The smell of a ripe apricot is mesmerizing enough to make me want to give up perfumery and tend an orchard instead. It smells of cream, sweet orange, bitter almond, and a hint of rose. Unfortunately, unless you have access to an apricot grove, finding such a perfect specimen is difficult. Apricots are invariably picked green, and even if they soften, they never develop the perfume of tree-ripened fruit.
There is, however, one technique to unlock some of the apricot’s fragrant potential. It’s to cook it. Even the hard supermarket variety becomes luscious and perfumed, especially if you add a touch of vanilla. I often sprinkle apricots with vanilla sugar and rosewater and roast them just until they start to turn jammy and tender. You can add cream, but that’s already gilding the lily. Or I make a poppyseed cake topped with apricots, an ideal late summer-early fall dessert.
Poppyseeds have a delicate almond flavor that marries well with apricots. The batter is a buttery sponge cake, light but substantial enough to carry a generous topping of fruit. As the cake bakes, the apricots sink slightly into the batter, scenting it with their floral aroma.
The original recipes comes from a German food magazine Essen & Trinken. Since I started making the cake, I’ve adapted the recipe–exchanged damson plums for apricots, halved the quantities, skipped the red currant glaze, etc. You can make further changes. For instance, you can use pistachios instead of poppyseeds, add different spices or use whichever soft fruit you like. Another delicious variation is to use almonds and seedless grapes.
Apricot Poppyseed Cake
Makes 10 portions
Adapted from the recipe in Essen & Trinken. The original recipe used damsons, and you can try plums, nectarines, peaches or grapes in your version (baking times will vary). I doubled the amount of fruit in the original recipe, which to me is a big improvement.
2lb (1 kg) apricots
125 g unsalted butter, room temperature
200 g granulated sugar
A pinch of salt
1 large egg and 1 egg yolk, mixed together
200g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
60ml (1/4 cup) whole milk
60ml (1/4 cup) heavy cream
4 Tablespoons poppyseeds (coarsely ground in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Granulated sugar for sprinkling on top of the fruit
Powdered sugar for garnish
Preheat the oven to 375F (190C). Split apricots in half and remove stones. Sift flour with baking powder.
Cream the butter, sugar and salt in a large bowl until white and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Add the eggs a little at a time to prevent batter from curdling. Add half of the flour and mix gently. Add the milk to lighten the batter. Add the rest of the flour and then the cream. Finally, fold in the poppyseeds.
Prepare a spring form (if using a square mold, 22 x 22 cm/8 ¾ “ x 8 ¾ “; if using a round mold, 25cm/10”). Butter it and then coat with flour. Spoon the batter into the mold. Place the apricot halves skin side down on top of the batter. Sprinkle with sugar (1 or 2 tablespoons, depending on the sweetness of the fruit).
Bake for 1 hour (reduce to 350F/175C after the first 30 min), or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out dry. Remove and cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin