Saturday, August 4, 2012

I like them all kinds of ways

Apricots.  Now I am going to talk about apricots- and how wonderful they are baked, broiled, poached,   fresh, sliced, dipped in honey, and sometimes covered in caramel.

I've been told I should always bake apricots to avoid the sometimes spongy and tasteless fruit that sometimes exists in other peoples apricots. Not my apricots- or rather- not Washington apricots, fresh picked and perfectly ripe.  Another fruit point for the west coast.  My native pride- or state ism- is melting away. Don't tell my maple syrup man...

Anyways, as much as I've been eating fresh, tart, and raw apricots- I'd also like to talk about baking with them.  Here's a secret- I crave sweets all the time, but when I bake only for myself it's kinda like I'm cooking- I get distracted, cut corners, and usually do the first thing that comes to mind.  For me that's been apricots as of late. Oh, and peaches. Sliced and tossed with granulated maple sugar and lemon and covered with a very lose oat crumble. I pretend its healthy and eat it for breakfast- or sometimes as a snack in between desserts. Seriously. 

I'm not going to give you this recipe because its embarrassing, but if you were to walk into my kitchen right now you would probably see some on my stove. I take that back, you would definitely find some on my stove and lucky for you I would probably share- as long as you didn't make fun of me and my makeshift cobbler.

OK I'm getting back to it. Apricots. Vanilla Buttermilk Cake. Honey Caramel Sauce. Yep, that's really all I have to say.

Except there's always more to say about caramel sauce.  Growing up I was always a rainbow sprinkles gal over caramel or hot fudge. Call me simple, but there is something about rainbow sprinkles that is completely nostalgic and utterly satisfying.  I digress I know, but fun fact one of my first "restaurant" jobs was at the Whippie Dip in Fairlee, VT and for two summers I dipped a lot of cones in caramel and never got the point, especially when there was the viable option of rainbow sprinkles.

But rainbow sprinkles aside, I think I get it now. That is to say, I get Caramel and how fantastic it is- rich, nutty, sweet, and salty its like the tawny port of desserts.  I'm not even sure that's an apt comparison, but I said it, I'm going with it, so there you have it.

Specifically, I like apricots coated in caramel sauce. A lot.  Cakes aside I could eat them with a spoon.

So here you go. To make about half a mason jar (thats a real measurement when it comes to liquid sweet things you will possibly need to store) of honey caramel sauce combine 1 cup of brown sugar and 1/2 cup of honey or granulated honey in a sauce pan on medium low heat.  I prefer granulated honey because I like making caramel with less liquid and also I really like the granulated honey I buy because its especially floral, with a deep flavor and a lighter color to balance out the brown sugar.
Making caramel is kinda tricky and I often screw it up, but I am practicing and it seems to be coming along. I've found it's best to leave it alone while it begins to boil, to avoid introducing too much air into the mixture and messing up the creamy glassy nature of your finished caramel- sauce or candy.  Every so often I will tilt the pan to let the sugar redistribute, but don't start stirring until the end.  After it has been bubbling for sometime the mixture will start to pull away from the sides.

That's the moment I've found you really have to watch it. Its usually seconds between perfect and burnt, so at that point it's best to keep your eyes on it.  Technically I believe you want the temperature at about 350 to 355 degrees, but you can also do it by sight and smell.  Once the mixture reaches a uniform caramel brown (isn't the obvious) color you are probably good to go.  Also, the sugars will begin to break down and the honey will smell much richer and nuttier.  At this time add heavy cream and butter- both add creaminess, but the amount you add of each depends on what you want your caramel to do at room temp. Personally I did a 1/2 cup of each, but when I reheated it later after it had thickened some I added more heavy cream because I wanted more of a glaze and less of a thick sauce.

I'm not sure what I've been afraid of all these years, it's surprisingly easy, way easier than making rainbow sprinkles from scratch, that's for sure.  So over ice cream, apples, peaches, or yes- raw apricots I like it, a lot.

Happy summer!

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