Saturday, January 24, 2009

apricot squares

We have a family Chanukah party every year at my in-laws'. It's a lot of fun. Early in the afternoon (so we can be cleaned up before the company arrives), Josh, Leah, Judy and I make latkes from 20 pounds of potatoes. Judy also makes at least one - often two - kinds of homemade applesauce. Shockingly, these are only side dishes to the evening's menu.

I usually get to bring dessert (yay!). Josh's family traditionally shares a few jelly doughnuts, but we still like to have some other dessert options. This year, I wanted to make a new recipe. Knowing it would follow an evening of pretty heavy eating with fried food, it needed to be something on the lighter side, so I though fruit, not chocolate. I also wanted either a bar or a cookie so people could have a small bite of dessert. I chose a KA recipe for apricot squares. This one is a little different from the whitewashed version made with jam; it has a cooked fruit filling and a shortbready crust. They turned out great, probably because of my sous chef and photography consultant extraordinaire, Leah. (Thanks, Leah!)

Pictures of the process:

First, we cooked the fruit for the filling. I didn't have quite enough apricots, so we tossed in some dried cranberries. A couple of tablespoons of brandy enhanced the flavor without getting anyone loopy.

The liquid reduces down quite a lot as the fruit cooks through.

A couple of whirls with an immersion blender turn it into a fruit paste a little thicker than applesauce. The only thing that bummed me out was that the pretty color was sort of dulled. Next time, I might cook and blend the apricots, then stir in some chopped dried cranberries.

While the filling cooked, we blended together the crust ingredients.

Leah got all artsy in her placement of the pastry blender.

A closeup of the great-looking crumb and the delicious filling.

Just as I was professing my preference for the gooey center pieces, Leah was eyeing the height of the shortbread edges. I took this picture just to show how nice and high the crumbs on the side came out.

So much apricot goodness!

Here's the recipe:

Classic Apricot Squares
2 cups (12 ounces) chopped dried apricots*
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) brandy (optional)
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) water

2 1/4 cups (9 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup (4 ounces) chopped pecans or shredded sweetened coconut (optional)**
coarse sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9x13" pan.

For filling: stir together apricots, brandy, sugar, and water in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until the fruit is soft and has absorbed most of the water. Cool slightly, then puree it in a food processor or blender, or with an immersion blender. I've been getting a kick out of my immersion blender, so I went that route.

*I didn't have quite 12 ounces of apricots, so I used about 9 ounces of apricots and 3 ounces of dried cranberries.

For crust/topping: in a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Using a pastry blender (or your fingers, or two knives, or a mixer), cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly but would hold together when squeezed. Transfer 1 1/4 cups to another bowl, stir in nuts, and set aside.

**Or, if your sister-in-law turns up her nose at the nuts, omit this step. I didn't even consider coconut because of Josh's self-professed allergy to the stuff.

Press the remainder of the crumbs into the bottom, and slightly up the sides, of prepared pan. Bake 14-16 minutes. Remove from the oven.

While the crust is still warm, spread the filling over, and then spread the reserved crumbs over the top. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired (we desired). Return the pan to the oven and bake for 28-32 minutes, until they are golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Cut into squares. I cut into triangles, just for fun.

One note: the crumb topping, combined with the crunchiness of the sugar, was delicious. After a day or so, they started to soften a bit, and I missed the crunch. Since these freeze well, I'd advise serving or eating some right away and freezing the rest. Then just pull one out of the freezer when you want a treat!

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