See how the light tenderly love the apricots, it takes them over completely, enters into their pulp, lights them from all sides! .Paul Cezanne
Today’s market find provoked visions of the fruit and vegetable stands on Rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter of Paris, a warm June day, sweet cherries, strawberries, raspberries, and blushing apricots plumper than I had ever seen–all arranged so artfully, of course. Sweet memories of eating cherries and apricots out of hand, surveying the fromageries, shopping for picnic fare for le petite dejeuner in the Jardins des Plantes. I savored Tarte Abricot, and a buttery, flaky pastry with pastry cream and apricot, anything with apricots in Paris, s’il vous plait!
The apricots I found today were not as plump, but were fragrant, ripe and had that marvelous rosy blush. Craving that tart-sweet flavor, I purchased a few pounds. Visions of apricot tart, or a Clafoutis with apricots…something French, to be sure! French and Italian regional cuisine, both of which are foundations for my approach to food and to cooking, are seasonal. So, wherever I am in the world, I am searching the markets for the best of what’s in season.
Summer means ripe, sweet tomatoes, golden and zucchini squashes, eggplant, plenty of sweet basil, and luscious summer fruits. Gratins of Zucchini, Golden Squash and Eggplant, Parmigianino, herbes des Provence and olive oil, a la Julia Child appeals to me. Homemade salsas made with fresh tomatoes, sweet onions, and herbs, spicy red chile peppers, or with chopped mango or peaches added or perhaps fresh pineapple make an appearance alongside grilled chicken, pork chops, or fish. Protein smoothies are a good start to a hot day, full of blueberries or juicy mango. Gorgeous, buttery avocados appear plentiful, and I am venturing beyond the usual slices on salads and sandwiches or guacamole to an Alton Brown recipe for Avocado Compound Butter to top grilled chicken, steak or burger hot off the grill.
Today, I am beginning with those beautiful apricots, which will be added to a moist French butter cake flavored with vanilla, cognac and orange zest. Last summer, I mastered the French butter cake, a simple everyday cake in France, custard-like in texture, with few ingredients and simple techniques. It lends itself well to many variations based on seasonal availability of fruit and your particular flavor cravings. Today, I decided to try an adaptation of Dorie Greenspan’s Marie Helene’s Apple Cake recipe, which can be found in Around My French Table. I have baked this apple cake many times in Autumn, spiced with cinnamon, loaded with apple chunks and perhaps some golden raisins.
I decided that I wanted to achieve a soft, moist crumb, but not such a custard-like version of this cake, and I wanted to amplify the complimentary flavors to the apricots, so the following is my adaptation of Dorie’s recipe.
French Butter Cake with Apricots, recipe by Susan Rebillot, adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Marie Helene’s Apple Cake, in Around My French Table
Makes a 9 inch round, deep one-layer cake
Preheat oven to 350 degree F
5 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 Tablespoons Cognac (you could use apricot brandy)
zest of 1 large organic orange
1 and 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
6-8 ripe apricots, cleaned, stones removed, cut in half and each half quartered. (the skins are thin, so no need to peel)
Additional butter for the pan
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting, or Vanilla bean sugar for topping
Toss the apricot chunks with 1/4 cup granulated sugar and set aside
Place the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine, set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the 5 eggs until well blended and foamy.
Whisk in the sugar vigorously for 2 minutes.
Whisk in the orange zest, vanilla and cognac.
Add half of the flour mixture to the egg mixture and whisk until smooth.
Add half of the butter and whisk until smooth.
Repeat with the remaining flour and butter.
Fold in the apricots.
Butter a 9 inch spring form pan and add the cake batter. Place the pan on a silicone mat in the center of a 350 degree pre-heated oven.
If you do not have a spring form pan, you may use a Le Creuset oval baker, as I did, prepared in the same way.
Bake for 60 minutes or until golden brown, a bit puffed on top, and done so that a tester placed in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes, and then remove the spring form, or serve from the ceramic baker.
Dust the top with confectioner’s sugar or a sprinkling of vanilla bean sugar.
I also baked one cake using Dorie’s recipe, in a 9 inch spring form pan, which yielded a more custard-like cake, more fruit and less cake, also delicious, so you decide!
It is wonderful served plain, but for added indulgence, serve with slightly sweetened whipped cream flavored with a bit of cognac, or serve with vanilla bean gelato.
My version has a moist, soft cake crumb; a bit of crunch on top and the edges due to the sugar content and the technique, and has just the right balance between cake and fruit. This recipe makes a generous, thick cake. The apricots have softened and are sweet-tart. The combination of vanilla, cognac and orange zest adds rich, complex flavor. This is delicious served warm, but the flavors intensify after it sits at room temperature for several hours.
Memories of June in Paris, in a cake!
Please share your favorite recent market finds and inspirations as well as your comments should you try this recipe.