When in season, grown locally, apricots can be heavenly. But too often they are a let down. Many of the apricots we see here in the states come from California, grown for large produce buyers like the grocery store chains. Yes they look lovely and firm and large with their colorful velvety skin, but most often they taste like cardboard. This is because they are harvested well before the fruit's flavor has had a chance to develop. Apricots like these are disappointing. To have a better chance of getting good taxing ones... buy them locally. This way they are able to stay on the tree longer. Whether it's at a farmer's market or fruit stand on the side of road, you'll have a much better chance of getting an apricot that actually tastes like an apricot. If an apricot is good, it will blow you away with its flavor and fragrance. It will smell like you want it to taste. It will feel heavy for its size. A friend recently gave me a bag of perfectly ripe apricots from Tonasket. They were seriously amazing. Tender, fragrant, and the perfect balance between sweet and tart. This is what apricots should taste like. Unfortunately they did not last long enough to make it into the tart.
Perhaps, a little decadent for the first days of August, but what the hell. This is my third attempt at getting this recipe right. The thing about cooking, especially baking, is, just like anything, it takes practice. And patience. And being ok with getting it wrong. My first two attempts at this were all wrong. The first one involved using a basic pie crust, which did nothing for the tart, with a filling as dense as mortar. The second attempt, involved a shortbread crust, and though delicious, fell apart and crumbled under weight of the filling. The third attempt, finally worked. Pate Sucree (pronounced pat sue cray), a french sweet pastry crust ended up being the perfect fit. The crisp cookie like texture held up beautifully to the now lighter mascarpone filling, with a welcome sweetness that balanced out the acidity of the apricots. A star anise infused honey, drizzled on the apricots before a light roasting, gives them a unique flavor.
Tenderness. This is the word comes to me when holding the perfectly ripe apricot. A soft velvety being, tender to the touch, split open easily between two thumbs. Inside, the ochre kernel is surrounded by egg yolk colored flesh. Plopping the apricot in my mouth, it almost feels sinful. Like eating lamb. I eat it anyways.
I think about tenderness. When are we at our most tender? The place where we are soft enough to let life open us.
I imagine the tenderness that comes when one looks at the face of their newborn baby, meeting them for the first time. Or how after heartbreak or loss our hearts become raw, sore, yet more tender, open, compassionate. As my father ages, continuing to forget and forget, tenderness slowly and gently takes over the hard places in my heart. The hard knots of unforgiveness I have harbored over the years, gradually loosen. This, I come to realize is from no action of my own, or his, but rather from an accidental, unintentional, allowing.
How does one become more tender? Can we make ourselves more so? How do apricots become tender? Perhaps tenderness is what naturally happens with time. And with all the hammering and humbling experiences of living. But then why do some of us end up becoming more bitter and hardened with time? Hummm. I do a little research.
I ask Brian: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say the word, tenderness?
Brian: A meat cleaver.
Brian: The meat hammer with spikes on it. A meat tenderizer.
Sylvia: Come on, try.
Brian: Beef Tenderloin. Oh, ya and that 80’s pop song called Tenderness, by whats his name. You should google him.
And he precedes to sing the song for me..... Oooo ooo oooo, te-end-er-ness, ooo ooo ooo, te-end-er-ness. You know the one. I google it. It's by General Public ( formally the English Beat).
I think about Brian.
He doesn’t think about being tender ....or any other foolishness, yet he is, and becomes more so.
The tenderest, sweetest, full flavored apricots are those left on the tree long enough to ripen. Those that remain connected to their source. This seems to be the secret.
What is your source?
Pate Sucree, a french sweet crust, is easy and fast to make and with a little patience, fairly easy to work with. For the best results see tips below the recipe.
The dough comes quickly together in a food processor or stand mixer. Place the flour, salt, sugar and chunks of butter in a food processor and pulse until it is the texture of sand. Gradually add the beaten eggs and cream until it just comes together. Do not over work.
Place on a floured surface and divide dough in two and place one in the freezer for another time. If dough is too soft, place in the fridge for 5-10 minutes. It's easier to handle when chilled and slightly firm. On a floured surface, press into a disk. Roll out to a 1/4 inch thickness, rolling from the middle out. To place it in the tart pan, start at one end and wrap the crust around your rolling pin. Gently unwrap it over the tart pan. It does not have to be perfect, and in fact will probably crack and tear a bit. Not to worry, just press it into the tart pan. Using your fingers and palms, patch up any broken spots or tears. Press it up the sides and into the corners. It's very pliable. To remove excess dough, roll the rolling pin lightly over the top for a nice clean edge. Smooth out with your fingers. Prick the bottom with a fork.
