Ever Made Elderberry Syrup?

elderberry syrup

Because you should. The stuff is all around now to be harvested and enjoyed.

Elderflowers do get more of the spotlight when it comes to making cordial. Early summer and the heady white blossoms may be gone, but they are replaced with the umbrella-shaped clusters of blue-black fruit: welcome elderberries!

Please note: Eating uncooked elderberries, leaves, bark or roots can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Also, when I’m talking about the elder plant I refer to European or Black Elder (Sambucus nigra). If you are collecting the flowers or berries yourself, ensure that you have correctly identified the plant as other types of elder may be more toxic.

That said, elderberry is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants, it’s usually taken as a supplement to treat cold and flu symptoms. In folk medicine, the berries are also known to be used as remedy for infections, sciatica, headaches, dental pain, heart pain and nerve pain, as well as a laxative and diuretic. Elderberries have many nutritional benefits as well: a good source of vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants.

All that in a berry. And they taste great too, so go and pick some – the funky tart aroma is so unique! Making elderberry syrup is not a big deal at all, the recipe only calls for 3 ingredients: the berries, sugar and citric acid. When filled into sterilized bottles, the syrup has a decent shelf life of 12 months (as with any other canned product, discard if color, texture, taste or smell has changed). Refrigerate after opening.

A few tips, before you begin: wear rubber gloves when handling the berries, they stain everything deep purple. Wash berries after you have removed them from the stems. Mature berries will sink and remaining stems, immature berries, leafy matter and insects will float. You can store washed berries in ziploc bags in your freezer, or you may dry them as well for later use.

Drink simply diluted with water, or mix it up with lemon, mint or ginger. Just the type of refreshment you need in this heat!

Elderberry Syrup

  • Difficulty: easy
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Tasty, refreshing syrup made from the blue-black berries of the elder plant. Makes cca. 3,5 l syrup.

Ingredients

1 kg elderberries, stems removed

1,5 kg / 3.3 lbs sugar

3 l / 12 cups water

2 ½ tsp citric acid

Directions

  1. Wearing latex gloves, pick elderberries from stems. Wash.
  2. In a large pot, bring berries and water to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 30 min. stirring occasionally.
  3. Strain/press through a fine sieve.
  4. Add sugar and citric acid to juice, bring to a boil. Cook syrup uncovered for 15 min, until sugar has dissolved and syrup-y consistency is reached.
  5. Fill into sterilized bottles with the help of a funnel and ladle.
  6. Keep in a cool, dark place. Refrigerate after opening.

Love,

Fruzsi

Image: Laura Muthesius / Our Food Stories

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3 Easy Ways to Freeze Your Herbs

close-up of basil plant

One of summer’s underrated pleasures is using your own fresh herbs. Wether from your garden, patio planter or windowsill pots, their flavor-boosting power will enhance your cooking all season long.

If you already have a herb garden, nod along: there is always a point during these few months when you find yourself with more than you can possibly use. Sadly fresh herbs, like summer itself, are but a fleeting moment.

But! While admittedly no storage method can faithfully retain the flavor and texture of fresh herbs, there are some simple techniques to preserve surpluses.

Dehydrating, a.k.a drying is one of those methods. It works best with woody herbs like bay leaf and rosemary however, drying may not be the most effective option with tender herbs like mint or basil. (I’m not saying you can’t dry soft-stemmed herbs, because you absolutely can. It’s just that some methods produce better results than others.)

Freezing is another option, and you know how much I love my freezer. It’s a fast and easy way that retains the taste, smell and nutrients found in fresh herbs long after the growing season has ended – the bounty will stay fresh for up to 12 months. Sadly it’s not perfect either, because there will be a change in color and texture: the formation of ice crystals destroys cell walls, turning the herbs limp after defrosting. Frozen herbs are also prone to freezer burn, this happens when the ice crystals in them go directly from solid ice form to water vapor.

All in all, frozen herbs are ideal in sauces, soups, marinades and stews, rather than thawed as a garnish. Freeze them in small portions and just take out what you need – it’s a great way to have herbs immediately for cooking.

I’ve collected 3 easy ways for you to freeze your herbs:

Chop & freeze. This is the most straightforward thing to do, but also the highest risk of freezer burn. Store chopped herbs in portions in small zipper-lock bags, flattened, with the air pressed out as much as possible.

