The quintessential aroma of summer in my kitchen isn’t the smoky tang of barbecued meat wafting in from the garden, nor the heady sweetness of ripe strawberries sitting on the counter. It’s the deep, slightly musky perfume of apricots. Whether they’re simmering gently in a chamomile and vanilla syrup on the hob, baking into an almond custard tart in the oven or being churned into a pale coral ice cream on the counter, their unmistakable sweet, soothing fragrance tells me that sunshine and long days are (hopefully) ahead. During the season, I buy at least two punnets a week – I can’t get enough of their glorious colour and versatility in the kitchen.
Every blog post I write about apricots begins with me waxing lyrical about their glowing, blushing beauty, so I probably don’t need to cover that ground again. When you cook an apricot, you accentuate that beauty and create something quite extraordinary. They go from pale orange to a stunning vibrant marigold colour, almost luminous, and their subtle juicy flavour transforms into a powerful burst of tart sweetness. I do sometimes eat them raw, when I can find good ones, but usually I give apricots a little heat treatment in the kitchen to produce something magical.
I’ve probably cooked with these beauties more than any other fruit, but I’m always interested in new ways to enjoy them. Recently, I poached slivers of apricot in honey and vanilla to make a gorgeous jammy compote. I sandwiched this between a sweet, nutty, crumbly dough made of oats, coconut oil, sugar, a little cardamom (so good with apricots), a sprinkling of chia seeds for crunch and some flaked almonds. I ended up with these beautiful crumbly bars – whether you have them for breakfast, dessert or a snack is entirely your choice, as they’re very versatile. They can also be made gluten- and dairy-free by using gluten-free oats and baking powder. I love how all the ingredients are pretty good for you, but they taste so indulgent.
The crumble tastes like flapjack, its sweetness offset by the beautiful tart, jammy fruit. I love the way the apricot slivers shine through the gaps in the crumble topping, promising luscious fragrance in every mouthful. They are tart but almost musky, aromatic and exotic and enchanting. Simple to make, but an understated and beautiful way to enjoy summer’s most gorgeous stone fruit.
Apricot crumble bars (makes 9):
- 8 apricots
- 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
- 1 tbsp honey
- A splash of water
- 70g coconut oil (solid)
- 100g light muscovado sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 8 cardamom pods, seeds crushed to a powder
- 90g rolled oats (porridge oats)
- 140g jumbo oats
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 4 tbsp flaked almonds
First, prepare the apricots. Halve each fruit, remove the stone, then cut into thin slivers. Put in a small pan with the honey, vanilla pod and water. Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the apricots are soft, sticky and jammy. Set aside to cool. Remove the vanilla pod (rinse and dry on kitchen paper, then you can re-use or put in a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar).
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease an 8x8 inch square baking tin.
Put the coconut oil and muscovado sugar in a large mixing bowl and mix with a wooden spoon, pressing together until combined. Add the egg, vanilla and cardamom and mix well.
Put the rolled oats in a food processor and blitz to a fine powder, then add to the mixture along with the jumbo oats, chia seeds, baking powder and salt. Combine to form a sticky, crumbly dough. Press three-quarters of the dough firmly into the bottom of the tin. Spread the apricot mixture evenly over the dough, then crumble the remaining dough over the top. Scatter with the almonds. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the topping is crispy and golden. Leave to cool before slicing into squares.
[Adapted from this recipe from Pastry Affair.]