When I was little (yes, quite literally much shorter than I am now), my mom always took me grocery shopping. As we would peruse Idylwilde Farms, I was often fixated by the candied fruit section. I, of course, thought they were so pretty that they had to taste good. One time, we purchased such apricots.
I ate one…
…and was pretty disappointed by the rest. As a result, I lived a good portion of my life in opposition to apricots. I’d only really eaten the dried and sugared variety, and the idea that fresh apricots existed never crossed my mind.
Until, that is, I went to France during the early summer years ago. Apricots are everywhere and they don’t cost nearly as much abroad as in dear old New England. Though hesitant to try, a friend of mine picked up the golden yellow fruit, peeled it into two deliciously orange and fleshy slices, and handed me one saying, “Essaie, goûte-le !” otherwise stated as TRY IT.
How could I not like it ? The flavor bursts from the slightly furry skin, which adds a nice texture to a very soft and somewhat gooey interior. It’s sweet and tart and easy to eat – you just place both thumbs where the step peeks out, press in and pull apart. Perfect for a picnic. As a result of this obsession started later in life, my mom sometimes buys fresh apricots (she claims to have always loved them. I give myself some credit, however, since these fresh fruits had never shown up in the fruit bowl previously) and we race to finish them. After indulging in a whole box of them from Trader Joe’s (at a very fair price, I might add), I decided to cook with them, stumbling upon this recipe for “little apricot cakes” in Bon Appétit (June 2013). The recipe itself seemed great, but as a “true” apricot lover, I felt there wouldn’t be enough apricot implicated in the dessert’s design. What to do, what to do…
When in doubt, make a sauce ! So I’ve paired these little cakes with a warm apricot compote and vanilla ice cream. Think of it as…apricot shortcake ! Trust me, it was delicious and so easy to make, you might as well be blindfolded.
Welcome to the beginning of your apricot obsession.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg + 1 yolk (I had one kicking around in the fridge to use up)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole milk
3 apricots, halved, pitted, cut into wedges
2 tbsp sugar (raw suggested, I used regular)
Line one standard muffin tin with cupcake liners (or grease liberally with butter – it’s your call). This recipe will make 12 and only 12 cakes, so no need to neglect a space/fill with water.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and nutmeg. Whisk together to combine, then set aside.
Beat butter and sugar in another medium bowl until light and creamy. The butter should form lovely little floufs when lifted from the bowl.
Add egg, yolk, and vanilla, mixing until smooth. A little word to the wise – sometimes, a cold egg from the fridge will cause the lovely, smooth butter to stiffen and stubbornly refuse to mix. As a general rule, it’s best to let all ingredients come to room temperature before combining…however sometimes (read: often) I’m lazy and don’t think that far ahead. FEAR NOT if this happens to you ! The solution ? Microwave your milk for about 30 seconds, giving it a shot of heat. This will re-warm the butter and make him much more cooperative. Seductive, no ?
Moving right long, with mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with milk. Bon Appétit asks that you begin and end with the dry ingredients – which chemically makes sense due to the baking powder – however I often ignore this advice and see no adverse side effects. Just add both at the same time and mix well. Scrape down the sides and mix one more time.
Divide batter among muffin cups (cups will not be full) and smooth tops. Top with apricot slices and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake until cakes are golden and a tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, 20–25 minutes. Don’t fret if it looks a little runny around the apricots; the fruits release liquid during cooking that give the illusion of uncooked batter. Use a tester to be sure of doneness, but just don’t be alarmed if the apricot makes the top a little…soft.
Transfer cakes to a wire rack and let them cool slightly before serving.
Apricot sauce :
5 apricots, pitted and quartered (keep the skin on)
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cointreau
1 tbsp triple sec
Dash of ginger and nutmeg
In a small saucepan, mix the apricots, water, and sugar and set over medium heat. Let the mixture come to a boil, stirring occasionally. The apricots will breakdown as they cook; the softer they became, the more I mixed in an effort to separate as much fruit from the skins as possible. Also – I enjoy the texture the skin offers and I find that in apricots, about 90% of the flavor comes from the skin. If you would prefer a smoother texture in your sauce, it is easy to fish out the skins after cooking.
Once the fruit has broken down and you have a fairly thick sauce going, add the liqueurs, stirring after each addition. Sprinkle the nutmeg and ginger over top – just a quick pinch for a little kick – and taste the sauce. I cooked out most of the alcohol, looking rather for a little balance of orange flavors. Naturally, if you want to leave a little bite in the sauce, let the sauce cool before adding a drip more cointreau. The heat forces the alcohol to evaporate, allowing the softer orange flavors to remain in the sauce (which is what I preferred).
To serve, I recommend cutting the cake in half, plopping a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream between the halves and smothering in warm apricot compote. Nothing says June more than this “healthy” and bright dessert.
As they say, bon appétit !