Hello-my-baby apricots

Give me your tired, your cottony, your flavorless apricots!  I will bake you a cake!

Then, apparently, I will deliver half of it to a friend, and spend the next couple of days hacking away at what’s left, fighting the urge to dig out the apricots and eat them straight.  I had forgotten about apricots, the way they brighten and bloom in the oven.  They’re the Clark Kent of summer stone fruits. (Minus the glasses and unfortunate side part.)  Pretty enough, but – unless you get your hands on a real winner – they don’t exactly get your heart pumping.  Until they duck into the nearest oven, that is.  When they come out, they’re super.

Apricots cooked are apricots revived.  Suddenly, they have a pulse.  They’re breathing, beating, hello-my-baby apricots.  And they don’t need cake, or much of anything, really, to make your day.  (The cake, for the record, was good, though I do prefer the apple version.)  So.  My next round of apricots I cut in half and dredged through some of the vanilla sugar that I had left over from that pound cake.  I lay them shoulder to shoulder in a casserole dish, and bathed them in a shallow pool of white wine, just deep enough to cover their bottoms.  Then, into the oven. 

They came out super, all right.  Rich and fragrant, buttery and bold, lounging in winey syrup flecked with vanilla seeds.  I’ve been on a pistachio kick lately, so I chopped some up to sprinkle on top and tossed them with a hefty pinch of cardamom.  I’d just been reading about the pairing of cardamom and apricot, and it seemed a wise move.  We ate them hot, straight from the oven, that first night, cold with yogurt the next morning for breakfast, and room temperature the following night when I made them for a dinner with friends.  My friend Megan took one bite and said, “This tastes like a baked good.”  I’ve never heard someone use the word “baked good” in normal conversation, least of all to describe a piece of fruit.  These apricots will surprise you.

They’re the kind of thing you might want to eat at the beginning of a hot summer day, or at the end of one, at a barbecue, say, beneath an exploding sky.  Happy Fourth, friends.  And Happy 236th birthday, America.  You don’t look a day over 235.  Really, you don’t.

Sugared Apricots with Cardamom Pistachios

You’ll notice that I’ve dotted the apricots with butter in one of the photos up there.  I did that the first couple of times I made them, but then I stopped, because I found that my favorite way to eat these is chilled.  They taste less sweet that way, which I like.  What I didn’t like was the bits of butter floating in the cold syrup.  If you’re going to eat them warm – also a pleasure, don’t get me wrong – then butter away!  But honestly, I didn’t miss it.   

I wish I could say something smart and informed about what kind of white wine is best, but I’m not very knowledgeable about these things.  If you have a strong feeling about what would be particularly good here, or even just a hunch, please speak up!  I used a Moscato d’Asti.  It’s very sweet, not something we would usually buy, but someone brought it over one time, so we had it around.  It worked beautifully, but I’d like to experiment with less sweet wines in the future.  I don’t think you can go wrong.

Finally, about the vanilla sugar:  Since making this pound cake, I’ve kept a sealed jar of scraped vanilla beans and sugar in the pantry.  It just gets more and more fragrant with time. To make your own, split a vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into a bowl of sugar.  I’ve seen instructions that say to use anywhere from 1 cup to 1 pound.  I use enough to fill a one-quart mason jar.  Rub the seeds into the sugar with your fingers, pour half of the sugar into a jar, bury the scraped seed, and add the rest of the sugar.  Seal, and let sit for at least a few days, preferably a couple of weeks or more.  If you don’t want to wait that long to make this recipe (and you shouldn’t), rub the seeds into a cup of sugar (you’ll only need a few tablespoons) and you can use it right away.  The vanilla flavor will be plenty strong.  I love the way the sugar melts and the vanilla seeds spill into the syrup, here.  It’s very pretty.     

6-8 apricots, halved, stones removed
3-4 tablespoons vanilla sugar (see note for how to make your own, above)
½ c. white wine
1/3 c. shelled, salted pistachios
1-2 pinches cardamom

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Measure the vanilla sugar into a shallow bowl or pie plate.  Press the apricot halves into the sugar to coat them (both sides), then place them skin side down in a casserole dish.  (Dot with butter, if using.  See header notes.)

Add the wine to the dish, taking care to pour it into a space between the apricots so that you don’t wash off the sugar.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the apricots have deepened in color, puckered around the edges, and barely resist the fork.  Meanwhile, coarsely chop the pistachios and toss them with a pinch or two of cardamom.

To serve, spoon a few warm apricots into each bowl, and a little of the syrup, too.  Top with a scant fistful of nuts.  I bet a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a pour of cold sweet cream would be grand, but they don’t need it.  I store the baked apricots in a jar in the fridge.  I love to eat them chilled over yogurt in the morning, or any time of day.

Serves 2-3. 


Julie said...

Love it. What a great post! I do tend to forget about fresh apricots.. and am often disappointed by them. Will give this a go!

Rogue Unicorn said...

The combination of stone-fruit, wine, sugar and vanilla is one of the best things in the world.
Plums, red wine, sugar and vanilla are what make up the bottom of my plumble (http://www.rogueskitchen.com/2011/08/all-by-myself.html) and that's pretty much the only thing I bake all summer.

Sue/the view from great island said...

Fabulous idea, dispense with all the extraneous 'baked goods' paraphernalia like sugar and flour! I think plums are the same way, they just come into their own when cooked. I'll definitely try these apricots, happy 4th!

megan said...

