Marmalade season means it’s time to stock up on the delicious breakfast preserve. Here are a baker’s dozen of my top hints and tips for successful marmalade making.
Orange marmalade is a delicious and distinctive preserve, and such a crucial part of British food culture that I can’t imagine ever going without. Homemade is always best and it’s not difficult. Read on for all my favourite hints and tips to help you make and enjoy your best marmalade yet!
Marmalade ingredients and preparation tips
Use only Seville oranges! Don’t make marmalade from regular dessert oranges, which are too sweet. They need to be bitter Seville oranges for that traditional marmalade flavour.
I promise that this is not some sort of orange snobbery. Botanically, Citrus x sinesis is the sweet dessert type of orange and Citrus x aurantium the bitter type that you want for marmalade, and there is a real difference. You may find that the local supermarket sells Sevilles as ‘marmalade oranges’.
You can make other marmalades with different citrus fruits – blood oranges, limes, or grapefruit, for example – but for the mainstay of the breakfast table, it’s Seville oranges all the way.
- How to make classic Seville orange marmalade
- Pressure cooker marmalade – speed things up by cooking the oranges in a pressure cooker
- Sticky marmalade loaf cake is perfect for afternoon tea
Take time to cut the peel
This is not something to skimp on and is worth doing properly.
One of the most important tips for good marmalade is to take time cutting the peel to the size you prefer. I find that it’s better to cut smaller, even though I like coarse-cut marmalade. Marmalade jelly sticks to the peel, making it larger than when first cut.
For the best looking marmalade, the peel should be cut to a uniform size. This also means the pieces will be evenly cooked.
I prefer to cut the peel by hand for longer pieces, rather than use a food processor which results in small chunks.
A good heavy, large saucepan is the only essential. The marmalade should only half fill the pan when all the sugar is dissolved, to make sure there is enough space for a good rolling boil.
However, some other pieces of equipment can be helpful.
An electric juicer really makes it much easier to process the fruit. It’s important to keep the pith and pips from the oranges, as they contain a lot of pectin, which sets the marmalade.
I always use a jam funnel when filling jam jars. They make life so much easier! I am also now a fan of spooning my preserve into a Pyrex glass jug, and then pouring it into the jars. This makes it far easier to judge quantities and fill level.
Cooking the marmalade
Don’t try to make too much marmalade at once. The bitterness of the oranges means that you add a lot more sugar to marmalade than other jams, and all that sugar means that you get a significant yield, of about 4 kg of marmalade from one kilo of fruit.
It’s far better to make two batches than find yourself with an overflowing saucepan. After adding sugar, the pan should be no more than half full to give space for the bubbles as it boils.
This is one of my favourite marmalade tips, as it means you can vary your recipe. Make one batch with lots of dark, strongly flavoured sugar and add whisky, one batch with mostly (or all) white granulated sugar and no whisky for a clean, Seville orange taste.
Cooking in stages
The Seville orange season is short, but you don’t have to miss out on a supply for the year if it’s not the right time for you to start preserving.
The oranges can be frozen whole, or the cooked fruit can be frozen before the sugar is added. Marmalade from frozen fruit might be a little darker than from fresh, but it’s a lot better than having none!
Remember that you don’t have to make all the marmalade in one go. As I suggested in the tip above, making your marmalade in batches means that you can vary the flavours, the style and the shred.
If freezing whole oranges, do make sure that the bag is carefully labelled, so that you know whether they are raw or cooked. If you make marmalade without cooking the fruit, the peel will be very tough and chewy. I learned this from experience!
Cooking the peel
Don’t overcook the peel! It needs to be cooked enough to be soft, so that it breaks up when pressed between two fingers, or with a spoon on a plate.
When simmering the peel, check to see how well it is cooked when the liquid has reduced by about a third.
A long, slow simmer helps to release pectin from the pips and pith. Don’t overcook it, though, as that simply boils away the flavour.
Let it stand overnight
Leaving the cooked fruit to stand in the liquid overnight with the bag of pith and peel helps to release even more pectin into the mixture, making for a better set.
This is especially helpful if the fruit has been cooked in a pressure cooker.
Don’t use jam sugar
You do not need to use jam sugar. There’s plenty of pectin in the pith and pips of Seville oranges. Using jam sugar with added pectin will result in an overset marmalade. I think half the point of home made marmalade is that it isn’t set solidly, like that bought in a shop.
Vary the mix of sugar for different flavours. Adding some dark sugar, or even a little molasses or black treacle really adds flavour to your preserve. Not too much, though, or the sugar flavour will overpower the fruit. I prefer a mix where at least half the sugar is plain white granulated.
Dissolve the sugar properly
Heat the mixture slowly after adding the sugar, to dissolve the sugar.
Some recipes call for the sugar to be heated, but it is really not worth the extra effort. Dealing with a large dish of hot sugar is a step you do not need! Just add the sugar to simmering fruit and stir it in.
Make sure that all the sugar is dissolved before turning up the heat to bring the marmalade to a fast rolling boil to set it.
This makes sure the sugar at the bottom of the pan does not burn.
Use more than one method to test setting point. I find the combination of a digital jam thermometer and the flake method works well for me. It’s a belt-and-braces approach that really helps judge when the marmalade is set.
Test early and test often!
Marmalade has quite a narrow window when it is at setting point. Keep testing. As you approach setting point, take the pan off the heat as you test. It can go over in the time it takes to test.
Tips for filling the jars
Clean and hot jars
Make sure the jars are scrupulously clean and pre-heated before filling. The only way to properly sterilize jars is in a waterbath, but I find that if they’re absolutely clean and hot, I never have a problem with mould.
I always heat my jars by placing them in a roasting dish in a low oven for at least 15 minutes. I leave the jars in the roasting tin as I fill them with marmalade. Then any spills are easy to deal with. Should the worst happen and a jar explode, the clean up is easy.
It’s best not to use a lid that has been used previously for chutney or other vinegary preserves, as this will taint the marmalade. One of the best things we did was to buy a batch of jam jars, making it easy to buy replacement lids when needed. Much better than having a myriad of different sized jars.
If only one person in the household loves marmalade, one of my top tips is to try to use small jars.
Let the marmalade stand
Wait a little before filling the jars! The marmalade needs to cool and set slightly so that the peel is evenly distributed through the jars, rather than all floating at the top.
Once you have mastered your base marmalade recipe, it is time to add some variations.
This is a delicious variation, made by adding some whisky to the marmalade just before filling the jars. If you want to make whisky marmalade, add about 1 tbsp per kilo of marmalade.
Don’t overdo it, though! Add just enough whisky to give the marmalade a hint of extra flavour. The flavour should not be overpowering.
It is easy to forget to add the whisky. I find it a good idea to leave the bottle on the countertop to remind me, as it’s very easy to leave it out in the rush of reaching the setting point. Don’t use your best malt – a reasonable blended whisky is perfect here.
Orange and ginger marmalade
Use a little of the syrup from crystallized ginger, or finely chop some crystallized ginger to add to your orange marmalade. Use in moderation unless you like it really fierce! Add at the end once you have reached setting point.
Experiment! How about using a hint of rum, cognac or armagnac in your marmalade? If you want to make champagne marmalade, a mini bottle of champagne, prosseco or cava will be useful.
If you vary the recipe, make notes. I usually write small and stick a parcel label to the back of one of the jars. Keep a record of your own hints and tips because there is nothing more annoying that making the best batch of marmalade ever and not being able to repeat it because you can’t remember what you did!
If making marmalade has woken the jam making bug, it’s not long until the next adventure in preserving! The season for delicious rhubarb jam follows quickly after marmalade time.
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