Frozen, covered with water. Chop herbs and place portions in an ice-cube tray, cover with water. Freeze, than transfer cubes to a zipper-lock bag to store. Tip: I use this method to make what I call lemonade starters – I place lemon slices and mint leaves in my muffin tray, fill holes with water and freeze.

Frozen, covered with oil. Preserving herbs in oil yields the best results in my experience – the method reduces some of the browning and the oil-based cubes also melt faster compared to water-covered cubes. Use the ice-cube tray slots and cover chopped herbs with a neutral vegetable oil or a mild olive oil. When solid, transfer cubes to a zipper-lock bag to store.

You can store the different varieties separate, or you can prepare herb mixes for foods you make often (think pasta sauce).

Have you tried any of these methods? How did they work out for you? Which are your favorite herbs to preserve? Let me know!

Love,

Fruzsi

Title image ‘Close-up of basil plant’ via Freepik

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf with Elderflower Glaze

lemon poppy seed bread with elderflower glazeWe’ve got a weird spring this year. March was colder than usual, while April turned out to be the warmest in 110+ years. Completely missed that lovely transitional time, went instead from winter coats to short sleeves in a matter of days. Nature is perplexed too – tulips lasted less than a week, lilacs were over before Mother’s Day, black locust are literally everywhere now, a month early.

Same goes for elderflower. I realized they started blooming on one of our walks around the neighbourhood last week. I knew I had to act if I don’t want to miss my window for elderflower cordial so I grabbed a basket and a pair of pruning shears. Ended up with a few nasty scars in the hedgerow, but they’ll heal. The things I do for my cordial! 🙂

Anyway, the syrup is already bottled up and sitting in the pantry. I popped the first one open to make the glaze for this easy dessert I’ve been wanting to bake ever since we were served a slice (ok, I took two…) at the calligraphy workshop with lovely Boglarka Gleichauf (make sure to check her page The Fanatic Calligrapher!). It’s Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake.

The batter is an easy pound cake variation made with basic ingredients, not much to talk about really. It’s just a few minutes to throw together, but the combination of lemon and poppy seed makes this otherwise simple loaf so fresh and cheerful. Hubby said it tastes like sunshine. It’s also moist and tender, and let’s not forget that luscious glaze with the heady aroma of elderflower. What’s not to love?

Now, before I give you the recipe I have to tell I don’t care much for citrus zest so I simply omit it from my cooking. The juice of the lemon gives enough tartness to this cake by itself in my opinion, but do feel free to add the zest as well if it’s something you like.

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake with Elderflower Glaze

  • Difficulty: easy
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Moist pound cake with the fresh taste of lemon, crunchy poppy seeds and fragrant elderflower glaze.

Ingredients

For the batter:

2 cups AP flour

2 tbsp poppy seeds

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

6 tbsp butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 cup natural yogurt

3 tbsp fresh lemon juice + zest (optional)

For the glaze:

2 tbsp elderflower syrup

1 cup powderd sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 175°C/350°F. Line with parchment paper and grease a loaf pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and poppy seeds.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar with a handheld mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Add yogurt and lemon juice, mix to fully incorporate.
  4. Switch to a spatula. Add flour mixture to egg mixture in 3 additions, folding until just combined.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 min to 1 h depending on your oven.
  6. Let loaf cool in pan for 15 min. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
  7. While loaf is cooling, make glaze: mix syrup with powdered sugar. Pour over loaf. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I have visited and paid for the service mentioned in this post. What I write about business establishments on My Chest of Wonders represents my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship, commissions or gifts.*

Mother’s Day Gift Idea: Flavored Sugars

infused sugar

I’ve first encountered flavored sugars at my local Lidl, and even though I consider myself a conscious consumer, the marketing totally worked. I mean let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want something called Deluxe Baked Apple Flavour Sugar? Especially on a dark and rainy fall afternoon.

Although I love this product, at one point I started thinking how difficult could it be to make something similar at home. A quick Pinterest search later I realized these fancy sugars are a hit! Bonus points for being inexpensive and virtually endless in variety.

Anything you’d use plain white sugar in/on can be spruced up with infused sugars: they are wonderful to have on hand for stirring into coffee, sprinkling over oatmeal, waffles, pancakes, cookies, even to garnish the rim of a cocktail glass. They take anything up a notch.

