Thursday, August 7, 2014

apricot pistachio squares

apricot pistachio squares

Let me just get the obvious out of the way because I know what you’re thinking: what am I doing here? Shouldn’t I be packing for our move, which is less than 24 hours from now? These are all valid questions, but you see, there is history here, a long history of kitchen-related procrastination. Two days before our last move, I sheeted pasta and peeled favas. I spent the last week of my pregnancy stocking the freezer with foods to bribe charm labor and delivery nurses with. When I was done with that, I made a cake for people coming to visit the new baby. When my induction was trudging along pitifully slowly, I pulled out my laptop and wrote up a new recipe I’d made in the days before. Thus, it should be no surprise that on Tuesday, with a totally straight face, I made the argument by turning the last splash of heavy cream, handful of chocolate chips and a half-pint of vanilla ice cream leftover from this into hot fudge sauce, I was “packing.” But yesterday, I didn’t even have an excuse; I just needed a break from having exasperating conversations a store that lost the mattress we ordered and could maybe get us a replacement sometime in September, arrgh.

pistachios and apricots
apricots everywhere this summer

Ahem. I’ve been in a bit of a fervor this summer over the apricots from Red Jacket Orchards. I shared a photo of them the other day and someone asked me what I was going to make with them and I was confused. Make? With apricots? Why on earth would you make something with apricots, when you could eat them as-is, even four in a row as my son did before my dropped jaw yesterday. But then the next wave of procrastination hit and why, yes, making something with apricots was a brilliant idea!

whirling the pistachios

making the cookie base

In another era of my life, this would have been a tart. I would have made a tart shell and pressed it into a fluted, removable bottom tart pan, trimmed the overhand, pricked it all over with a fork, filled it with pie weighs and par-baked it before filling it elegantly. This all feels way too fussy for my current lifestyle — and by “lifestyle” I mean “barely managed chaos” — and so I made bar cookies instead. Bar cookies are your friend. The crust can be whizzed up in a food processor and pressed into the bottom. You parbake it with no docking and no pie weights, and while it’s in the oven, you use the bowl of your food processor that you didn’t even wash (because la dee da, it doesn’t matter) to grind the pistachio frangipane filling.

pistachio paste filling
ready for the oven
baked

Frangipane is usually made with almonds; frangipane is delicious with almonds. But what I really want to eat with apricots is nubby green pistachios, and so I made a pistachio paste instead. As the sole purpose of this baked good was to allow me to avoid handling the real things in my life that need to be handled, and I was very distracted while baking it, my expectations were very low for the results. I figured it would be a disaster and one day, preferably in my new kitchen, I’d make it again properly. But the kitchen faeries were with me — it’s like they wanted me to willfully ignore my to-do list! And who am I to argue with faeries?! — and these are actually wonderful, buttery and rich but not too sweet. For a bar cookie, they are downright elegant. As a way to evade a big looming deadlines, astoundingly effective. Now, who wants to come over and help us pack?

apricot pistachio squares

One year ago: Kale Salad with Pecorino and Walnuts
Two years ago: Leek, Chard and Corn Flatbread
Three years ago: Peach Butter
Four years ago: Everyday Chocolate Cake
Five years ago: Lighter, Airy Pound Cake
Six years ago: Key Lime Meltaways
Seven years ago: Mixed Bean Salad

Apricot Pistachio Squares

This recipe is lightly spun from this pear-almond tart from Dorie Greenspan, with a simpler crust and streamlined steps. This is the kind of bar recipe that should theoretically be flexible to use with other ingredients; I’ve been eager to try a peach-pecan or plum-walnut combo. I’d love to hear what kind of spin you give them. You can estimate roughly need twice the weight in pistachios if you’re buying them in their shells.

Yield: 16 or 25 bars, depending on how you cut them

Crust
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine

Filling
3/4 cup (a scant 4 ounces or 110 grams) shelled unsalted pistachios
1 tablespoon (10 grams) all purpose flour
Few pinches of sea salt
6 tablespoons (75 grams) sugar
5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon almond extract, 2 teaspoons brandy or another flavoring of your choice (totally optional)
1 pound firm-ripe apricots

To finish
Powdered sugar or 1/4 cup apricot jam

Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan. Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet. (If you have an 8-inch square springform, you can skip this and just butter it well.)

Make the crust: Combine the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into chunks, and add it to the bowl, then run the machine until the mixture forms large clumps — that’s right, just keep running it; it might take 30 seconds to 1 minute for it to come together, but it will. Transfer the dough clumps to your prepared baking pan and press it evenly across the bottom and 1/4-inch up the sides. Bake for 15 minutes, until very pale golden. For the sake of speed, transfer to a cooling rack in your freezer for 10 to 15 minutes while you prepare the filing.

(Don’t have a food processor? You might have an easier time using softened butter and preparing this cookie-style: cream it with the sugar with a hand mixer, then spoon in the salt and flour, beating until just combined. It might help to chill this mixture a bit before pressing it into the pan, or it might feel too greasy to easily spread.)

Make the filling: In your food processor bowl (which I never bother cleaning between these steps), grind your pistachios, sugar, flour and salt together until the nuts are powdery. Cut the butter into chunks and add it to the machine. Run the machine until no buttery bits are visible. Add any flavorings and egg, blending until just combined.

Spread filling over mostly cooled (warmth is okay but it’s hoped that the freezer will have firmed the base enough that you can spread something over it) crust. Cut apricots in half (or, you might find that you can tear them open at the seams with your fingers) and remove pits. From here, you have a few decoration options: you can place the apricot halves in facedown or up all over the pistachio base. You can do as I did, which is cut them into strips, then slide each cut half onto a butter knife or offset spatula, tilt it so that it fans a little, and slide it onto your pistachio filling decoratively. (With this method, I ended up not using all of my apricots.) You could also arrange the strips like petals of flower around the pan, for maximum pretties.]]

Bake the bars for 60 minutes, or until they are golden and a toothpick inserted into the pistachio portion comes out batter-free. This might take up to 10 minutes longer depending on the juiciness of your apricots and the amount you were able to nestle in. Let cool completely in pan; you can hasten this along in the fridge.

To finish, you can make a shiny glaze for your tart by warming the jam in a small saucepan until it thins, and brushing this mixture over the top of the cooled tart. Or, you can keep it rustic with just a dusting of powdered sugar, as I did.

Cut bars into squares — chilled bars will give you the cleanest cuts. Keep leftover bars chilled.


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