Who says that?!...I'm not sure I have normal conversations - it might say more about me than the apricots. I guess I didn't want to limit them to a bread, scone or tart in the imagination: baked up this way, they become the baked deliciousness, not a filler for it. So yummy - thanks for sharing, and for feeding my tummy and spirit for a couple of days.

Hope you guys have fun celebrating today!

janna said...

I just looked for apricots last night, but my grocery store didn't have them yet. I make a Martha Stewart-concoction of apricots, cherries and a crust on top. You are so right -- the oven improves apricots immensely!

David Starr said...

Being Jess's friend brings all sorts of benefits, eating the apricot cake just the most recent. Thank you. Love

talley said...

What a wonderful idea - dessert without the fluff of flour or the smooth crumbyness of butter - apricots, plain and simple. I'm one of those people who thinks of apricots more often in their dried form than their plump form. But this year I set out to change that and have been eating plump apricots like they are going out of style (or season). I slice them onto my oatmeal, I've baked them into tarts, and I've even stuffed them into pork chops. But I haven't cooked them in white wine and sprinkled them with cardamon pistachios yet so that will have to be next, thank you for the inspiration.

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Oh, I know just the pound cake you speak of. ;) I will have to give this recipe a go. I've been eating WAY too many actual baked goods. Now time for the non-baked goods baked goods.

molly said...

"Apricots disappoint." -- Nigel Slater

One of my favorite lines ever. The Kitchen Diaries, I think. Of course, he went on to dispute his own point, but still, he had one, and spoke it so well.

Apricots + cardamom + heat = yes, yes, yes! Just roasted some a few weeks back, this way, myself. Mmm...

Hannah said...

Clearly I am in the minority here (or maybe just the only one in CA?) but summer is not summer until I have eaten my fill of Frog Hollow Farm apricots, fresh and rosy-cheeked and straight out of hand. But if instead I had apricots that were tired and needed reviving to be worthy of a rendition of Hello My Baby, wine and vanilla sugar sounds like the perfect plan.

Not a sommelier by any stretch, but my instinct is a buttery chardonnay here. Which means, actually, you should probably pick something other than that ;)

sonya said...

I just received the first apricots of the year in my CSA box today and they are fragrant and lovely tasting (what a relief!). Your baked ones, paired as they are with pistachios and cardamom, sound scrumptious and perfect!

Jess said...

Hi, Julie! Doooo it. Meanwhile, I'll be busy with your rhubarb creamsicles. Yes, people, I said RHUBARB CREAMSICLES!! Hoooooo boy.

Tiki - Thanks for the link. I've been meaning to try a crumble topping that uses oil instead of butter. The way you pieced the recipe together using Amanda Hesser's oil-based tart crust -- genius. Tell me, is there still a crunch to the crumble? Or is it more like a tender pie crust, but in bits? Also, "Plumble!" I love that.

Sue - I think you're right that plums are in the same boat. And now, thanks to you and Rogue Unicorn, I can't stop thinking about them...

Megan - As you know, I love all of our conversations, normal and not so normal. Come back soon.

Janna - Apricots and cherries! That's one heck of a combination. Will you share the recipe? Pretty please?

David! Hi! You're the best. See you soon. xo.

Talley - Yes to dried apricots, too! Especially those sour ones from California. (I'm blanking on their name at the moment.) I was just looking at a recipe for a tart made with dried apricots, partially rehydrated, I think. Will be great for winter.

A Plum By Any Other Name - Ha! Non-baked-goods baked goods. (Hey Megan, that's what you meant, right?)

Molly - From Ripe: "A fine apricot, rich, intense, fragrant, is perhaps the rarest of all fruits." Do you have this volume yet? You would love it.

Hannah - Ahhhh, yes, Frog Hollow Farm apricots. They are a different story entirely. And so is the entire state of California for that matter. I think apricots are grown in some states farther east and harvested later in the season (August?). Maybe they will be more the eating-out-of-hand variety for those of us over here. Until then, into the oven with them! Oh, and hey, a buttery chardonnay sounds good to me!

Sonya - Apricots in your CSA? But you're on the east coast, no? Maybe out-of-hand apricots are closer than I think...?

Daniela said...

Oh wow, worth a try!

Jess said...

Daniela - That's the spirit!

Payal Shah said...

Thanks for the recipe. The apricots turned out great. Though I have to say taht I like them hot as well. It goes so well with yogurt and honey.

Jess said...

Payal - I'm so glad you liked them. I agree, of course, that the apricots hot are a treat. The way they slump on the spoon and seem to melt a little in your mouth... I think I know what's for breakfast...

Hungry Passport said...

Reading this recipe gave me a massive sense of déjà vu, prompted by my own devotion to the apricot-cardamom-pistachio combo. When apricots aren't in season, in their dried form they're still my favorite fruit for breakfast. This is what I like to do with those three ingredients (scroll down for the actual recipe): http://www.poormansfeast.com/archives/breakfast-with-carol-penn-romine.html

Next time I'm going to try your take on this combo and use salted pistachios. And I can't wait to get my hands on some fresh apricots now so I can give them the butter-and-wine spa treatment.

Thanks for the inspiration!



Jess said...

Hi, Carol. I've just read your essay at Poor Man's Feast. "Apricardamom" - I love that! Also, wet toast!) I agree that dried apricots are special, too. I don't think I've had nearly as much fun with them as I should... Going to have to change that. Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your lovely note.