e.g. they are very ripe or have been in storage for a while) then chop them whole, put in the pan with the minimum quantity of water needed to cook them and simmer gently until cooked. Sieve the pulp to remove the skins, pips and cores and then weigh the resulting fruit pulp. The reason for this is that the skins and cores contain the most pectin which you need for the “cheese” to set.
(By the way, I will talk about pectin and how to work out whether your fruit has enough for a good set in another blog).
4. Mince the chillies as finely as you can with a sharp knife or food processor. If you wish you can reduce their size further by putting the pieces in a pestle and mortar and crushing. Squeeze the lemon and add the juice, then transfer the lot to a small pan and simmer gently for a few minutes. Leave to rest for a while (you can even do this step first and leave overnight). The reason I do all this is 1) to extract the heat of the chillies into the juice so that it can flavour the whole “cheese” and 2) to make sure that the chilli is soft and does not toughen when the sugar is added. There is probably enough acid in the apples to set the “cheese” without the extra lemon juice – I add it as I find it better balances the sugar, but you could always cook the chillies in water if you prefer a slightly sweeter result.
5. Weigh the sugar and add to the apple puree you have in your pan. Most recipes call for the apple pulp to be weighed after cooking, but if you do that you won’t know how much of the weight is the cooking water you added. I prefer to weigh the apple after peeling and coring (method i) above) but if you are using method ii) because your apples are low in pectin then yes, you will have to weigh the cooked pulp.
6. Put the pan on a gentle heat and stir slowly until all the sugar is dissolved. This takes around 10 minutes. Make sure it is dissolved before you turn the heat up as otherwise the sugar may crystallise later on.
7. Add the chillied lemon juice and as much of the chopped chilli as you wish. Chillies are notorious for varying widely in their heat (nearly as much as people vary in their tolerance of it!) so there is really only one way to do this: experiment! (and remember that the flavour develops with maturing – don’t just taste at the end, taste a couple of weeks or even a month later.) I’ve seen references to sugar ‘killing’ the heat of chilli somewhat – I’ve no idea whether this is true (maybe someone can enlighten me) but I’ve certainly found that the mix can take more chilli than you might expect.
8. Turn the heat right up and bring to a boil. I prefer to cook the “cheese” as quickly as possible to keep as much flavour from the fruit as I can. You can do this with apple as it is quite liquid (whereas some of the other fruit need more gentle treatment) but you will need to stir it continuously to stop it from catching on the bottom of the pan.
9. Cook and stir until the mixture thickens and darkens. There are several ways to test when the “cheese” is done: you should see the bottom of the pan for a second or two as your spoon draws across it, the mixture should fall slowly and thickly from your spoon and a blob put on a cold plate (taken from and returned to the freezer) should, after a few minutes, set to a gel that can be pushed off the plate in one lump with no softness or stickiness. This stage should take around 15 minutes.
10. Take off the heat and pour into the mould or moulds (work fast as it sets quickly!) Put the mould on a wire rack to cool and cover with greaseproof paper to keep dust-free. I usually leave it at least 24 hours to set thoroughly before I turn it out.
11. You’re done! Turn out and enjoy. It gets even better after maturing for a few weeks.
I’ve made this a few times now, tweaking here and there, and I can say I’m pretty happy with the results now. Let me know how it works for you!
“Perfect texture and glossy exterior. Flavour an excellent balance of fruit and heat. I could not stop eating it.” Vivien Lloyd