A few weekends ago, at Chicago's Green City Market, a friend and I were lucky enough to try the honeycrisp apple pate de fruits from Flora Confections and Pastry. They were truly delicious - exactly the right consistency with a light, bright apple flavor. The price was a little rich for the day's budget, so we opted for some of their incredibly soft nougat that comes wrapped in edible paper (like the kind on botan rice candy!), but now I'm kind of sad I didn't splurge.
Unfortunately, this horrible guy was also at the table going on and on about how he only buys pate de fruits when he is in France because the ones you get in the States are always terrible and these are the first ones he'd found that tasted authentic and snobbery this and France that.
Well sure, the ones you get from the grocery store probably aren't very good, but neither are the prepackaged ones you buy in France, I'm guessing, although they probably don't even bother with prepackaged pate de fruits over there. It's like saying Wonder Bread isn't as good as a loaf from Poilane.
Besides, it gives short shrift to the people who are doing amazing, unconventional things all over the globe. Chefs and cooks find inspiration in every nook and corner of the world and bring those ideas back with them to wherever they happen to be working. You don't have to go to Belgium for great chocolate or Italy for great coffee or Japan for great sushi or France for great wine (speaking of, have you tried the sparkling wines from Gruet Winery? We were lucky enough to toast the new year with one at May Street Market this past New Year's Eve and it was unbelievably good).
That's why I like Jacques Pepin. This recipe for apricot pate de fruits comes from his book Chez Jacques: Traditions and Rituals of a Cook. In the little stories and anecdotes he tells about his cooking life, Jacques never fails to mention the American ingredients and recipes that he has fallen in love with and, in some cases, prefers. The humble enjoyment of food is so refreshing (someone should send a copy to everyone on Top Chef).
I like to think of these pate de fruits as adult jigglers or fancy gummy candies. This recipe in particular couldn't be easier to make - boil, set, cut and roll in sugar. And, with three different types of apricot, they have a very vibrant flavor. Serve them with some cheese and sparkling wine (did I mention Gruet?) for a sophisticated end to a nice meal.
apricot pate de fruits
adapted from jacques pepin's chez jacques: traditions and rituals of a cook
+ 1 15-ounce can of halved apricots in syrup
+ 12 dried apricots
+ 1 12-ounce jar apricot preserves
+ 1/2 cup sugar
+ 1/3 cup cold water
+ 2 envelopes (4 teaspoons) plain gelatin
+ 1/2 cup sugar for rolling
Prepare a straight-edged loaf or 9x9 pan by lightly oiling the bottom of the pan and lining it with waxed or parchment paper. The paper should extend over two ends of the pan so you can easily pull out the pate de fruits when they are set.
Pour just the syrup from the can of apricots into a saucepan and put the canned apricots to the side. Add the 12 dried apricots to the syrup and bring to a boil. Cook for 5-10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the apricots are moist.
Transfer the cooked apricots and remaining syrup to the bowl of a food processor and add the canned apricots, the 12-ounce jar of apricot preserves and 1/2 cup of sugar. Process for 10-20 seconds, or until the mixture is smooth. Transfer to a sturdy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula; the mixture tends to stick and will scorch if not stirred as it comes to a boil. After the mixture is boiling well it won't stick as much, but continue to stir it with a spatula every minute or so. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes to reduce the liquid and concentrate the flavor, being careful because the mixture is very hot.
Pour 1/3 cup of cold water into a small glass bowl and sprinkle with the 2 envelopes of plain gelatin. The gelatin should sink into the water and get thoroughly moistened by it, with no white spots visible. If necessary, stir with the point of a knife to ensure all of the gelatin is submerged in the water. Microwave for 20 seconds, or until the gelatin is melted. Stir into the hot apricot mixture.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and let it cool for a couple of hours. Once it has come to room temperature, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The mixture can be made up to three days ahead and held in the pan at this point. Proceed to the next step when ready.
When ready to unmold and serve, use the overhanging parchment paper to lift the block of pate de fruits out of the pan in one piece and place onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Cut the block into equal-sized squares or triangles. Depending on the size, you'll have about two or three dozen pieces. Let them come to room temperature and make sure any excess condensation has dried from the squares before rolling in sugar.
To roll, put about a 1/2 cup of sugar into a wide, shallow bowl and roll the jellies in the sugar until they are coated on all sides. Arrange on a platter and serve. Keep them at room temperature at this point. If the sugar starts to melt they can be re-rolled (see note).
NOTE: In France, the jellies are rolled in crystallized sugar, which is four to five times larger than the regular table sugar we use in the United States This helps it cling to the fruit without melting. It's hard to find in the States, so granulated sugar is fine as long as the jellies are rolled relatively close to the serving time. I cut mine and let them dry overnight, then rolled them in sugar the next day. The sugar still seemed fine a good 6 hours after they were rolled.
makes about 60 pieces.