Tastes of Summer – Apricot Cake

Featured photo by Cala on Unsplash

The Farmer’s Market on Keystone and Booth in Reno opens the first Saturday of June every year. By mid-July I’ve become complacent, despite having longed for it since February. Mid-July I think there’s no need to get up and go pick out fruit – there’s plenty of summer left. And though it’s open until the end of the first Saturday of October, I get over my complacency when dreaded August hits.

August has always been like Sunday to me, back when I was in school. I was a stellar student if we don’t count math into the equation (see what I did there?) but I totally hated school. So I loved Saturday and had a love-hate relationship with Sunday because while I was still free of school, there it was again, looming on the other side of Sunday.

August is like that. Too close to the official end of summer. Which may actually be the Equinox in the last third of September, but feels like the end of Labor Day weekend.

So. Farmer’s Market. Fresh peaches and cantaloupe and basil and onions and tomatoes and corn.

And apricots.

This is a family recipe, which may only mean from some women’s magazine I can no longer identify, but I hadn’t made it in forever before I made it this summer.  It’s simple, fast, tasty, lasts well, and isn’t so rich you can’t just cut a piece, stick it on a napkin and eat it with your fingers while reading or watering the flowers or doing something wonderfully summerish.

It’s Wednesday.  Here’s something sweet for the halfway mark of the week.

Apricot Cake

14 tablespoons shortening

1 cup minus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

4 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

Powdered sugar to sprinkle

Somewhere around 8 to 10 ripe apricots, washed and halved, pits removed (do not remove skin)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

 

Cream shortening and sugar until well mixed, then add the eggs, one at a time, stirring between additions.  Add flour, salt and baking powder.

Grease a pan (I use a 7×9 glass pan that fits it perfectly) and spread less than half of the batter over the bottom of the pan.  The batter is really thick, so using less than half is important because the remainder has to be spooned on over apricots, which ideally should stay where you put them, and dragging thick batter over them doesn’t help that process.

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Place the apricots cut side down on the batter in the pan. I usually make two neat (kind of) rows of apricots but you don’t have to. Wildly random apricots would taste just as good, but one layer seems like the best bet in order for the cake to bake through and to have the wonderful tangy-sweet moist pockets of bright apricot.

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Sprinkle the fruit and batter with powdered sugar. Spoon the remaining batter on top and carefully drag to cover the fruit and bottom batter. Sprinkle the top of the cake with more powdered sugar.

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My traditional and not helpful recipe says to bake in the 350 degree oven for “Not less than one hour.” First off, not true! And second off, who says this? It is not helpful. So – I baked mine on a rack in the middle of the oven fur just 50 minutes and it was just this side of dry – perfect, but getting it out at 47 or 48 minutes might have been a tiny bit better. Test with a skewer or toothpick if you have no idea what a skewer is (I don’t – a long toothpick?)

Cool in pan on wire rack. This is better cold than hot, partly because it just is, and partly because the apricots form a pocket around themselves as they cook and inside that pocket they reach roughly the temperature of the sun and will remove your tongue and palate. When the cake is cold, those moist bits are a little tart and a little sweet, like the best apricot jam.

Perfect for after a barbecued hamburger and fresh corn, or maybe an easy morning breakfast with bacon on the side and a good English breakfast tea.

Summer is fleeting.  Taste every moment. Enjoy every encounter.

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Simple, Satisfying Calzones

One of my go-to’s for easy dinner. Dress this up with a green salad and a glass of wine, or with a hot vegetable on a cold night. Or take it leftover and cold for a picnic. Or just any time.

Rick and I like totally different things in the realm of food. So I make two of these calzones. They’re big enough most nights for the easy part of dinner we just have half to two-thirds of the calzone and call it good without bothering with salad or dessert or fruit or much of anything.

The calzones take about 1 ¾ hours to 2 hours at 5000 feet, rising faster in summer, slower in winter. The dough is simple and doesn’t require a ton of kneading and if I could find pre-grated Monterey Jack they’d be easier still. The pepperoni in Rick’s I buy in stick form – somehow freshly cut rounds in whatever size I determine seem to have more kick than the paper-thin sliced bagged pepperoni (which isn’t bad either, in a pinch).

I bake them in pie pans for the simple reason that they leak, oozing chewy, hot, melted cheese throughout the pan which I know from unfortunate experience, can set the oven on fire. I also rarely bother to cut slits in the finished calzones before they go in the oven because by then the dough is a little sticky and generally creates its own gaps.

In the photos I rolled out one round and cut it in half so the finished calzones look a little oddly shaped. It was nice for the photo but the dough spent the time I was preparing the stuffing trying to form itself back together. Separation anxiety. It was hard to separate the two pieces. That said I usually roll it into an oval and form it into a long tube. Fancier and probably just as easy would be to roll the dough into a circle and fold it neatly over the filling, creating a half moon, then use a fork to crimp the edges.

Fancy or not, these are simple and tasty.

Dough for 2 Calzones

1 cup very warm water

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons canola oil (olive oil if you prefer it; I don’t care for it in crusts)

2 ½ to 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

Dissolve the yeast in the hot water in a medium to large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the salt over top, add the oil, then add 2 cups of the flour. Stir for form a sticky dough. Stir in enough remaining flour that the dough can be scooped out of the bowl onto a floured board.

Knead for a couple minutes. This dough doesn’t need a ton of working. Add as much reserved flour as necessary so the dough just barely still feels sticky, then scrape out the mixing bowl till it’s fairly clean and return the dough to the bowl to rise, covered, until double. Usually I only use a total of 2 ½ cups flour. Dough is somewhere between the size of a large softball and a small cantaloupe.

The dough should take 45 minutes to just over an hour to rise. Preheat the oven to 425 while preparing the filling.

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Really anything could be filling. My favorite is a cup of cottage cheese, half a cup of shredded skim milk mozzarella, half a cup Monterey Jack, half a cup of pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped or sliced, and a good hearty sprinkle of oregano. Place in the greased pie pan.

Rick’s is a smear of favorite pizza sauce, half a cup of Monterey Jack, half a cup of mozzarella, a very small grating of sharp cheddar (it can easily overpower everything else) and somewhere between half and one cup of sliced pepperoni. Sprinkle on the oregano and seal it up.

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These don’t have to rise. The minute they’re sealed they can go into the oven for 25 minutes at 425. Check at 25 minutes and maybe give them another 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from oven when they’re nicely golden and let cool on a rack for about 5 minutes because they’re now sizzling like fajitas do and the insides are hotter than the sun.

These are kind of a compromise dinner for me when I go into a low carb high protein phase. There’s obviously carbs in the flour, but the insides are as protein packed as can be with the cheese and fat never alarms me like carbs do. Plus the fillings could easily be traded out – salami in one, or pepperoni and pineapple, or ham and green peppers or ham and pineapple, or all cheese (though that seems kind of wanting, somehow). Or even a nicely slow-cooker cooked steak with sautéed yellow onions and a burgundy.

Now I’m dreaming of meat pies. If you come up with a variation on this theme, let me know in the comments – I’d love to try something new.

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