Thursday, June 21, 2012

(Sugar-Free) Fresh Apricot Crostata

Sugar-Free Fresh Apricot Crostata

Apricot feast or apricot famine! Last year - famine.  This year - feast!  I went to the farmer's market and bought seconds; ripe, delicious, and cheaper than firsts. First came multiple batches of jam, then a batch of apricot liqueur. I saved all the pits, smashed them open, and put them into some organic Prairie vodka to make almond extract. (The kernel in the pit is a "bitter almond," poisonous to eat, but what almond extract is made from; it's far more almond-y than almonds are!) I was feeling pretty satisfied, the larder was full and I had enough to weather the next famine; no need for more.  But.....then my friend Kate scored yet another massive batch of organic apricots at the farmer's market; the first time she scored 25 pounds and hustled to use it all, soliciting recipes from all her friends in the longest Facebook exchange I've ever seen.  Then she scored another 36 pounds - yikes!  This time she was ready to share some, so we traded; some Artemesia Organic Blood Orange Liqueur for 10 pounds of apricots.  The ripest ones needed to be used right away, so I just went straight into jam mode.... there went five pounds.  A few more went into the jar of liqueur, with more vodka to cover.  And that left me with about 3 more pounds.  Hmmmm...... Apricot Crostata!

If you notice any similarity between this and my recipe for sugar-free Linzertorte, you are a clever and observant reader.  I changed my recipe for the dough ever so slightly (almond meal only instead of hazelnuts, a little vanilla), and the filling recipe here is essentially a quick jam recipe.  In fact, if you don't have any fresh apricots on hand, you can use some sugar-free apricot jam - preferably home-made. Both commercial varieties of sugar-free apricot jam I tried truly had no discernible flavor at all, so if that's all you have available, I would doctor the jam; see below* for instructions.

The recipe would work perfectly with cherries, using exactly the same proportions (I riffed the filling recipe off of a cherry crostata recipe in the Gourmet Cookbook.)  If you use cherries, eliminate the almond extract.

Sugar-Free Fresh Apricot Crostata
Time to add the thickener

1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 large egg yolks
Finely grated fresh lemon zest from 1 lemon
1 tsp apple sauce
1/2 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup erythritol
3 TB xylitol
6 tiny scoops stevia extract powder  (the little measuring spoon in the container)


8 oz/2 fairly packed cups of almond meal
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (spoon and sweep measuring*)
1/4 cup + 2 TB soy protein
1/2 tsp salt

1 3/4 lbs ripe, fresh apricots
3 TB unsalted butter, divided into a few pieces

1/4 cup + 3 TB erythritol
3 TB + 1 1/2 tsp xylitol
6 tiny scoops stevia extract powder

1-2 TB fresh lemon juice (I used Meyer)
2 TB kirsch
1/2 tsp almond extract

3 TB corn or tapioca starch dissolved in 1/4 cup water

Tools: a 10" tart pan with a removable bottom, a mixer

Dough Instructions:
Using your mixer, beat the butter until fluffy.  Then add the remaining ingredients from group I and beat until well combined.

Measure all of the sweeteners from group II into a small bowl and whisk to combine. Add to the butter mixture and beat until well combined.

Next, measure all of the ingredients from group III into a medium-sized bowl and whisk to combine.  Add gradually to the butter mixture until it is well mixed.  Form the dough into two equal balls, place each on its own sheet of waxed paper, and squash into large disks. Put them in the fridge to chill for at least 1/2 hour.

While the dough is chilling, make the filling:

Filling Instructions

Wash, dry, pit and cut the apricots into quarters. (Save the pits to make  your own almond extract!)

Add the butter to a 12" saute pan and melt over medium low heat. Add the apricots, lemon juice, kirsch and almond extract and stir to combine. While the apricot mixture cooks over medium heat, measure the sweeteners into a small bowl and whisk to combine.  Add the sweeteners to the apricot mixture and stir well.  Please note: the sweetener amount is calculated for really sweet, ripe apricots (Blenheims are sooooo delicious!) If your apricots are a little tart and under-ripe, up the sweeteners to taste, and go with the lower amount of lemon juice - perhaps even dropping it; it's there to balance the sweetness. Cook until the apricots have softened somewhat, and released their juices, about 8-10 minutes. Stir up the starch/water slurry to recombine and add it to the apricot mixture.  Cook until the whole batch thickens and no longer tastes of corn starch, about 10 minutes more. You will have a delicious, flavorful filling. Let it cool in the pan.


Remove the dough from the refrigerator to soften, and pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Put a silpat on a baking sheet, or cover it in foil, and place on the middle rack of the oven to heat.