The technique for making infused sugars is so straightforward I wouldn’t even call it a recipe, pretty much like infused salts. You will need 4 parts plain ol’ granulated sugar, brown sugar or powdered sugar, plus 1 part flavor of your choosing. Let the sugar sit for at least one week to get optimal flavor.

Spices may be added ground or whole, or both for a pretty presentation (you can always strain the infused sugar into a separate bowl before using to flavor something where bigger particles are not welcome).

Store your creations in small airtight jars (I love these affordable ones from Ikea). My  vanilla-cinnamon sugar is kept in a sifter-shaker so it’s ready for a generous dusting whenever inspiration strikes, which is often.

Flavored sugars made with dry ingredients (like vanilla, cinnamon or culinary-grade lavender) last for months, while varieties with wet ingredients (like fresh mint leaves or citrus rind) have a shorter shelf life of a few weeks. Don’t forget to mark the date you made each batch on the container. Your infusion might clump up a little while drying, but a good shake helps break it up before using.

Consider creating a gift set for Mother’s Day with nice tags and suggestions to use. Have fun experimenting with interesting flavor combinations, and don’t forget to tell me about it!

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders, what I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion. I am not being compensated through sponsorship, commissions or gifts. No affiliate links are included in this post.*

The Science of Jam Making

apricot jam

Yes, the last snows have just melted and any fresh fruit is still a while away, but being prepared never hurt nobody, right? Read on so you’ll be well-educated and ready when all those lovely local strawberries hit the stands of your farmers market!

Up until recently, I thought jam making was kind of an occult science. Weird, because I watched my grandmother and mother make batch after batch after batch as I was growing up, and it seemed to be the most straightforward thing in the world. Still, I was intimidated to try myself because I could only think of the ways it could go wrong – what if my jam spoils and I food-poison my family?

I don’t think either granny or my mom ever worried about their jar disinfecting practices or pectin percentages, but I am admittedly a bit of a nerd. So if you too are curious about how jam making works, geek out with me for a bit and learn the simple science behind this preserving method. It’s gonna be fun!

First of all, why bother with jam making at all? Two reasons. First, although the quality of commercial jams are improving, those are still just the shadows of a good homemade jam, often containing more coloring, preservatives and artificial flavors than actual fruit. And also because buying jam gives no way near the satisfaction of making it yourself!

Once I made my first batch, there was no stopping me. Pictured above is a vanilla-cardamom apricot preserve from last summer. I have dozens of flavor variations in a notebook that I want to try, and the list is growing.

So what is jam?

The wonderful jams of summers past are actually creative exercises in chemistry. Today, jam generally refers to a spreadable, chunky-textured mix made from the juice and flesh of fruit. A clever balance of pectins, sugar, and acid turns the cooked fruit into our favorite topping for toast.

The fruit

The choice of fruit for jam-making is simply endless. Always try to use seasonal fruit to get the best flavour. Remove leaves and twigs, wash if needed, remove cores and/or stones.

The equipment

You’ll need a wide-mouthed pan big enough that the fruit does not reach more than halfway up the side. Use one with a heavy bottom for even heat distribution – otherwise the jam will catch and burn. Also, a wooden preserving spoon (it has a flat head that helps keep the mixture moving and stops it sticking to the bottom of the pan), a ladle, a funnel, jars, and optionally a food thermometer.

The chemistry

To achieve a perfectly set jam, a number of factors need to be just right. The three key elements that go into jam making are sugar, pectin, and acids. Understanding the chemistry behind why jam sets can also help you identify and fix problems.

The sugar

Sugar imparts a preservative effect: binding water molecules to itself reduces the amount of water available in the jam, to the point at which it is too low for microbial growth. Binding the water molecules also frees up the pectin chains so they can form their network.

Finished jams have a sugar content of roughly 60%. To achieve this, recipes comprise mostly equal weights of fruit and sugar. While you can totally play with this 1:1 ratio, be aware that too much fruit and you may lose the preserving effect, while too much sugar and the jam will be the consistency of set honey, losing the color and aroma of the fruit.

The pectin

Pectins are long, chain-like sugar molecules found in the skins and cores of fruit. These compounds are the ones that turn the wet, sloppy fruit sauce into the semi-rigid, elastic substance of our dreams, a texture referred to as a gel.

