Plums that are hard and boring when raw, can be transformed into something delicious when poached in a simple syrup. Here the syrup is half water and half red wine, the wine adding a lovely warming depth to the flavour. The star anise, a lovely spice, is perfect with the plums. The cooked plums should be holding their shape perfectly, but still tender enough to fall away from the stone with a gentle push of a fork or spoon. Serve these plums warm or chilled and they are delicious with whipped cream, yoghurt or crème fraîche or with yoghurt and star anise mousse. Any of the wine and plum syrup left over after eating the plums can be made into a lovely jelly. The syrup also makes an excellent cocktail when diluted with sparkling water and stiffened with a splash of vodka.

Ingredients

  • 900g plums
  • 550g sugar
  • 2-3 star anise pods
  • 300ml cold water
  • 300ml red wine
  • For the Plum Jelly from leftover plum poaching syrup:
  • 300ml of plum poaching syrup
  • 1½ tsp powdered gelatin
  • 1½ tblsp water

Method

  • Dark red or blood plums are ideal here. Unusually, I don't mind if they are hard as they are transformed in the cooking to a state of tender deliciousness
  • Star anise is a lovely spice and its distinctive and quite beautiful star-shaped appearance is as lovely as its heady aroma. A word of caution though: if you are heavy handed with it, its forthright flavour and heady scent can move from being sweet and exotic to being more reminiscent of cheap pot pourri - not good.
  • Put the whole plums, sugar, star anise, water and wine in a saucepan and bring slowly to a simmer.
  • Cover the saucepan and poach the plums at a simmer on a gentle heat until they are just starting to tenderise. This will take about 20 minutes, but keep a good eye on them as different varieties of plum, and plums in different stages of ripeness, will vary in cooking times.
  • The plums should be holding their shape and feeling a little underdone in the middle when you remove from the heat. They will continue to soften as the syrup cools.
  • Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.
  • For the Plum Jelly: This jelly, made with surplus plum poaching syrup, is simple and effective. I usually serve it with a little softly whipped cream and a biscuit such as caramel and almond flats.
  • Carefully mix the water and gelatin in a pyrex jug. Place in the fridge to 'sponge'.
  • Remove from the fridge, and dissolve the gelatin by placing the jug in a saucepan of barely simmering water.
  • As soon as the gelatin looks completely clear and with no remaining granules un-dissolved, pour the syrup on to the gelatin while stirring gently to mix.
  • Decant the liquid into a bowl or individual glasses or cups and place in the fridge to set.
  • If you wish to turn out the jelly, the setting dish must be lightly oiled with a tasteless oil such as sunflower to help it to slide out in a neat fashion later. The jelly should set in 2-3 hours.