When the dough is malleable enough to roll, remove one dough disk and set it aside so that you can use both pieces of waxed paper to roll the dough with.  (Of course you can use an additional piece of waxed paper, but I like to use as little disposable stuff as possible.) Placing one disk between two pieces of waxed paper, roll until the dough into a 12" round.  Put it in the tart pan, and press the dough up the sides of the pan. You can trim off the excess dough or fold it over to reinforce the sides of the tart.  Put it back in the refrigerator while you work on the second disk.

Using your two pieces of waxed paper, roll the second disk into another 12" round. Remove the top layer of waxed paper, and cut the round into 10 strips, each one 3/4" -1" wide. Put the whole thing on a baking sheet and put it in the fridge to firm up a bit - this makes it easier to handle - while you do the rest.

Remove the tart pan from the refrigerator, and fill it with the luscious apricot filling. You may have a tablespoon or two left over; don't over-fill the pan - it will overflow and make a sticky mess. This extra filling is the cook's treat while the tart cooks.  Well, of course. you could eat it right now, before you go to the next step; I did.

Take your dough strips out of the refrigerator, and being mindful that the outside pieces are the shortest and you will need to repeat the strips going the other way, lay the strips across the tart, either straight to make squares or on the diagonal to make diamonds.  You may need to use a spatula to remove the dough strips from the paper. Pinch the outer edges of the dough onto the dough rim in the pan and remove any excess.  Repeat going the other way.  You will likely have a few small pieces of dough; again, cook's treat. You can eat it raw, or put it on the cookie sheet to bake; it makes a tasty shortbread-like cookie. Just remember to take it out after about 10-12 minutes, or it will burn. (I've done this twice now; phooey.)

Put the tart on the heated cookie sheet in the middle of the oven, and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour, until the crust is golden-brown and the filling is bubbling.

Cool the crostata for at least an hour and a half so that you can safely remove it from the pan and cut it without it breaking.

*Special instructions for doctoring commercially made jam:  Take 1 1/3 cups apricot jam. In a medium sized sauce pan, melt the butter, then add the jam and thin it by heating it a bit. Add the almond extract, lemon juice and kirsch in the proportions shown above, and heat and stir to combine. Taste it, adjust the flavors, and follow the directions from there.


To make this recipe gluten-free, simply substitute your favorite gluten-free baking mix for the whole-wheat pasty flour. All set!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tangy Sugar-Free Apricot Jam

I never laid eyes on a fresh apricot until I moved to California.  For a special treat, we might crack open a can of apricots in heavy syrup after dinner, or get some dried in our Christmas stockings, but fresh? Never.  Apricots don't travel well; they really need to be picked when they're super ripe and flavorful, and they won't travel very far that way.  This is one fruit you are really best off buying super-ripe, straight from the grower at a farmer's market; then take them home and cook them up or eat them straight away.

In fact, apricots are at their very tastiest when they are ripe to the point of smooshi-ness.  When you are prepping them, just cut out the really dark bruises or tough scaly patches they sometimes get, (the tough skin doesn't soften as it cooks.) Be sure to use the really ripe soft ones - they are the best of all!

The 2011 California apricot crop was a complete bust, (bloom+rain = sleeping bees= no fruit) so I was unable to make jam.  Because I wanted to use sugar-free apricot jam in my almond butter thumbprint cookies, I wound up buying two different brands of xylitol-sweetened apricot jam.  Phooey.  They both just tasted like..... nothing. 

This recipe, which I adapted from Gourmet Cookbook, could never be called dull.  Tangy, flavorful - oh, boy!  (How good is it? I gave a jar to my friend Shiela, and she confessed to enjoying it so much she started eating it with a spoon straight out of the jar.)

Interestingly, the recipe includes almond extract, which is extracted from the "bitter almond" kernels inside the apricot pit; although you won't be able to detect the flavor of the almond in the jam, the extract enhances the apricot flavor on a very deep level. This jam will not disappoint!

Sugar-Free Apricot Jam
(adapted from Gourmet Cookbook)
A Case of Frog Hollow Seconds

5 pounds ripe organic apricots or apriums
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
10 tsp calcium water

2 1/2 - 3 cups erythritol
1 - 1 1/2 cups xylitol*
1 1/4 tsp stevia extract powder
7 1/2 tsp low sugar pectin (such as Pomona)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp unsalted butter (this keeps the jam from foaming up)

If the jars are brand new, wash them and the rings and lids to remove any chemicals left from processing. If they have been sitting in the basement, check them for dust, and wash off any you find. Put the jars and rings into a very large stockpot or canning pot and fill with hot water to cover by an inch or two. Put them on the rear burner of the stove over high heat and bring them to a boil. When they come to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and keep them hot and ready.

Following the instructions in your low sugar pectin kit, make calcium water. (I use Pomona brand.)

Meanwhile, prepare the fruit: wash it, dry it, remove the pits, cut the apricots in small chunks and put it in an 8 quart, heavy stock pot, along with the calcium water and the lemon juice. Put it on the stove and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a full boil.

