Hot Pepper Jelly is a delight to have in your pantry. Spicy, tangy, and sweet, the jelly is fantastic as an easy appetizer and as a delicious condiment. This recipe is less sweet than usual, but still perfectly balanced in flavour. You can customize the heat level to your liking.
Life's always a bit better when you spice it up, right? And if there's a touch of sweetness in there . . . even better yet!
This hot pepper jelly gives you just the right amount of both. You can get your sweet-n-spicy on, with an extra bit of tang in there, too.
Sweet bell pepper flecks mingle with hot peppers in a quivery soft jelly that's just perfect for spreading or dolloping onto whatever needs an extra bit of 'oomph'.
Hot pepper jelly makes a great appetizer to spoon onto crackers spread with a thick layer of cream cheese. Or, for a crowd, set the block of cream cheese onto a serving platter and pile a mound of pepper jelly on top of the cheese, allowing it to puddle down around it. People can scoop some of the cream cheese and jelly right onto their crackers. It's pretty addictive stuff.
Try using the pepper jelly to glaze chicken wings, pork chops, or other meats. Spread it on top of meatloaf instead of ketchup. Spread it on burgers or sandwiches (try a smear of it under the filling on an egg salad or tuna sandwich). Stir a spoonful into homemade salad dressings or pasta salads.
Hot pepper jelly was all the rage in the '80s and '90s. It's a retro food that's so delicious, it's making a comeback for good reason. You'll be happy you hopped onto the pepper wagon if you make up a batch.
Hop onto the Pepper Jelly Train
This recipe is much less sweet than traditional versions, but still just sweet enough to balance the heat and acidity perfectly. The secret here is using 'no sugar needed' pectin, which enables you to use less sugar without affecting how the jelly sets. (This recipe uses 3 cups of sugar, rather than the 5 cups needed to set the same amount of liquid using regular pectin.) The pepper jelly has a very soft set, making it ideal to use as a condiment, or even as a hot sauce (works great as a substitute for Thai sweet red chili sauce).
It's a surprisingly easy condiment to make, especially if you have a food processor or mini-chopper (do it in batches). You'll chop up a few sweet bell peppers for the base of the pepper 'flecks', then add your choice of hot peppers - jalapeños or whatever spicy peppers you have on hand (even dried red pepper flakes will work). Use whatever colour of bell peppers you like - you can go monochromatic and keep to all one colour, or use a rainbow of colours.
Make the Jelly as Spicy as You Like (or Dare)
The batch of jars on the left (below) was made using red and yellow bell peppers, plus jalapeños for the spice. They add little green specks which gives that batch a pretty rainbow effect and a nice manageable level of heat. If you want a green pepper jelly, you can use all green bell peppers, or for a yellow jelly with green flecks, just use yellow bell peppers plus green jalapeño, etc.
The batch of pepper jelly below on the right was also made with red and yellow bell peppers, but I used those nine tiny dried hot, hot, hot chilis that you see in the photo above. When chopped, they added up to only a half-tablespoon in total, but the jelly is 'HOT'! The peppers are an unknown variety grown by a friend of ours (thanks, Jan!). We watched him eat one raw and almost explode with the level of heat, so I knew they would be super spicy in this jelly. And they are. That batch is not for the faint of heart, I tell ya. (Wipes sweaty brow after tasting just a tiny spoonful.)
Luckily, the heat in hot peppers (produced by a compound called capsaicin) is neutralized somewhat by acid or sugar. This pepper jelly contains both, so you'll find that the spiciness is often tamed a bit once all the ingredients are added and the vinegar and sugar have had time to meld their flavours. Dairy is another food that can counteract excessive spicy heat (its fat molecules bind with the capsaicin to help neutralize it), so serving the pepper jelly with the traditional cream cheese can make it just right and deliciously 'more-ish'.
Whatever colours of bell peppers you use along with whatever type of spicy pepper, you can make the jelly to be whatever colour you like. And depending on how many and what type of hot peppers you add, that will affect the heat level. The most heat of a spicy pepper is in the seeds and inner membranes, so you can also choose whether you want to leave those in for added heat, or remove them for less heat.