Star Anise gives the tart a hint of intrigue. Star Anise is an honest name, for it tastes of anise and is star shaped indeed. Star anise is a seed pod of a native tree found in China and Vietnam, similar to a Magnolia. In China, it is mainly used in savory dishes and is one of the spices of traditional Chinese Five Spice. It is also used in Indian Cuisine. However it is used, it imparts a flavor that takes you far way.
Star Anise, infused in honey gives the roasted apricots a subtle exoticness.
Honey can be easily infused with different flavors by simply heating it up for a few minutes and letting whatever spice or herb seep in it over night. I often make rosemary honey and lavender honey to use in catering. Drizzled over fresh figs, it's delectable. A cute jar of infused honey would make a great gift.
Apricots drizzled with the star anise infused honey are roasted in a 400F oven for 7-10 minutes. It doesn't take very long...so be vigilant. Leaving them too long in a hot oven will result in mushy collapsed apricots. You don't want this. You want them to hold their shape. The time is dependent on the ripeness of the apricot. Ripe apricots will literally take a few minutes. Less ripe, longer.
For a fun finger dessert, you could also make mini tartlets.
Crust: Pate Sucree
1/4 c cream
2 large egg yolks
2 3/4 C flour
1/4 C sugar plus 3 T
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter , cut into small 1 inch chunks
400 F oven
In a small bowl, beat egg yolks and cream. In a food processor, combine flour salt and sugar. Mix well. Add butter. Pulse until texture is like sand. Gradually add egg mixture and pulse until it clips into a ball.
Place on a floured surface. Divide and make tow ball. Wrap up one ball and put in freezer saving it for another time. If dough is too soft, place in fridge for a few minutes to firm it up. On a floured surface, flatten it out with your palm into a disk and with a rolling pin, roll it out until 1/4 in thick, rolling from the middle out. It will not look perfect, with cracks and uneven edges. Not to worry. Keep rolling. Starting at one edge, wrap dough around the rolling pin and lift it on to the tart pan. Unwrap and gently start pressing it into the pan, patching up any tears and pressing it into the sides and corners with your fingers. To remove excess dough, roll the rolling pin lightly over the top for a nice clean edge. Smooth out with your fingers. Prick the bottom with a fork. Freeze for 30 minutes (or refrigerate for 1 hour). Line tart with parchment. Fill lined tart with a generous amount of rice, dried beans or pie weights. This will ensure that it holds it shape and edges will not sink. Place in 400F oven for 15 minutes, until set. Gently remove tart from the oven and carefully lift out the parchment and rice. Place tart back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes, until nicely golden. Cool completely. You can make this ahead.
Honey Roasted Apricots with Star Anise
1/2 C honey
8 Star Anise
In a small sauté pan add 8 star anise to 1/2 C honey and heat to a simmer for 5-7 minutes, stirring and coating star anise with honey. Let seep for at least one hour or preferably over night.
When ready to roast your apricots, or use for the mascarpone cream, reheat honey to loosen it.
Cut apricots in half, and remove pits. Place in a buttered baking dish, open side up. Drizzle all but 3 T honey ( which you will use for the mascarpone filling) over the apricots. Place in a 400 F oven for 5 minutes, check for doneness, and swirl baking dish a bit to allow honey to fully coat the apricots on all sides. On average, they will need a total of 10 minutes in the oven. They should be just tender, but still hold their form. Very ripe apricots will done in less than 10 minutes. Less ripe will take longer. So check frequently as they can deflate and turn into mush in a matter of minutes.
1 C ( 8 oz) mascarpone
1 C greek style yogurt ( vanilla or honey)
Let mascarpone come to room temp. In a stand mixerwith paddle attachment ( or by hand) mix 3 T of star anise honey into mascarpone until fully incorporated. Whisk in yogurt.
Fill cooled Tart shell with Mascarpone Cream. Top with roasted apricots. Drizzle the the remaining star anise honey from the roasting pan over the entire dessert. Use star anise as garnish. Let chill for a couple of hours to set. Or you could chill the tart with just the mascarpone, letting it set, and just before serving place the warm apricots over the tart. mmmmm.