Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Apricot Conserve – an excellent career choice !

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Apricots just need a little career guidance to live up to their potential...
If I was writing a school report for the average apricot, I would probably give it a B+ for effort but I’d scribble “must try harder - fails to live up to potential” in the margin. You know what I mean. How often have you bitten into a fragrant golden apricot expecting a flood of heavenly juice - only to get a mouthful of apricot-flavoured cotton wool?

Raw talent is not enough. Apricots need proper career guidance and the right environment to fulfil their potential. In most cases, this needs to involve a little sweetness and a lot of heat.

My favourite way of helping this lovely fruit fulfil its potential is Apricot Conserve – not only does it bring a concentrated mouthful of summer to the breakfast table, it is also wonderful in baking. In olfactory terms, it is the equivalent of a hug from your favourite person.

For this recipe, I have included some apricot kernels for their intense almond flavour which marries so well with apricots. The kernels are widely used in food and drink products – it’s what gives amaretto its distinctive almond flavour. However, apricot kernels contain a minuscule amount of cyanide so you may prefer to leave them out. In any case, I discard them when they turn up on the spoon.

For approximately 3 x 370g pots of Apricot Conserve you will need…
… 3 sterilised jam jars

1kg firm ripe apricots
750g caster sugar
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 or 6 apricot stones, depending on how strong an almond flavour you want to impart to the jam (optional)

1.         Cut the apricot into quarters, discarding all but 3 of the stones. Place the apricot quarters in a glass bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar. Cover and leave to macerate for 8 hours or overnight. This ensures that the fruit stays reasonably whole during the cooking process and helps concentrate the flavour.  Put 3 saucers in the freezer – not your best china obviously - you’ll need them for ‘the wrinkle test’ to see whether the jam has set or not.
2.         When ready to make the jam, transfer the macerated fruit mixture to a large heavy-based saucepan – the mixture will bubble up about 4 times its volume during the cooking. Place the saucepan on a low heat until all the sugar has entirely dissolved, then turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. During cooking, some of the juice will evaporate and the golden colour will become deeper.
3.         If you have a sugar thermometer, bring the temperature up to ‘Jam’ and keep it there for 8 minutes. If you don’t have a sugar thermometer, simply boil the jam vigorously for 8 minutes.

Hubble, bubble, no toil, no trouble...
4.         In either case, I use the wrinkle test. Remove one of the saucers from the freezer and place a spoonful of the hot liquid on the cold surface. Leave it to cool for about 30 seconds then push your finger gently through it. If the jam has reached setting point, the surface of the liquid will wrinkle. If not, let the jam bubble for a further 2 minutes and test again, using the next cold saucer. If necessary, continue testing until wrinkles appear J.
5.         Once you have achieved wrinkles, remove the jam from the heat and leave to cool for 15 minutes. This helps ensure that the fruit is evenly distributed when you put it in the jars.
6.         If you are including the almond kernels, give the stones a sharp tap with a kitchen mallet or a heavy based saucepan to reveal the kernel. Put the kernels in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Cool them quickly in cold water and squeeze gently. They should slip easily out of their brown overcoats.
7.         Place 1 or 2 kernels in each jam jar before carefully filling with the apricot conserve. Seal and keep in a cool dark place.

Note: To sterilise the jars, I put them through the dishwasher, or wash them in hot soapy water and dry them in the oven at 100˚C.
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