When I was a kid I tasted marmalade and thought it was disgusting.
Well, it’s like this: I was a Welch’s grape jelly fan. Welch’s grape jelly was sold in a glass tumbler with Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters on the side. Your Mom could wash out the tumbler when it was empty and then you’d drink your milk from this stylish new addition to her kitchen ware. So, there was fat little Mikey with Yogi Bear printed on the side of his glass of milk and a PB&J on Wonder in front of him. All in all, not a bad little scene.
But marmalade…it was foreign. It came in a white jar. It was bitter. Your dusty, grey, old Aunties ate it on barely toasted English muffins. Even Yogi Bear, that ursine, groovy, beatnik dude on the constant prowl for a “pic-a-nik” basket would have passed on PB & marmalade.
My stance has softened slightly, a change of perception related to my decline into physical decrepitude; marmalade has not changed a bit. Age and who-knows-what-else have dampened my palate to the point where I find marmalade’s somewhat aggressive tendencies almost admirable. Almost.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been marmalade moments in my adulthood. Don’t we all go through our experimental phases? I had a stage where I would dilute marmalade with a dash of Cointreau and use it as a baste and marinade for chicken. I do not normally go for sweet main dishes, but certain foods seem to give you permission for this. Pork Tenderloin cooked with maple syrup? Yum-o (to steal an expletive from Rachael Ray.)
I have also heated it and pushed it through a sieve then brushed it on fruit tarts as a glaze. But in its purest form straight from the jar on the aforementioned under-browned English muffin? Sorry, no.
But if marmalade has always caused me a visceral “oh-oh!” as I roam the peanut butter aisle and scan the rows of friendly jams and jellies stacked at my supermarket, I must confess to a bit of shame too. I think marmalade can be prettier than the murky, candied purple of grape jelly, or the sludgy red or strawberry jam. If my choice were purely visual I’d vote the marmalade ticket, as I find its stained glass, sunset blush very seductive.
About a week ago, I actually held a jar of marmalade in my hand and thought, “SOMEONE likes this stuff. They wouldn’t sell it if no one liked it.” In a clear example of projecting my own feelings of…what…inadequacy perhaps, I decided that clearly it wasn’t marmalade’s fault but my own. “Give the stuff a chance,” I argued. I dropped the jar into my basket. Amazing what a bit of mild self-shaming can do. (Don’t go to the supermarket with me. Clearly there’s too much thinking going on.)
How do you turn over a new leaf? Call me “Old Auntie” if you must, but yes, my first test was glopping the stuff on a barely toasted English muffin. I gotta say: still not my bagatelle. If you are trying to show off the bitter nature of marmalade this is the way to go. Keep calm and carry on, yes? I toasted another English muffin, this time letting it actually reach that ideal crunchy brown state. Then I buttered the English muffin—but not too much. Just enough to dampen the nooks and crannies while retaining a bit of crunch. Then and only then was a layer, a mere glazing, of marmalade applied, inspired by the light touch called for on fruit tarts. Much more satisfying. Clearly a little goes a long way. And clearly the butter had properties that tamped down the marmalade’s more aggressive tendencies.
This inspired a few thoughts: marmalade butter. Marmalade is mixed into softened butter and presented as a spread for toast. Then I thought of mixing a bit of the marmalade into homemade ice cream, but since it is after labor day I cannot make ice cream. (Oh yeah: that’s a rule.)
Into this mix was thrown an early morning breakfast meeting. Naturally this required baking some corn muffins. (Naturally…) My usual recipe for corn muffins requires a little grated orange zest and the merest kiss of orange juice—just enough to “goose” what is usually a predictable muffin. As a daring experiment I decided to forgo the zest and juice in favor of a tablespoon of marmalade added to the liquid ingredients. (Yes, I know: How brave. Thank you.)
Makes perfect sense, yes? The marmalade already has little bits of orange, and obviously quite a bit of juice. Granted, a bit more sugar, but I didn’t add the whole jar. Did the folks who ate the corn muffins feel the earth move? No, but they enjoyed them. Yes, I set the bar low.
This brought to mind a summer standby recipe. I bake Ina Garten’s Lemon Pound Cake at least once per summer. It is easy, enormous, easily transported, and always gets nods of approval. The trick to her recipe is that once you turn the cake out of its pan you “baste” it with warm, sweetened lemon juice. I pondered the possibilities of a similar cake, but substituting the marmalade to accomplish the same task as the lemon juice.
The other shortcut this would allow is that I won’t have to grate the zest of the lemons as I do when baking Ina’s cake: the marmalade comes fully loaded with zest and bits of orange. Some marmalade went into the cake, some was heated and painted on top as a glaze and soaked into the cake as it cooled. You can see from the picture above the result is as succulently moist as Ina’s.
While Ina’s cake is like unrepentant about its lack of complexity, the Orange Marmalade cake holds a bit of mystery. The bitter orange happily misleads the tongue into thinking something else is going on…booze perhaps?
No. No booze. Just something foreign.
Here’s the recipe for Orange Marmalade Cake
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