While we still await our area’s first bits of fresh fruit (please hurry, strawberries!), we have made a nice discovery: apricots from Apricot King Orchards in Hollister, California, a farm in the northern part of the state that ships exceptionally good apricots as well as a number of other dried fruits. (Don’t worry, folks. Unlike many you read these days, this is not a sponsored post.) We’ve long searched for a good source of California apricots, which we find more flavorful than their ubiquitous Turkish cousins. Michelle took a gamble and ordered a few pounds of somewhat expensive apricots, both sulfured an un-sulfured, along with some dried pears to round out the minimum order.
Upon arrival, Steve sampled them all and pronounced them quite good—which made Michelle busy herself finding a recipe before all of the dried fruit was gone. (The pears did not last through the research period.) She first tried a Prune and Apricot Pound Cake from Maida Heatter’s Cakes, substituting dates for prunes since that’s what we had on hand. It turned out a bit dry, but Michelle did like Heatter’s technique of lining the pan with almonds before pouring in batter, which made for a nice crunch in the crust.
A second try from the rapidly-dwindling dried fruit stock used Heatter’s almond crust (along with dates, pecans and apricots) in a recipe for Date-Nut Loaf from the always reliable Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours. The only real difference in the cake recipes was that Greenspan’s had significantly less sugar, but the second version did turn out a bit less dry.
The cake is especially good toasted with butter after aging for a day or so—but we really think it’s the California fruit that makes it so delicious, and we look forward to ordering some more.
APRICOT, DATE AND NUT LOAF
- Soft butter for greasing pan
- 1/3 c. blanched almonds, chopped small but not ground
- 2 c. all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
- 3/4 c. light brown sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp. almond extract
- generous 1/2 c. dates (preferably Medjool), pitted and roughly chopped
- generous 1/2 c. dried apricots (preferably from California), pitted and roughly chopped
- 1 c. pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped
Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 325° F.
Generously butter a 9 x 5″ loaf pan. Sprinkle almonds over bottom and sides of pan, pressing if necessary to make stick evenly. Put the pan on an insulated cookie sheet.
Mix flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. Fluff and mix using a whisk or a fork.
Beat butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer for about 2 minutes, until smooth. Add sugar and extracts and beat for about 3 minutes more, until light and fluffy. Then add eggs, one at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each addition. Add flour mixture and beat on low speed just until incorporated. Fold in dates, apricots and remaining nuts.
Being careful not to dislodge the almonds, use a spatula to drop batter into the prepared loaf pan. Level the batter. Sprinkle a few more chopped almonds on the top if you like.
Bake for about 40 minutes, then loosely tent with aluminum foil. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes more, until top is browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Let loaf cool in the pan on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes. Run a knife around the sides to loosen, remove from pan, then cool (right side up) on the rack.