I love shopping for preserves, and I love eating preserves. I love making preserves too, but here’s the thing: I cannot stand recipes that suggest that I cook my jam to the “desired consistency” or until it “passes the wrinkle plate test”. Say what?
Let’s be honest. I am not an expert at making preserves. Hence, I lack experience and therefore the visual cues are just about indistinguishable. As I stir boiling marmalade, sometimes I can feel that perhaps it is thicker than initially. Maybe. Well, I’m not entirely sure. See my point?
I hate guessing games and, as you know, I love to measure everything. And that is how the marmalade temperature experiment was born.
How do you know when marmalade is set?
You have three basic options for determining if your marmalade has cooked enough and will set
- the bubbles: when the marmalade first comes to a boil, the bubbles are quite volatile, they form and pop almost instantaneously, whereas when the marmalade has thickened enough, the bubbles will be more stable and resemble blinking fish eyes.
- the wrinkle plate test: freeze a few small saucer plates in your freezer overnight. When you think your marmalade is cooked enough, retrieve a saucer from the freezer and place a dollop of hot marmalade on the plate. Put it back in the freezer for 1 minute, then take it out and push the dollop with your finger: if the dollop wrinkles nicely, your marmalade is probably done, if it’s still too fluid to wrinkle, keep cooking.
- the temperature: measure the temperature with a candy thermometer. You want to cook marmalade to somewhere in the range of 217ºF to 221ºF, depending on how fluid or thick you want it. Don’t overcook your marmalade because the peel will become chewy, so be careful how high you push the temperature before you stop cooking.
I cooked up a batch of three fruit marmalade, using the whole fruit method (no pectin). It contained two oranges, one lemon, and a grapefruit to be exact (
recipe to come later this week, so stay tuned! click here for the recipe ). I measured the temperature as the marmalade bubbled away with a pink Thermapen (Amazon), and I took samples every degree, starting at 217°F and all the way up to 222°F. I chose this range because most of the recipes I perused recommended cooking to somewhere in that range.
As the marmalade boiled and I sampled away, I honestly thought my experiment was a flop.
I could not have been more mistaken.
Behold, the results!
What is the setting temperature for marmalade?
It turns out there is a significant difference between marmalade cooked to 217°F and marmalade cooked to 222°F. To be more specific, I would remark that:
- marmalade cooked to the lower end of the range (217–218°F) has a bright citrus flavour like fresh citrus fruit, but it is more on the watery side of set. The peel is very tender. Marmalade cooked to this temperature dribbles off your toast and leaves a trail in your kitchen or on your keyboard, if you are like me, doing chores while eating marmalade on toast in the morning, without a plate to catch the drips. Delicious, but drippy.
- marmalade cooked to the middle of the range (219°F) is not as drippy, but not overly set. The flavour is still bright and the peel is tender, but the preserve is just a touch thicker.
- marmalade cooked to the upper end of the range (220–221°F) is set just right: 220°F is considered the setting point of jam, and this is where things get really interesting. The marmalade is much thicker, but with a touch of dribble to it, the peel is firmer, and the flavour is completely different. The citrus flavour is still there, but it’s not as bright. The caramel undertone is coming through and there’s a bit of a bitter orange flavour that lingers.
- marmalade cooked to 222°F is chewy and even thicker: this is the upper limit, in my opinion, as beyond this point, the peel gets really, really chewy. At 222°F, the peel is a “nice” chewy. Past 222°F, the peel is bordering on tough, and not so pleasant.
- pectin: I must admit that this dollop of pectin-set orange marmalade was store-bought, not homemade and I felt it would be interesting to compare the texture to homemade marmalade made without pectin. The pectin-set marmalade is more jellied, and definitely not my preferred texture. It smears funnily on toast, and I found the jiggle of the pectin-set marmalade unpleasant, and a little freaky.
It’s honestly a matter of personal preference, but now I hope that you can better understand your options and pick your favourite. I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong. Well… there’s definitely no wrong when it comes to marmalade. I love them all. My favourite was definitely above 219°F. Probably 220–221°F. I love the flavour of the marmalade in this range, and I am happy that it will stay put on my toast. Then again, I cooked a batch of marmalade to 222°F and I love how it’s a little darker, with a deeper flavour. In a perfect world, I would have a jar from each temperature on hand, at all times, to suit my mood.
Which marmalade do you think you would prefer?
The recipe for this three fruit marmalade is now available on Kitchen Heals Soul.