My grandmother had a vast orchard, filled with dark plums. I’m sure there was more than one variety of tree, but it’s the dark blood plums I remember. And her dark plum jam, and her jam drops.
I can remember watching her cream butter and sugar without the help of electric beaters. I also remember being allowed to press the dent into the drop biscuits with my thumb. Unfortunately, my grandmother didn’t think her biscuits were anything special, so she never told us the recipe and she never wrote it down. It left me and my mother scrambling last weekend to try to remember what these jam drop biscuits looked and tasted like so we could recreate the recipe for you all.
They would have been sweet, said my mum, Grandma thought sugar strengthened the blood, and she used a lot of it. I thought there would be egg: grandma had chooks., so eggs were never in short supply. None of this cake-without-egg rubbish for her!
Did she use plain or self-raising flour (or flour + baking powder)? Only the cooked biscuit would tell us the answer to that one. I did try self-raising flour, but the drops turned into massive UFO-type saucers, so no. Probably not plain flour.
And we didn’t have any dark plum jam. But there was rose petal jam. And although I said the English-style rose petal jam wasn’t a success, the jam we had was what we used since it has set to be reasonably solid by the time we made these biscuits.
- ½ cup of butter (4 oz, 125 g)
- ½ cup of caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
- 1 egg
- 1½ cups of plain flour
- jam (about ¼ of a cup, maybe more)
- Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is pale yellow and you can’t feel the grit of the sugar. (It’s much easier if you let the butter soften a bit first – half an hour on the bench is more than enough in an Australian summer.)
- Mix in the vanilla and egg, then sift the flour into the mix and fold it in. (Sift a bit of flour at a time to avoid a big, floury mess.)
- Dust your hands with some flour, and roll the dough into balls to about the size of a small walnut (golfball size will be too big), and sit them on a greased and lined baking tray so they’re about 5 centimetres apart.
- Make a deep and narrow dent into the top of each ball. You can use your thumb, but the handle of a wooden spoon works well too.
- Pop the trays into the fridge for about half an hour. This step will stop the jam drops from spreading. It’s essential in an Australian summer.
- Dollop about ½ teaspoon of jam into each of those dents, then bake in a 180ºCelcius (350F) oven for about 15 minutes, or until they’re a nice golden colour.
- Let them cool on the trays for about half an hour to give them time to crisp before moving them.
This probably isn’t exactly the recipe my grandma used, but these jam drops match my memory of them perfectly: the shape, the size, the colour.
It helps to use a jam that’s reasonably solid. Otherwise the liquid can seep into the biscuits and give you a result you really don’t want.