All you need to do is trim and finely chop the peppers - a food processor works best for this.
The chop up the hot peppers - wearing disposable rubber gloves is definitely recommended (if not, make sure not to touch your eyes until you've thoroughly washed your hands!) I like to keep the seeds in the jalapeños and chop them by hand so I can get nice even small dice.
Then you just need to add some vinegar, a pinch of salt, and a garlic clove (or more) and boil it up with the powdered 'no sugar added' pectin. Add the sugar, then boil it hard for a minute, and put it into jars. (You can water-bath process the jars if you wish, but if you put the jelly boiling-hot into the sterilized jars and seal them immediately, I find they seal well on their own).
That's it - you've got some beautiful jars of amazing pepper jelly to have on hand for snacking all winter long - plus the jars make great hostess gifts, too!
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Hot Pepper Jelly - Sweet & Spicy
- disposable rubber gloves for handling the hot peppers
- food processor, mini chopper, or sharp knife but food processor or mini chopper work best
- canning jars and lids
- 1 lb (450 gms) finely minced bell peppers, weight after core, membranes, and seeds removed (about 3 large peppers, any colour) you'll need 2 cups, solidly-packed, with juices, after mincing in a food processor
- ¼ cup finely minced jalapeñoes or other hot peppers with juices, solidly packed (50gms/1¾oz weight after removing stems) - see note below leave seeds and membranes in for hot jelly (remove them for very mild heat, or remove them from half the peppers for medium heat)
- 1 large clove garlic, finely minced, grated, or pressed
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 cups (480ml) white vinegar (5% acidity) or apple cider vinegar
- 1 package (49gms/1.75oz) no-sugar-needed pectin crystals
- 3 cups (600gms) sugar
- Wash and sterilize 6 half-pint (250ml) canning jars (see instructions here), and keep them hot until you need them. Put the snap lids into a pot of barely simmering water to keep hot. Wash, rinse and drain the jar screw-rings and have them ready.
- To finely mince the peppers, a food processor or mini-chopper works best, so you get the juices. It works best to do them in 2 batches, as the peppers will mince more uniformly when using smaller amounts. Remove the stems, seeds, and inner membranes from the bell peppers, cut them into chunks, and then process them until they are finely minced, but not mush, scraping down the sides in between. If there are any larger pieces, it's best to remove them and chop them by hand rather than over-processing the rest to mush. Measure the chopped peppers with their juices, and you should have 2 cups when firmly packed so the measuring cup is solidly filled.Mince the jalapeñoes or hot peppers the same way, or chop them finely by hand. You can remove the seeds and inner membranes for less heat in the jelly, or leave them in for a full heat level. Use rubber gloves when seeding or mincing hot peppers and don't touch your face until your hands are well washed afterward.
- Put the chopped peppers, salt, garlic, vinegar, and pectin into a large saucepan (at least 3 quarts/litres, as the jelly will foam up).
- Measure out the sugar into a bowl or spouted cup and set it close to the stove.
- Bring the pepper mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring occasionally.
- Pour in the sugar and bring it back to a full rolling boil that can't be stirred down.
- Boil hard for 1 minute.
- Remove from the heat and pour the jelly into the hot sterilized jars, stirring it between each jar so the pepper pieces get spread evenly amongst the jars. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp cloth. Add the hot metal snap lids directly from out of the hot water and screw on the metal screw-bands until finger tight.
- Set the jars upside-down (to help distribute the pepper pieces evenly in the jelly) onto a tea towel. After 30 minutes, carefully turn the jars upright and leave them undisturbed until they are cool.Before setting them onto the towel, the jars can be processed in a water bath for 10 minutes for added insurance against spoilage.
- The jelly will set fully once the jars are completely cooled. If any jars have not sealed, store the jelly in the refrigerator and use those jars first (they will last for months in the fridge).
- Leave the jars for at least a week for the flavours to develop before using them.
- Makes 6 half-pint (250ml) jars.
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