I've been searching the markets for apricots, one of my favourite fruits, since mid-spring. More than once I've been fooled by the sight of the loquat, which has the same colour but a very different taste and texture. When I finally found apricots at a wet market a couple of weeks ago, I bought several kilos. At home with my haul, I baked a few desserts and made a batch of jam that I hope will tide me over until next year, when the fresh fruit should be available again.
Puff pastry tartlets with apricot, ricotta and pistachio (pictured)
These tartlets are easy to make because they don't require any special mixing equipment. They're made with commercial puff pastry, although they'd be better with home-made all-butter puff.
2 thin sheets (25cm square) frozen puff pastry
Plain (all-purpose) flour, for dusting
250 grams ricotta cheese
20 grams sugar
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks
Finely grated zest of one lemon
6-8 small, ripe apricots
About 50 grams apricot preserve (see recipe below, or use commercial jam)
30 grams shelled, unsalted pistachios
Lay the puff pastry sheets end to end, overlapping slightly, and gently press the edges together. Starting at one of the short ends, roll the pastry into a spiral. Wrap it tightly in cling-film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Use a sharp thin-bladed knife to cut the spiral into 12 to 15 5mm-thick pieces (you won't need the whole spiral; wrap the rest in cling-film and refrigerate for a few days, or freeze for longer storage). On a lightly floured work surface, use a small rolling pin to roll each spiral into a thin circle, then gently fit it into moulds about 5cm wide and 2.5cm deep (I use a mini-muffin pan). Refrigerate for about 30 minutes while pre-heating the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Cut small squares of aluminium foil and press down over the pastry. Bake at 220 degrees for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 200 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove the foil, turn the heat to 180 degrees and continue to bake until the puff pastry is fully cooked - it should be medium golden on the surface and on the bottom (remove one from the mould to check), and not damp. Remove from the oven and cool for about 15 minutes; leave the oven on. Put the pistachios in a small baking tray and bake for 10 minutes.
Halve the apricots and remove the pits. Cut each half into thin slices. Mix the ricotta with the sugar, salt, egg yolks and lemon zest. Spoon the mixture into the pastry shells then lay an apricot half over the filling, slightly fanning the fruit slices. Bake at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the filling is set but still moist. In a small saucepan, heat the apricot preserve with about 50ml of water and brush this over the tartlets. Roughly chop the pistachios, scatter them over the tartlets and serve warm.
Apricot and apricot kernel preserve
Apricots are low in pectin, so, when making a preserve from the fruit, I add a small amount of apple pectin. Apricot kernels taste like bitter almonds (which are very hard to find). And, like bitter almonds, the kernels are toxic in large quantities, but the amount used here is very small. They're sold at Chinese dry-goods shops.
1kg fresh apricots
600 grams granulated sugar, divided
1-11/2 tsp apple pectin (use the larger amount if the apricots are ripe)
2 tbsp apricot kernels
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
About 60ml fresh lemon juice
Rinse the apricots and pull off the stems. Halve the fruit, remove the pit, then cut each half into four wedges. Mix the apricots with 500 grams of sugar, cover with cling-film and refrigerate overnight.
When it's time to cook the jam, put a couple of small plates into the fridge (this is for testing the consistency of the jam). Thoroughly combine the pectin with 100 grams of sugar and set aside. Wash several canning jars (four to six of them, depending on the size). Fill them with boiling water then pour it out and leave the jars to air-dry on a rack. Pour boiling water over the canning lids and set them aside until it's time to use them.
Scrape the apricot and sugar mixture into a large saucepan, then add the apricot kernels and salt. Bring to the boil, stirring often, then reduce the heat and simmer. Use a shallow ladle to spoon the thick foam off the surface. At first, the mixture will bubble up, so take care it doesn't boil over. Stir more frequently as the jam thickens. Occasionally test the consistency by spooning a small amount onto a chilled plate. When it's just a little runny, remove the pan from the heat. Add the pectin/sugar mixture in a steady stream, stirring constantly.
Put the pan back on the heat, bring to a simmer and stir constantly for four minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Ladle the mixture into the canning jars and clean the rims with a damp paper towel. Cover the jars with the sterilised lids and close them firmly. Fill a deep pan about three-quarters of the way with hot water and put a dish towel in the bottom. Put the jars on the towel so they're upright, in one layer and not touching (you may need to do this in batches). Add more water to completely submerge the jars. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, adding more water if the tops of the jars are exposed. Remove from the pan and cool to room temperature - the jars should seal. If the jars don't seal, or if you want to skip this water bath step, store the preserve in the fridge.
Styling Nellie Ming Lee