Through boiling, pectin is released from the fruit and at one point forms a mesh structure that holds the liquid together. As the pectin content of different fruits varies, some may require an added dose in the form of commercially packed pectin or a pectin-rich other fruit. See this chart for specific pectin contents.

The acid

High acidity makes your jam an unpleasant place for micro organisms to breed, helping to extend the shelf life. Acids also help the pectin branches to bond. Fruits naturally contain acids (the most well-known is citric acid), but often this won’t be enough to reach the desired pH. For this reason, lemon juice or powdered forms of citric acid is added. As a rough guide, the juice of a whole lemon (30-40 ml) will be needed for low acid fruits, half a lemon will be enough for medium acid fruits, and you won’t need any for high acid fruits. In general, fruits with high pectin will also have high acidity.

The process

Heat the fruits slowly, without sugar, until a very gentle boil is reached, then cook until just tender. The heat will break down the structure of the fruit, release the moisture and cause the whole fruit to soften. Add the sugar (it may foam up, so be careful). Allow the sugar to dissolve over a low heat then bring to the boil. If you want larger fruit pieces, avoid stirring at this point. Not only does the texture change by boiling, the water content is also reduced, increasing the concentration of sugar and fruit components. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the setting point is reached.

How do I know it’s ready?

There are simple ways of telling when the pectin network has formed and you are ready to pour the jam out. Get the thermometer: if the temperature is around 104-105°C, the sugar content is high enough to allow the pectin branches to join. A direct measurement can also tell the doneness: pour a small blob of jam on a saucer, let cool in the fridge and then push with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, it means the pectin network has solidified and setting point has been reached.

You can now take the jam off the heat. Note that if you don’t boil it long enough the pectin network will not form properly and you’ll end up with a sloppy liquid. Boil it too long though and you risk having a too thick preserve, losing the fresh flavour and color.

Time to can

Allow the jam to cool and thicken for about 10 minutes before pouring into prepared jars (read how to disinfect jars and lids here). Don’t leave it any longer, as lukewarm jam is a breeding ground for mildew spores present in the air. Each jar should be topped up to just less than a centimetre below the surface. Adjust lids, process, than cool jars.

Don’t forget to test your seals before labeling and putting jars away in your pantry! Gently press the middle of the lids with a finger – if the lid springs up when you release your finger, it’s not sealed properly. No need to throw these out, just keep refrigerated and consume shortly.

Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place away from direct sunlight and accidental freezing. Once a bottle of jam is opened, micro organisms have been reintroduced. The same applies as with unsealed jars: keep in the fridge and consume shortly.

Hope all this makes sense and you’ll try your hand at jam making too! Let me know!

Love,

Fruzsi

 

10+1 Essential Kitchen Gadgets to Get You Started With Baking

*This is not a sponsored post and no affiliate links are included. Images are used for illustrational purposes only*

If you are building your first kitchen or have decided to get more serious about your baking (Farewell, pre-made cookie doughs and muffin mixes!), thumbs up and welcome to the community! I made you a shopping list of the things you should own to make the most of your baking, all based on experience.

I am a self-taught baker and a sucker for all things kitchen. Sometimes I honestly feel I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an Ikea, let alone online shopping (can anyone relate?), but at least some good comes of my culinary hoarding problem – I can tell you what get’s used a lot and what stays idle collecting dust.

It’s funny because I’m actually a very conscious shopper but somehow could not yet master up that kind of moderation over kitchen-related purchases. Working on it though!

For a more minimalistic approach on your kitchen collection (or anything else, really), the first step is to get rid of the things that have accumulated in your space over time. I’m after the latest kitchen cull, where I was brutally honest with myself about the gear I really use, and the stuff that’s just taking up precious cupboard space.

I found a local charity that accepts kitchen goods as well, and donated my barely ever used items. If you are a bit of a kitchen hoarder like me, I strongly encourage you to take the time and clean out your cabinets. It’s liberating!

