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“What kind of tarts? I don’t know. But leave me a couple, will you?”
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
I went in search of the Blenheim Apricot. Once the darling of San Benito and Santa Clara counties production faded with the growth of imported apricots, urban development and big agriculture. B&R Farms in Hollister farms 100+ acres of Blenheim’s and has being doing so for 84 years. A fourth generation family business B&R Farms grows, harvests and packages the Blenheim as a dried apricot. I attended the summer harvest tour given by owner, Mari Rossi. Only during the height of the summer harvest is the highly perishable Blenheim sold as a fresh apricot. Sold only in twenty pound boxes, I came home with lots of apricots and plans for making jam. But first I made tarts.
The Blenheim is harvested with tinges of green that belie the intense apricot flavor hiding in the cantaloupe colored interior. Washed, cut, pitted, smoked in sulfur (to retain color and flavor) and dried in the hot Hollister sun the Blenheim is transformed into a radiant slice of summer to savor throughout the entire year. There is no comparison in the taste or color of a dried Blenheim to the pale, barely flavored imported apricots that we commonly find at our grocery stores.
I was seduced by the photo and recipe for Slim Apricot Tarts in Tender by Nigel Slater. The description of the tarts was enthralling. Capturing the essence of the apricots as they floated above a wisp of puff pastry was more than I could resist. Stubborn about taking shortcuts when baking I decided to make Quick Puff Pastry from Basic to Brilliant, Y’all by Virginia Willis. If making puff pastry is not on your agenda, frozen from the grocery store would be just as scrumptious. Although my Apricot Tarts do not look like the enchantress in Tender they do look like these. And they most certainly are intoxicating gems of deeply flavored Blenheim apricots cradled in a buttery crust. Dusted with the scent of lavender and a splash of crème fraîche the Blenheim Apricot Tarts are summer seduction.
With a summer of lavender blooming in our yard I imagined a fragrant pairing with the Blenheim apricots. The aroma of gently simmering apricots with lavender and sugar made for an intoxicating morning of baking. I wouldn’t mind if my kitchen always smelled that sweet. Take care, too much lavender can be overpowering, medicinal and piney in flavor. But just a hint of lavender imparts a subtle floral whisper to the apricots. Always use lavender grown without chemicals or pesticides. If your dried lavender is fresh, a deep regal purple and strongly scented use 1 teaspoon. If your lavender is older, a pale violet with a mellow aroma use up to 1 tablespoon. Or leave out the lavender entirely, as in the original recipe from Nigel Slater. I made six, five inch tarts (instead of two, six inch tarts) using three apricots per tart. I used Blenheim apricots, but any ripe apricot with lots of flavor will make a enchanting summer tart.
|1t-1T||dried culinary lavender|
|1/2 recipe||easy puff pastry (or 1 pkg frozen puff pastry)|
- Place the whole apricots in a saucepan with the sugar and dried lavender. Cover the apricots with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer to cook the apricots. The Blenheim apricots took twelve minutes to cook and become soft. The skin of the apricots will become wrinkled and some of the apricots will open. When cooked remove the apricots from the hot water to drain. When the apricots are cool, gently remove the skin and then the pit. Try to keep the apricots in halves as they will make an appearance on the tops of the tarts.
- Heat the oven to 425°. Heat a large sheet pan covered with parchment in the oven while you form the tarts.
- On a floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin roll out the puff pastry. For slim tarts the original recipe states to thinly roll out the dough 1/8” thick. I imagine a thicker base of puff pastry would be just as appealing. Cut out six, five inch circles. Score the edge of each circle with a knife. I followed the original instructions of 1/3”, but the border could be narrower. Keeping the apricots inside the the scored border of the tarts arrange the apricots, cut side down, across the tops of the tart dough.
- Use a large spatula to place the tarts on the hot sheet pan. Bake the tarts for 10-15 minutes until the puff pastry has browned along the edges of the tarts. Remove the tarts from the oven and brush generously with warmed apricot jam. Once cool, garnish with a drizzle of crème fraîche and lavender buds.