Friday, May 23, 2008

Cornmeal Cake with Apricots

If you’re anything like me, you have some favorite seasonal fruit pastries that you absolutely must make every year. They are at the top of your list. You anticipate the season’s fruit arrival for weeks and weeks and you stalk the markets for the first sign. The spring and summer fruit season does that to me. So many gorgeous things in our pastry toolbox.

Imagine my sheer bliss at the sight of this season’s apricots! They are just about my favorite pastry fruit and every year I wait in total anticipation of a first sighting of their bright pastel glow. Perhaps it was growing up down the street from an apricot orchard that first got me hooked. These fabulous earthly gems just make my heart sing. My only sadness is that the season is so unbelievably, achingly, unrealistically short. In just a matter of days, they will be gone. So please, put down what you’re doing and run, do not walk, to the nearest apricot display. There is not a moment to waste.

One of the apricot pastries I must always make is an apricot galette. It’s one of my favorite things in the pastry kingdom. Then there’s today’s apricot compote, which comes from the pages of In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley. She, too, is an apricot aficionado. She, too, understands apricot adoration. And she does not fail us. With the minimalist brilliance of a bit of honey, vanilla bean and cinnamon – the holy trinity of complimentary flavors for our beloved apricot – she has managed to take us to a new frontier of apricot worship. And worship I will because this is one of my must-haves every apricot season and yes, here we are.

I’ve paired the compote with a light cornmeal cake because its golden tenderness and slightly sweet crunchiness seem the perfect complement for our sumptuous apricots. It’s one of those enduring partnerships that fill your dreams until the season arrives at last. I’ve tried and tested a lot of cornmeal cake recipes. It can be hard to get the right balance of cornmeal and the right level of density or tenderness depending on the dessert you’re aiming to create. I love the Cornmeal Peach Upside Down Cakes of last summer, but this one is different. It’s a bit sturdier to stand up to the sweet tart acidity of the fruit and the spicy brightness of the syrup. Perhaps you also have a favorite or two?

Do give this one a try if you have a chance. I'll bet you won’t be able to stop sampling this dessert once you’ve been enveloped in all of these incredible aromas wafting through your kitchen. The tart sweet spicy smooth flavors of the compote and syrup and the lovely buttery cornmeal cake with the delicate flavor really truly are a very happy marriage.

Let’s get going. There is apricot ice cream and sorbet to churn, apricot galettes to fashion, apricot soufflés to whip. So many apricot desserts, so little time. The hour is here!

Bench notes:
- I use a stand mixer but I always take the mix off just before it’s done and finish it by hand to avoid over mixing.
- When making the compote, be sure not to let the mixture boil. Keep it at a low simmer to preserve the flavor of the fruit. You want a lovely, soft compote, but not jam. The compote can be made a day ahead. Store the apricots and the syrup separately in your refrigerator.
- Save the pits from the apricots for Noyau Ice Cream!
- If you’d like to garnish this dessert, try a sweetened crème fraiche or a cream whipped with the syrup and some of the apricot folded in.
- This compote would also be good over vanilla or honey ice cream.
- You will have extra syrup from this compote. You know what to do.
- This cornmeal cake would also be good with a compote of peaches and/or berries. Or cherries. Or figs. Or date compote.

Cornmeal Cake
8 to 10 servings

4 oz (1 stick) butter @ room temperature
1 C sugar
2 eggs @ room temperature
zest of 1/2 lemon
zest of 1/2 orange
1 t vanilla
1/2 C sour cream
1 1/4 C cake flour
1/4 C + 2 T cornmeal
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9” cake pan with butter and dust it with cornmeal.

Sift the cake flour, cornmeal, baking powder and the salt.

Beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and creamy. This will take a few minutes. Scrape down the bowl after a minute or so. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and citrus zest.

Add the sifted dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with half the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Scrape down bowl halfway through this process. Just before it looks completely mixed, pull it off the mixer and finish combining by hand to avoid over mixing.

Pour into prepared pan and smooth over the top. Bake for about 30 minutes or until it tests done. Cool for about 15 minutes. Turn out onto platter and let cool completely.

Apricot Compote
adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley
2 lbs of fresh apricots
3 C water
1 C sugar
1/3 C honey
1/2 vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 T lemon juice

Halve the apricots and place in a saucepan with the remaining ingredients. Bring to a low simmer. Do not boil. Poach until the fruit is very soft but still fairly intact.
Remove the fruit from the syrup and set aside to cool. Bring the syrup to a slow boil and reduce until it is a medium thick syrup. Cool.

Serve a slice of the cake with a good helping of the apricot compote and syrup.
This is nirvana.


Aran said...

I just used apricots in a dessert too! they are so good right now. Our come from California so you must really have great ones. This cake and the compote look amazing... I love the bit of crunchiness of the cornmeal and the softness of the compote. A winner once again!

Anonymous said...

This looks amazing. I love the cornmeal accent for the apricots.


Victoria said...

I cannot decide what's more beautiful - your writing or your photographs. I don't think apricot season is upon us here in the northeast yet, but I will wait........and pounce on this recipe the minute I see (or smell - the scent of an apricot is heavenly) one.

zoe francois said...

How lovely! You are so lucky to have fresh apricots on hand. Your pastry makes me envious that we won't have stone fruits for months in MN. I'll live vicariously until then.

Lauren @ Parsnips Aplenty said...

Tell me more about this ice cream!

pastry studio said...

Thanks to everyone for your lovely comments. I really hope you get to enjoy some fun with apricots before the season ends.

Lauren, Noyau Ice Cream is made from the kernals of the apricot pits. It's a very subtle taste of almond and it's exquisite. I'll be making some soon!

Warm fuzzies said...

Every year my dad and I (when I'm in his part of the world) pick wild blackberries near some railroad tracks. Typically, we make jam and a cobbler or two - this recipe sounds like it would go very well with those blackberries. Too bad I'm not near enough to go picking!

~Madeline~ said...

Your photos are gorgeous! Those apricots are so beautiful and the recipe sounds delicious. Nice work! Oh, and peaches, I'm waiting for peaches.

michelle @ TNS said...


that picture of the apricots is beyond gorgeous.

Eileen said...

I love apricots and once they are available we eat lots, because like you said, the season is short. I think the compote with the cornmeal cake sounds fantastic.

Eileen (passions to pastry)

Passionate baker...& beyond said...

Sure looks like nirvana...I love it!