Make the most of apricots with these delicious seasonal desserts

apricot dessert
When it comes to apricots, heat performs miracles in the kitchen - Haarala Hamilton

This is the summer of apricots. With other things looking so uncertain – the weather, politics – I have been cleaving to this fruit. I’ve made apricots into jam with lavender, vanilla or amaretto. I have put them into upside-down cakes I could barely wait to eat (the tops are so glossy) and laid them in tarts with almond or pistachio frangipane. Have I finished these tarts with a light dusting of icing sugar? Sometimes. At other times I’ve glazed the top with lavender honey or warm apricot jam, sieved to remove the chunks of fruit. More glossiness.

I’ve poached apricots with lemon thyme and a drop of elderflower cordial, and I’ve baked them, cooking them in a chipped cast-iron gratin dish in a very low oven. If you do this in the evening, you can leave them to cool for breakfast.

We food writers moan a lot about ingredients. Part of our job is to keep on the backs of those who sell us food because we don’t want this thing we do three times a day – eat – to stop being a pleasure. We need to protect diversity and stop food from becoming bland, or a way to make a big, lazy profit.

Flavour (although it seems like a slight thing in the context of the world) is a big deal, a daily enjoyment that everyone should be able to experience, but with apricots I am totally forgiving.

Oh, I know that the best ones I’ve ever tasted were in France and Italy, where they were sold not far from the trees from whence they came. I know that apricots that land here have often been picked before they’re ripe and will never come to fullness. They can be dry and woolly.

And yet I also know that even a punnet of those tough little ‘ripen-at-home’ fruits will bring pleasure if they’re treated properly. Heat performs miracles.

A perfectly ripe French apricot is quite juicy (though never abundantly so) and balanced between sweet and tart. But an unpromising bagful of apricots can become as nectar-like as Sauternes, as honeyed and fragrant, cut through with citrussiness.

I like the apricot’s smallness, too; the way it doesn’t shout about its potential. Peaches can be big and blowsy, strawberries can be bling, but apricots have quiet romance on their side, belonging, as they do, to the rose family. Silk traders probably brought them westwards from China, where they were first grown. There, apricots are salted as well as smoked (just imagine: smoked apricots).

You might think that apricots are limited, that once you have a cake and a tart in your repertoire, that’s all you need. Because I love them, I’ve racked my brain for dishes in which they star. An old-fashioned dacquoise – a cake made of stacked rounds of hazelnut meringue layered with cream and, in my version, roast-apricot purée – is the most demanding thing I make.

Everything else is simple: baked apricots stuffed with a paste of ground almonds, sugar and rose water; halves roasted until the edges are caramelised, topped with goat’s curd, a stream of honey and chopped pistachios; fruit crôutes, slices of brioche topped with chunks of marzipan, a drizzle of amaretto and sliced apricots… You don’t even need recipes for these.

Apricots are – along with raspberries – my favourite summer fruit. Both are properly seasonal, so buy that uninspiring-looking punnet now – there is such potential in those small fruits.

On doctor’s orders, Diana Henry is taking a break from her column. We can’t wait to have her back on these pages but, in the meantime, we hope you enjoy these previous favourites from her archive

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