That said, the things you will actually make good use of are the following (you’ll find them at various price points so you can make it work whatever the budget):

#1 Baking spatula. You’d want to find the best combination of size, flexibility and strength: small enough to fit in jars, flexible enough to scrape the sides of bowls and strong enough to press down doughs. Also, look for a slightly angled tip and ’heatproof’ written on the label. (GIR Ultimate High Heat Silicone Spatula)

GIR Silicone Spatula

# 2 Balloon whisk for breaking up liquids, dispersing solids, and incorporating air. Get a medium and a small one with a comfortable, grippy handle and flexible wires. Choose the one with the more loops. Non-stick, no-scrape silicone coating on the wires is a plus. (OXO Good Grips Balloon Whisk)

OXO Good Grips Balloon Whisk

#3 Bench scraper. This rectangular piece of metal with a grip is used for cutting, scraping, lifting and folding pastry, bread and other doughs. The blade needs to be stiff enough for cutting, with a sharper blade rather than a dull one. Look for a model with a ruler on the edge for easy measurements. (Ateco Stainless Steel Bench Scraper)

ateco stainless steel bench scraper

#4 Measuring tools. More precisely, a sturdy Pyrex jug for liquid measures, and a set of measuring cups and spoons for dry goods. Stainless steel over plastic. (Pyrex Measuring Jug and Hudson Essentials Stainless Steel Measuring Cups Set)

pyrex measuring jug

hudson measuring cup set

#5 Mixing bowls. You’ll need a bigger and a smaller one, preferably microwave and dishwasher-safe. Opt for a design featuring a spout and a handle for easy, spill-free pouring. (Ikea VISPAD)

ikea mixing bowl set

#6 Pastry blender. This gadget is created to work solid fats quickly into flour without melting, but is equally good at mashing anything. Ok it’s not a necessity, but you still would be glad to have it around, trust me. Look for a solid stainless steel construction and sturdy handle. (Cake Boss Stainless Steel Pastry Blender)

Cake Boss Pastry Blender

#7 Pastry brush. To brush eggwash onto pastry or oil a baking tin. Pastry brush bristles come in plastic, silicone or natural fibres. Silicone brush strands are less likely to fall out or splinter, plus they wash easily. However, liquid tends to drip off silicone rather than grip. Natural brushes give a more even coat, but the bristles tend to flake. Whichever material you choose, go for a brush that’s flexible, soft-haired, wide and flat. (Matfer Pastry Brush)

matfer patry brush

#8 Scale. If you’re still wondering why you need one: for more accurate measures and more consistent results. You’d be surprised how wildly inaccurate volumetric measurements can be! A small, reliable digital scale that can do conversions is a must-have kitchen tool and could be the difference between a perfect or a collapsed cake. (AWS Digital Scale)

AWS digital kitchen scale

#9 Sieves. Bowl-shaped metal sieves are among a kitchen’s most versatile tools. The metal mesh has to be able to handle some pressure without pulling loose from its frame. They come with medium (used for sifting, draining and straining), fine (for separating particles and refining textures), and superfine mesh for dusting. (Premium Fine Mesh Strainers)

premium fine mesh strainers

#10 Thermometer. In recipes calling for specific internal cooking temperatures, a thermometer can make all the difference between a perfectly done dish and one that’s under or overcooked. An instant-read digital thermometer is generally more accurate, consistent and convenient to use than an analog. (Habor Instant-Read Digital Thermometer)

Habor Instant-Read Food Thermometer

+1 Stand mixer. If you can only afford one splurge, a stand mixer should be it. Totally pays off! I don’t happen to own the you-know-which-one generic trademark, but I’m perfectly happy with my more affordable piece as well. These workhorses are more efficient at evenly combining ingredients than a human could ever be, and help cut down on prep times tremendously. (KitchenAid Classic Plus Series)

KitchenAid Classic Plus white

So that’s my list. Curious to see how yours look like!

Love,

Fruzsi

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Dear All,

I am a bit sad but also very excited at the same time. I am writing this post to tell you that after much consideration, I’ve decided I will temporarily focus my attention elsewhere.

My Chest of Wonders was always a hobby for me. As a creative outlet, it gave me so much – I’ve learned a great deal in the past 2 years. I still love blogging, cooking, creating recipes and sharing it with you, but I am currently working on a new project and after that and a nine to five, I just don’t think I’ll have the time to create content on a regular basis like I used to.

I wish I could keep doing it, but for the foreseeable future I’m going on a different path. This is not a farewell though, rather hitting pause on a few things to be able to focus on others. I am keeping the blog, but I might not update it every week like I used to.

So whether you are a Follower, Reader, or Visitor dropping by, thank you! Thank you for all the encouraging words left in the comments, for every like and click. I hope I will be seeing you soon.

Have a lovely week!

Love,

Fruzsi