Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's Apricot Fiesta Time!

The California Apricot is one of nature’s nutritional powerhouses. They are one of the healthiest and most beneficial fruits available.  They are rich in beta-carotene, Vitamin C, potassium, iron.  They are also very high in fiber and do not contain any cholesterol.  The apricot seed has a high B17 content and has been found to be effective in preventing cancer.

Over 90% of the apricots produced in the United States are grown in the central California San Joaquin Valley. One small farm town, Patterson, prides itself on being at the center of apricot production and hosts an annual Apricot Fiesta.  This weekend marks the 43rd annual event. 

Back in 1975, an 18-year-old young woman, one week away from her high school graduation, vied for the title of Miss Apricot and won.  I was that young woman. I had the honor of representing my hometown in various festivals & parades, attending functions and giving talks on the virtues of California apricots. Besides having a lot of fun, I learned the art of public speaking and conversing with strangers that has helped me in my career as a CPA.

I’ve always loved apricots and  cook and bake with them quite frequently. The apricot season is very short but canned and dried apricots are available year-round. Each year I make 3-4 batches of apricot jam, which is not only tasty but is so pretty in the pantry.

Our area's apricots are not quite ripe yet, some early varieties are hitting the markets but the season really won't begin for a few more weeks.  Plus, we've had mild weather, the apricots need the warm weather to fully develop the sugar in the fruit. Apricots also don't ripen after picking, a great tasting apricot is picked ripe. When shopping for apricots choose an apricot that is plump and that responds to the slight pressure of your thumb. Look for apricots that are orange-gold in color.

When I crave an apricot dessert when the fresh fruit isn't available I often turn to my stash of apricot jam. These two recipes are not only easy but showcase the wonderful flavor of the apricots.

This recipe is adapted from a sourdough cookbook I have.  I never manage to keep a sourdough starter living, even though I love the flavor it gives baked goods.  My life is too hectic to be worrying about feeding the starter! So, for this recipe, I use a regular sweet dough. 

Apricot Cream Cheese Twists

1 recipe sweet yeast dough of your choice (today I made a batch in my bread machine)
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup apricot jam

Roll the yeast dough to an approximate 18" x 10" rectangle.
Spread cream cheese over dough, leaving about an inch along all sides.
Spread apricot jam over cream cheese.

Fold the dough in thirds (like an envelope).

Cut into 1" strips.  Holding each end, twist once or twice.
Put on parchment-covered baking pan.  And, yes, this is the messy part, you will have jam all over your hands! Have a piece of toast handy and indulge yourself!

Put in warm place and let rise about 1/2 hour.

Using a beaten egg, lightly brush the tops of the twists.  Sprinkle sliced almonds on top.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. 

Cool on wire rack.  You can top them with a confectioners sugar glaze or, for more apricot goodness, brush with warm melted jam.

When done, put on bright paper plates and deliver to your neighbors!

I got the following recipe from a Taste of Home cookbook many years ago. It's very popular whenever I serve them and I always get a request for the recipe.  These bars are very versatile and so quick to put together. I've served them at brunch, taken to picnics, packed for an airplane snack, taken to bereaving families. Whenever I make them I try not to leave too many at home as they are very addictive for me! This batch went to a homebound family friend and her health care worker as well as my book club group!

The flavor ingredients.

Press 2/3 of the dough in pan, layer with jam, then crumble remaining dough on top.

 So yummy, they have a soft shortbread-like crust with the combination of chewy coconut and crunchy walnuts.

Apricot Bars

¾ cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 1/3 cups shredded coconut

½ cup chopped walnuts

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 jar (12 ounces) apricot preserves

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Add egg; mix well.  In separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder.  Gradually add to butter mixture.  Add coconut, walnuts and vanilla; mix thoroughly.  Press two-thirds of dough into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-inch. baking pan.  Spread with preserves; crumble remaining dough over preserves.  Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool in pan on wire rack.  Cut into squares. 

Join me Friday at Foodie Friday, lots of great recipes there!

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