Delicate and Decadent Desserts: Apricot Slice
If a lemon bar and a Bakewell tart had a bastard child, this would be it
The Bakewell tart originates in the eponymous town in Derbyshire, England. It’s comprised of a round shortcrust base with an almond and egg filling. It differs from standard tarts in that the jam or fruit sweetener is spread across the finished tart rather than mixed in with the rest of the filling prior to cooking, making for a tri-layer desert.
My grandmother used to make something she called lemon bars, a special treat for the rare occasions we traveled across the country to visit. They came in a high-sided rectangular baking dish and were cut up into squares. And though they were delicious, we were always confused by the inexplicable fact that they contained no lemon whatsoever. Nevertheless, they were called lemon bars and you’d get your hide tanned if you tried to reason with the woman, so lemon bars they remained.
In actual fact, the recipe bears a striking resemblance to a Bakewell tart save that fresh apricots are employed instead of jam to create a pleasantly tart astringency and the shortcrust is replaced with a flakey yeast dough that supports rather than supplants the flavor and texture of the filling. But, now that I’m much too far away for grandma to smack me, I’ve added a little lemon to the recipe to make an honest woman out of her. Enjoy.
INGREDIENTS FOR DOUGH
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 package active dry yeast
- ½ cup milk
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 egg
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons butter
INGREDIENTS FOR MIDDLE
- 1 ½ cups cottage cheese
- 1 ½ lbs fresh apricots or one 8-ounce canned apricot halves
- 2 eggs
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ lemon
INGREDIENTS FOR TOPPING (OPTIONAL)
- One 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 stick margarine, melted
- 1 lb package of confectioner’s sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
METHOD FOR DOUGH
- Use a microwave safe bowl or stove and saucepan to heat the milk. The temperature should be similar to that of a warm bath. If you’ve a candy thermometer, it should read 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pour the yeast into the milk and add a pinch of sugar. Let it sit for five minutes until the surface has begun to froth. Whisk gently to moisten any bits of yeast that have not been absorbed into the milk.
- Melt butter completely and allow it to cool. Beat the egg in a bowl, then pour half the egg and the butter into the milk. Discard the other half of the egg or make a very small omelet; the choice is up to you. Mix gently.
- Combine remaining sugar and flour in separate bowl. Pour liquid mixture into flour mixture and mix with wooden spoon until all moisture has been absorbed.
- Place the resultant dough on a floured surface and knead it vigorously for five minutes. You will know it is done when the dough can be worked into a cohesive ball and rolled across a work surface without sticking. I have been told you should flour your own hands when working dough, but I find coating them in a thin layer of butter or margarine to be more effective.
- Cover dough with a clean cloth and allow to rise in a warm place for half an hour.
METHOD FOR MIDDLE
- If using fresh apricots, wash, halve, and pit them. If using canned, drain and allow to dry.
- Place cottage cheese into a blender and puree until the consistency is similar to loose pudding. Transfer to a medium bowl.
- Using a cheesegrater, grate off the rind of the lemon. If you haven’t grated citrus before, keep in mind how painful getting it into cuts on your hands is and please don’t touch the tissue around your eyes and nose until you’ve washed your hands clean. It will burn. Alot. Also, be advised that only the colorful, waxy, outermost layer is good for zest and flavor. The white interior of the rind should not be used.
- Squeeze the lemon for its juice and carefully whisk in the cornstarch. Be advised it will form a clump if added too quickly, and it will begin to thicken the juice almost immediately, so you must work quickly.
- Add the cornstarch mix, the lemon zest, eggs, and sugar to the pureed cottage cheese and stir to a homogenous consistency.
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9 by 13-inch cake pan.
- Roll the risen dough on a floured surface and fit it into the base of the pan. Spread the cottage cheese mix in a layer atop the dough and press the apricots into the layer in an even grid pattern. Sprinkle with sliced almonds.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool ten minutes before cutting into squares and levering from the pan.
METHOD FOR TOPPING
- If you want to go the extra mile and make a cream cheese icing, cool. You can mix up the ingredients while the cut squares are cooling down to room temperature. But you may wish to forego the almonds in the previous segment. The flavor combination is just fine, but the texture of soft icing versus brittle almond can bother some people.
- In electric mixer, combine softened cream cheese and melted margarine. Beat at medium-high speed until soft peaks form.
- Add vanilla. Decrease speed to low and add confectioner’s sugar little by little, then slowly increase rate of speed back to high until mixture is thick and of spreadable consistency.
- Use the icing to fill in the gaps atop the pastry surrounding the apricots. Refrigerate and served slightly below room temperature.
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