While the fruit cooks, measure the sweeteners into a medium-sized bowl; if the fruit is sweet, start with the smaller amount - you can always add more later. If the fruit is tart, you can go straight to the higher amount if you wish.  Add the pectin to the sweeteners and whisk them all well to combine.

Cook the fruit until it comes to a full boil, softens and becomes the consistency of chunky apple sauce.  (See picture below.) When the fruit is ready, get a long-handled wooden spoon ready, and gradually add the sweetener mix to the hot fruit, stirring constantly as you pour in the sweeteners. Stir well and frequently to dissolve the pectin and the sweeteners with the fruit and to prevent lumping. Add the almond extract and the butter. (The butter is optional, but keeps the foam in check.) Bring it back to a full boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Taste and adjust sweetness as necessary.  Turn off the heat.  Get ready to can. (Don't worry if it isn't as thick as jam; it thickens as it cools.)
This jam is about ready to have the sweetener/pectin mix added

Clear a good sized work surface near the stove, and cover it with clean dishtowels (preferably ones you don't care about!)

Turn the heat off under the pot of jars and move it to the front of the stove so you can reach them easily, and move the jam to the back of the stove so you don't get water into it by accident. (Put the lid on the pot of jam if necessary.) Using tongs or a jar lifter in your dominant hand, and a clean dishtowel in your other hand, carefully remove the lids and rings and drain them on the towels on your work surface. Lift each jar out of the hot water, dump the hot water back into the pot, and carefully guide and transport the hot jar over to the work table, using the towel in your non-dominant hand to support the jars until you get it safely to its destination. Turn it upside down to drain out the extra water. Repeat until all of the jars are drained and ready. Scald your best ladle and wide-mouthed funnel in the boiling water and have them ready with your jars.

Turn the heat back on medium high underneath the pot of water and bring it back to a full boil while you jar the jam.

Now, again using your tongs (or a clean towel, oven mitts, or tough hands!) turn the jars right side up, and line them up to be ready to fill. If you have a wide-mouthed jar funnel (which I so highly recommend - available at any good hardware store, Bed Bath and Beyond, well stocked grocery stores, etc., for less than $5) put it on top of one of the jars.

Grab your best ladle, and bring the pot of hot jam over to your work surface. Carefully fill each jar, leaving 1/4" of space at the top. If you have a wide-mouthed funnel, the bottom should come to just the right spot. If you don't, do your best! If necessary, spoon some out to reach the right level. After you have filled all your jars, use a clean, moist towel to wipe the ring area and the top surface of the jars clean. Again, if you have a wide-mouthed funnel, you are much less likely to spill the jam onto the jars and need to clean them. If you have less than a full jar of jam, put that one straight into use and don't bother to can it.

Put the lids on, followed by the screw tops, and screw them down.

When the water bath comes back to a full boil, reduce the heat to low, and again using your tongs, carefully lower the jars back in one at a time. (The shock of the boiling water can break the jar, which is a big messy bummer.) Boil them all for 10 full minutes, then remove them with your tongs, using the same tong/towel technique described above, and let them cool on the toweled work area. If necessary, work in batches.

Notes from Christine:

* Why the range of xylitol quantities?  The fruit varies widely in how sweet it is; if you have sweet fruit, use the lower amount, if tart, use the higher. You can always start with the smaller amount and add more if it needs it, but you can't subtract it once it's in!

"What's with all of these obscure sweeteners?" Erythritol and Xylitol are sugar alcohols; super low-glycemic, super low-calorie, super low-carbohydrate, and good for your teeth.  

Xylitol is low in carbohydrates and is about as sweet as cane sugar.  It has a fairly neutral flavor, but a little bright, almost pepperminty quality. It can be found easily at a well-stocked health food store or really good grocery store.

Erythritol has 0 carbohydrates and is very neutral in flavor - yay! But it is about 60% as sweet as sugar and is very difficult to find in stores, except in individual packets. As it is 60% as sweet as sugar, it takes quite a bit more to reach the right level of sweetness in a recipe, and this makes proportions difficult.  However, its very neutral profile - and 0 carbs! make it a natural for blending with xylitol and stevia, especially since stevia is so highly concentrated.  It's worth tracking it down by mail-order, or you could make a special request to a grocer to order some for you.

Stevia is a natural, calorie-free leaf extract, super concentrated and very sweet, but with a weird, bitter aftertaste and no volume; due to its highly concentrated state, one teeny-tiny scoopful (which comes in its container) is equal to a teaspoon of sugar. It is easily purchased at Trader Joe's or any grocery store.

Be aware that some Xylitol and Erythritol brands in American packaging are actually imported from China and repackaged. That is why I buy all of these directly from Xylitol USA, which manufactures them from North American sources.