Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Apricot Jam and My Pantry

apricot jam

When the urge to bake strikes, I sometimes know exactly what I’m going to bake. But most of the time I have absolutely no idea. On numerous occasions I just bake with the ingredients I have on hand (since I dislike leaving the house to go to buy groceries once I’m settled in for the evening). Luckily, I keep a fairly well stocked baking pantry. I always have the basics like flour, sugar, eggs and butter and I try to keep a decent supply of "flavorings" like chocolate, nuts, fruits, extracts, spices and citrus. So when I have no clear idea, I just take a look in the kitchen cabinets and see what inspires me.

A recent baking session was inspired by a jar of apricot jam. I remembered a peculiar recipe for shortbread that I saw in one of my many cookbooks. The recipe itself was not the peculiar thing. It was the method that was different. After mixing the shortbread dough, the dough is frozen, and then grated into a baking pan. I was so fascinated by this method that I had made a note on my "mental to do recipe list". Now, you may ask, what does this have to do with apricot jam or my pantry? Well, the recipe was for a jam shortbread bar. And the required ingredients, aside from the jam, are just the baking pantry basics: flour, sugar, eggs and butter.

According to the instructions, grating the dough solves the problem of "sticky hands" typically associated with making shortbread dough and gives the finished shortbread a lighter texture. Generally speaking, I've never found sticky shortbread dough to be a big problem (maybe a tiny problem), but I understand that stickiness can lead to overworking which can lead to toughness.

So the results? The thin layer of apricot jam was just enough to cut some of the buttery richness of the shortbread base. And the crispier shortbread topping added some nice texture. Each layer was distinct in its own way, but the whole was much more than the sum of its parts.

apricot shortbread bar

Apricot Jam Shortbread Bars
(from Baking with Julia)

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 egg yolks
1 cup apricot jam

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside dry ingredients.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and egg yolks until fluffy. Add the dry ingredients and mix until the dry ingredients are just incorporated.

Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and quickly form two balls (one just slightly larger than the other). Wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 1 hour (or as long as 1 month).

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Take the larger ball of frozen dough and coarsely grate (by hand or using grating disk of food processor) into the bottom of prepared pan. Spread out the shreds of dough evenly in the pan.

Spread the apricot jam evenly over the base layer of dough. Take the remaining ball of frozen dough and coarsely grate over the jam layer.

Bake until golden brown, approximately 35-45 minutes. Cool completely before cutting. Sprinkle the tops with powdered sugar if you like.


almond cookie

Almond Cookies

I found a recipe for almond cookies that called for orange marmalade to be mixed into the cookie batter. Because of the addition of marmalade and my affection for amaretti, I put this recipe on my aforementioned "mental to do list". The inclusion of orange marmalade may seem unusual, but makes sense because the slightly bitter edge of the mostly sweet orange marmalade matches very nicely with the natural bitterness of almonds.

But I decided to use apricot jam instead of marmalade because I had that open jar of jam and since apricots and almonds have a natural affinity. Almonds and other nuts were once considered luxury items and, therefore, quite expensive. Some people would take the pits of stone fruits (such as apricots), crack the hull and pick out the "kernel" inside the pit. These apricot kernels have a flavor similar to almonds. They were more widely available and an alternative to the more expensive almonds. As almonds became more widely available, the use of these kernels diminished. Although, due to tradition, custom, or pure economics, some liquors, jams and other recipes are still made using these kernels.

The apricot jam added a somewhat unidentifiable but pleasant fruitiness to the almond cookie without overwhelming the almond flavor. The addition of the jam made the cookie soft and chewy which most tasters enjoyed.

Almond Cookies
(about 36 cookies)

9 ounces ground unblanched almonds
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 egg whites
1 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup apricot jam

Mix together ground almonds, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Add egg whites, almond extract and apricot jam. Stir until well combined. Chill dough for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Form ¾-inch balls of dough and space them 1-inch apart on parchment lined cookie sheets.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until cookies are slightly firm and light golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes before removing cookies to a cooling rack.


Extra tidbit...

baking area

I don’t really have a proper pantry (baking or otherwise) in my small kitchen. What I call my "pantry" is actually various cabinets throughout my kitchen (and the refrigerator too). But luckily, most of my baking ingredients are located in one area of my kitchen. Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I took a quick inventory of the items currently in my baking arsenal. Here are just a few of the highlights:

10 pounds unsalted butter
2 dozen eggs
14 pounds all-purpose flour
11 pounds sugar (granulated, brown, powdered, pearl, demerara)
12.5 pounds chocolate (72%, 60%, 54%, bitter, semi, milk, white)
6 pounds dried fruit (apricots, cherries, plums, cranberries)
9 pounds nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts)
4 pounds Crisco vegetable shortening
20 ounces vanilla extract
53 ounces Nutella


Abby said...

I think both those recipes sound excellent.

Do you always store your butters in the cupboard? I keep mine in the fridge, which really makes it difficult to bake sometimes when they need to be room temp!

I know they can sit out just fine, but I guess I do it that way because my mother always has!

Mary said...

Abby - I always store my butter in the refrigerator or freezer. But when I'm going to bake, I'll take the butter out and let it sit on the kitchen counter to bring it to room temperature. If I'm short on time, I'll microwave the butter on low for a few seconds.

