This year at Christmas I wrote on the holiday menu, “I’ve been wanting to make a Bûche de Noël for years. Simple in concept, enchanting in execution, this sponge cake, rolled with buttercream and frosted with ganache, is shaped to look like a log, decorated with meringue mushrooms. That said, I have never made one before. It will be part of the grand adventure of this year’s Christmas dinner. Or, it will fail miserably and I’ll put out a plate of Mom’s cookies. Either way you win.”
The buttercream took me two tries. The cake took three. After the second try my Mom suggested that a plate of cookies would be “just as special,” but I was determined.
What does this have to do with plum chutney? In the test kitchen this week we tried four different versions. There was broad disagreement on a winner, ultimately, because there wasn’t one. I woke up Friday morning determined to get it right. My Saturday morning demos at Eastern Market are a passion and while I don’t want to let “perfect” be the enemy of “good,” just good is never good enough.
After reading another fifteen chutney recipes, a new plan emerged. Ginger and cardamom were replaced by cinnamon and star anise. A different vinegar, Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry, offered more depth, spice and acidity than its predecessors. More sugar brought out the fruit that had been dull in previous attempts.
The extra effort paid off at dinnertime. The chutney paired wonderfully with salt-and-fennel crusted, roast pork tenderloin. Or just spread it with cream cheese on a bagel.
My test batch at home included jalapeño but I didn’t see any at the market this week. It tasted great both ways!
- 4 cups chopped plums, about 6
- 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup diced red onion, about 1 medium
- 1/2 jalapeño minced
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 star anise pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/4 cup Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar*
*One of my favorites from Sapore, well worth the online order. Can’t wait for it to ship? Try 1/2 white vinegar and 1/2 Sherry vinegar for both high acidity and depth.
- Mix together ingredients in a 3-quart saucepan and cook 30 minutes, until thick and bubbly. The plums will release a lot of liquid. Start heat at medium high and lower as chutney reduces to avoid burning.
- Remove cinnamon and star anise pods.
- Cool to room temperature and chill. The chutney will last up to a week in the refrigerator, or can be canned or frozen.