How to Choose Apricots
Photo courtesy of Ellen Wallace.
The first and most important thing is to buy tree-ripened apricots. By definition, this means local ones, since ripe apricots are soft to the touch and do not travel well.
If you plan to eat them fresh, they should be soft, but not blemished or bruised. The riper they are, the more flavorful they are.
If you are using them for cooking, the riper the better, and you can even get by with blemishes as long as they are not rotten-looking. As a general rule, the softer the sweeter.
You will often see crates of extra-ripe apricots discounted in farmers markets. Look them over, and if there are not too many black or rotting ones, they are actually the best for cooking purposes, especially for jams, cakes and sauces.
Recipe Ideas for Apricots
Note: With all apricot recipes, the amount of sugar used depends on the acidity of the apricots. The acidity depends on the ripeness, origin and variety. With so many factors coming into play, taste tests are indispensable and the quantity of sugar should be determined by taste, using the quantities given here as a guideline.
Apricot Jam Recipe
The basic formula is 900 grams/2 lbs of sugar for every 2 kilograms/4 1/2 lbs of fruit used. This holds true for apricots, apples, cherries, nectarines and plums. If you like your jam really sweet, you can put equal weights of fruit and sugar.
Use cane sugar for more taste. I often halve the quantity of sugar in dessert recipes, but with jams this can be tricky, since sugar is what makes the jam set. It also serves as a preservative. If your fruit is extra-sweet, you might try cutting the quantity of sugar a tad.
Photo courtesy of Ellen Wallace.
Wash and rub apricots until perfectly clean. Remove any rotten spots with a paring knife. Dry well. Cut in half and remove stones. Save about half of the stones for later use.
Place apricots in a copper confiturier or a large stock pot. Add sugar. Let it sit overnight.
If the apricots are not ripe enough, they will not render any natural juices. If there are no juices, add 500 ml/1 pint of water to the pan.
Slowly bring to a boil on low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. This can take anywhere from 1 hour to 2 1/2 hours, depending on the water content of the apricots and the type of pan and stove or cooker you are using. Scrape the sides of the pan from time to time so that the mixture doesn’t crystallize.
The jam is set when you can dip a wooden spoon in it and it completely coats the spoon. Let jam settle for about 15 minutes before putting it into jars.
Pour jam into sterilized glass jars. Leave to cool. If you see the jam hasn’t set properly, you can put it back into the pan and boil it again, adding a little lemon juice.
Add two stones to each jar. Cool. Seal jars.
Apricot Purée or Coulis
Once again, the amount of sugar you use depends on whether you want it to have a tart flavor or a sweet flavor. If you’re going to pour it onto a very sweet cake or pie, opt for a more acidic taste. If you’re eating with something that is itself a little acidic, you might want to make your sauce sweeter. And once again, the sweetness will always depend on the ripeness of your apricots, so you’ll have to do a taste test in any case.
Wash apricots. Remove stones.
Put 300 grams/10 ounces of cane sugar (labeled sucre de canne roux or cassonade in Swiss and French supermarkets) and a vanilla bean (cut open in the lengthwise direction) into a saucepan. Slowly bring to a boil over medium heat until it begins to thicken and sugar has completely dissolved, i.e. until it forms a syrup.
Put 500 grams/18 ounces of apricots into a food processor, or run them through a food mill or chinois. Add apricots to the liquid sugar mixture and mix with a wooden spoon. Heat mixture until it is thick enough to completely coat a wooden spoon.
This apricot sauce can be eaten warm or cold, depending on what you are using it with. It keeps for several days in the refrigerator.
Apricot coulis is a perfect accompaniment to a dark chocolate cake, but can be used to make ice cream sundaes or parfaits just as easily.
It can also be used in savory dishes, for example with cold chicken breasts or cold pork roast. In this case, you would of course considerably reduce the amount of sugar.
Preheat oven to 250° C or French mark 8. Wash apricots. Cut in half. Remove stone.
Lay apricot halves out on a roasting tin or broiler pan, or in a large casserole dish. Sprinkle lightly with brown cane sugar and just a tad of butter, distributed evenly in small bits, so that it will form a natural sauce. (This can also be done on a barbecue grill, but you’d lose the juices.) Put in oven, and immediately turn temperature down to 220° C or French mark 7. Turn when top side is browned. If butter starts to burn, add a few drops of water.
When soft and slightly browned and caramelized, remove from oven or grill.
Distribute on individual plates. Serve with a scoop of salt caramel, coffee or walnut ice cream. Lightly sprinkle with vanilla powder (labeled poudre vanille or vanille en poudre in supermarket; easy to find in France, but difficult to find in Switzerland), cinnamon and a high-quality chocolate or cocoa powder. Drizzle a little maple syrup over it. It is now ready to serve.
Sugar-free Apricot Purée or Coulis
The great French chef Michel Guérard, who started the Cuisine Minceur movement in 1974, has a recipe for a sugar-free version of a coulis. This is adapted from the 1976 edition of Michel Guérard’s Cuisine Minceur, now out of print:
Wash, halve and pit 12 ripe fresh apricots. In a saucepan, add apricots, 1/2 cup of water, 1 vanilla bean (cut open in the lengthwise direction, down the middle) and artificial sweetener to taste, the equivalent of about 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Simmer for 10 or 15 minutes, until mixture is reduced by about one third.
Remove vanilla bean. Put mixture in a food processor to make a purée.
This sugar-free sauce can be served in the same manner as the traditional apricot purée or coulis recipe above.