Ivonne said...

Oh! This post gives me shivers! Especially the apricot bars. Mary, I'm counting on you to bake for me while I'm "ovenless"!

clarice said...

Mary I want to thank you for giving information about the recipes you post. It is so helpful to hear what works, what doesn't, ect. I really enjoy your blog. Clarice

peabody said...

That's a lot of butter.
Your jam bars look so good.

Mary said...

Ivonne - I'm counting the days until the Cream Puff will rise again! Until then, I have enough ingredients to bake for the both of us.

Clarice - Thank you for the lovely comment.

Peabody - Yes, it is a lot of butter. But I try to buy butter in bulk since I bake so often.

jenjen said...

yum yum yum!!! Oh how I love a great biscuit/cookie, and here are two wonderful creations! You always have interesting and inspiring creations.

And as for your pantry, I only wish my pantry looked as pretty as yours. Mine is this ugly peach colour. Uggh! Good for fruits, not for walls.

gilly said...

Both recipes sound delectable! I too, am intrigued by the grating of shortbread dough - fantastic! Thanks for sharing a glimpse into your pantry, as well!

Helene said...

I was wondering what you were concocting for us and both these recipes look delicious.It's funny, the minute I step in the house after work, I take the butte out of the fridge "just in case" I need it soft after a recipe later. It has become a habit such as taking my shoes off or brushing my teeth!
My husband was kind enough to build me big pantry but that means more chance for mess or forgotten items!

Ellie said...

Both sound absolutely delish, but I've got to admit that those bars have stolen my heart!

As for the inventory of your kitchen, I read it but can't remember anything except that white KitchenAid *pines and makes sad grabby motions*

Dianka said...

Yum, both of your treats look wonderful! I love baking with the ingredients I have on hand! Cute pantry!

keiko said...

Hi Mary - I'm actually not a fan of jams, but fell in love with this beautiful jelly like jam - what a lovely colour! Love your kitchen too, you've got the same kichenaid as mine ;)

Anita said...

Those apricot shortbread bars sound divine! And I love the color of your jam!

Claire said...

What a pantry supply! I wish mine looked like that. I think that the apricot bars sound DELISH! When we lived overseas, dried apricots abounded. Now, I almost never see them. I've never had a fresh apricot, but this weekend bought some pluots (plums and apricots combined). They are SOOO good!

Mary said...

Jenjen - I have so many little jars, cans and bags of stuff that I have to keep the cabinets fairly organized. Otherwise I'd never find what I need.

Gilly - The grating of the dough was quite unusual but I had to try it at least once.

Helene - I know what you mean about it becoming a habit. And how lucky that you have real pantry (and built by your hubbie too!)

Ellie - There's just something about those KitchenAid mixers that makes my heart skip a beat too.

Dianka - Thanks! Sometimes a baking addict like me just has to make do with what I have.

Keiko - I tried to take my mom's 30 year old KA mixer with me when I moved out, but she said "no way!". So I had to buy my own. Not that I really minded...

Anita - The shortbread bars were well received at my office. I love the jewel tones of summer jams.

Claire - It might be too late in the season for fresh apricots but I'm glad you found some pluots.

Eggy said...

I have a bottle of marmalade that a friend brought back from Sorrento that I need to use up. Thanks for the almond cookie idea!

Joe said...

Hmm we have a lot of the same supplies! The recipes all sound so good!

Nicole said...

What a beautiful blog! So glad I found you :-) Those apricot shortbread bars look amazing!

Mary said...

Eggy - Maramalade would work great. But if your marmalade is seems too chunky, I would probably give it a quick twirl in the food processor to smooth it out before adding to the cookie batter.

Joe - And I keep buying more and more baking supplies too. Just can't help myself.

Nicole - The apricot shortbread bars were quite delish! Your blog is gorgeous as well.

Ashley said...

Mary - Thanks for posting about grating shortbread dough!! It's one of those things that after you read about it you think "why didn't I think of that?!" I have some shortbread dough in my freezer and I have been meaning to use it but I keep on thinking that by the time it thaws and I shape it into cookies or a tart shell or something else than it might be tough. All that to say... now I know what to do... GRATE IT!! Thanks!

Orchidea said...

Nice recipes... I also have a small kitchen but a lot of cabinets and that works fine for me now. I wish a bigger kitchen in the future... and a lot of space I can use fot my cooking...

gattina said...

gosh, your shortbread looks so great! Mmmm... seems like I able taste that tangy sweet too, love it!

Alanna said...

Lovoe the two recipes but my goodness, what bowls me over is the pantry! How many pounds of butter??? I buy two or three pounds when it's on sale but ten, my goodness, I must visit more often to see what emerges from the oven!

Mary said...

Ashley - Grating the dough is a great idea. Thanks to Gale Gand for sharing the idea with Julia Child.

Orchidea - I'd love to have a larger kitchen too. But the small size forces me to be neater and more organized.

Gattina - The tangy sweetness of the jam went perfectly with the buttery shortbread.

AK - Costco just started stocking unsalted butter and they're sold in 4-lb packages. It was so cheap I just had to buy a couple packs.

Kuzma Prutkov said...

Apricot jam photo-I like. Looks very professional.

Anonymous said...

almond cookies are the best cookies I have ever made. Thank you for the recipe!