With their intense flavor, apricots are terrific in many treats, from muffins to mousses.
By FAYE LEVY
Every year I can't wait for the apricot season to arrive. About a month before it begins, I start thinking about apricots, wondering when good ones will get to the markets.
In my childhood the season was so short that we mostly ate apricots as snacks; there hardly seemed to be time for my mother to use them in desserts. Luckily, farmers have been improving apricot varieties and creating hybrids, and this has helped to extend the season.
With their intense flavor, apricots are terrific in many treats, from muffins to mousses. Europeans make extensive use of them in desserts, using fresh ones in season and bottled apricots, preserves and dried apricots during the rest of the year. Apricot glaze is the traditional finish on most French fruit tarts. Apricot kernels are used to make Italian amaretti cookies.
Emile Darenne and Emile Duval featured several apricot creations in their manual of classic French pastry, Traite de Patisserie Moderne, published in 1911. For their elaborate apricot-almond gateau, they baked a sweet pie pastry base with a rich almond cream filling flavored with liqueur-soaked raisins. Next they topped the cake with an apricot meringue topping made of pureed apricots, egg whites and sugar syrup. They coated the cake with apricot glaze and decorated it with pistachios and toasted almonds.
Much more doable in home kitchens is their apricots conde, a delicious dessert of poached apricots on a bed of warm, creamy vanilla-scented rice pudding. It is topped with a sauce made of the apricots' poaching syrup thickened with apricot jam and flavored with kirsch (clear cherry brandy). Even simpler is "bananes princesse" made of a halved banana peel filled with diced apricots, bananas and kirsch, covered with vanilla whipped cream piped from a pastry bag.
Italian cooks stuff poached apricots with sweetened ricotta mixed with diced candied cherries and cherry liqueur. For a no-cook dessert, they macerate fresh apricot halves in Madeira, orange juice and sugar, and then garnish them with whipped cream, slivered almonds and shaved chocolate.
When I want a super simple apricot treat, I combine the fruit with yogurt or ice cream and a sprinkling of granola. Apricots mixed with berries are especially good this way. For an easy apricot crisp made with granola instead of the usual crumbly pastry topping, I used an apple crisp recipe developed by the makers of Bear Naked, a tasty brand of granola that I sampled at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim. You mix diced apricots with sweetened applesauce and a touch of cinnamon, sprinkle the fruit generously with granola and bake the mixture in a medium oven for about 12 minutes. Eat it for breakfast, or warm with ice cream as a dessert.
SWEET COUSCOUS WITH APRICOTS, ALMONDS AND RAISINS
This makes a simple dessert or tasty breakfast. It bears a slight resemblance to French apricots conde but is inspired by Egyptian desserts of couscous with dried fruit and toasted nuts. During the apricot season, it's great with lightly poached fresh apricots.
Serve the sweet couscous warm or cold. If you're serving it warm, serve it in heated bowls and accompany it with pats of soft butter and a pitcher of hot milk.
3â„4 cup sugar
4 cups water
1 vanilla bean (optional)
450 gr. ripe apricots, halved and pitted
3 to 5 tsp. fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
1â„2 cup dark raisins
1 cup milk
285 gr. couscous (12â„3 cups)
Pinch of salt
Powdered sugar (for sprinkling)
1â„3 cup toasted almonds, hazelnuts or
Combine sugar, 3 cups water and vanilla bean, in medium sized heavy saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring gently, until sugar dissolves. Raise heat to high and bring to boil. Add apricots and 3 teaspoons lemon juice. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook fruit for 6 minutes, or until just tender when pierced with sharp knife. Add raisins. Add more lemon juice if you like. Let stand in the syrup until ready to serve. Refrigerate if serving dessert cold.
Bring milk and 1 cup water to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Stir in couscous, add a pinch of salt and return to a simmer. Remove from heat and cover pan. Let stand for 5 minutes or until couscous softens. Taste and add more salt if needed.
To serve, mound couscous on a platter or spoon it into bowls and sprinkle it lightly with powdered sugar. With a slotted spoon, garnish it with a few apricots and raisins. Sprinkle with almonds. Serve remaining fruit in its syrup separately, for each person to spoon over the couscous to taste.
Makes 4 servings.
FROZEN APRICOT MOUSSE
Freeze this mousse of fresh apricots in individual ramekins or in a small cake pan as a dessert on its own, or pair it with vanilla ice cream. For a two-tone apricot vanilla dessert, make a layer of vanilla ice cream in a springform pan and top it with the mousse, then cover and freeze; to make it into an ice cream cake, you can first arrange a layer of ladyfingers or thin sponge cake slices at the bottom of the pan.
Serve the mousse garnished with lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream, sprinkled with toasted slivered almonds and topped with a few apricot slices.
2â„3 cup sugar
1â„2 cup water
2 large egg whites
140 gr. ripe apricots
3â„4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. heavy cream
Combine sugar and water in heavy small saucepan. Place over low heat and swirl pan gently until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to boil. Boil, without stirring, 3 minutes, skimming off foam occasionally. Continue boiling syrup until a candy thermometer registers 115Âº (soft ball stage), about 4 minutes. (To test without a thermometer, take a little hot syrup on teaspoon and dip spoon into cup of very cold water, keeping spoon level. With your hands in water, remove syrup from teaspoon; if syrup is ready, it will form a soft ball. CAUTION: Do not touch syrup unless your hands are in water, because it is extremely hot.)
Meanwhile, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gradually beat hot syrup into center of whites, with mixer at high speed; then continue beating until mixture is cool and shiny.
Halve and pit apricots and cut them in pieces. Puree in food processor until very smooth. Measure 2â„3 cup puree and stir into egg white mixture. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
Whip cream in a chilled bowl until stiff. Fold into apricot mixture. Pour mousse into ramekins or bowls. Cover and freeze for 6 to 8 hours or overnight, or until firm. Let soften slightly before serving.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations.
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