When we got back from our trip a few weeks ago, I was quick to head to one of my favorite produce stores and pick up some colorful, ripe treats. Having been gone for a week, our cupboards offered nothing but cans and grains, and the fridge and freezer were even more bare. Amidst the array of crunchy, fresh options at the grocery store, the vibrant orange apricots persuasively magnetized me. Before I knew it, they were displayed in my fruit bowl alongside an accompaniment of other fresh fare.
But then something funny happened: July whizzed by in a blink. We’re always reminded of the slowness and ease of summertime, but in reality, it often feels just as full and lively as any season to me. My apricots got riper and riper over the days of July. They became more orange, increasingly fragrant, and quite soft. That’s when I decided to transform them into a tangy, herbal, sweet treat. Here’s what I made.
Herbal Apricot Bars (makes 9-16, depending on size of slices)
- 1.5 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
- 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
- 1-2 tablespoons cold water as needed
- 1 pound very ripe apricots
- 8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
- 2 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup powdered sugar*
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease an 8 x 8″ pan, preferably glass. Sift the flour, brown sugar and salt into a bowl. Whisk in the rosemary evenly. Cut the butter into it, working it into the dough with your hands just until the consistency is even and dough holds together. It’s OK if it’s a little dry, but if it really doesn’t hold, add up to 2 tablespoons cold water gradually. Push dough into the bottom and a little up the sides of the pan, then prick all over with a fork. Bake 15 minutes, then let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse and pit the apricots. Puree them in a food processor with cream cheese and egg yolks until smooth. Sift the powdered sugar over the mixture and puree again until no traces of sugar are seen. Pour over crust. Bake for about 45 minutes, until top has a few brown spots and edges are light brown. It will bubble and puff while baking; this is fine. Remove from oven, being careful to keep pan flat, and let the pan cool completely (about 3 hours) before slicing, garnishing, and serving. Keep chilled; eat within 2 days.
With their intensely tangy apricot and cream cheese flavor, these bars are best for true apricot lovers who are open to a hint of fragrant rosemary. Not too sweet, yet full of rich flavor, they are delicious at room temperature or, better yet, chilled. They are great served with a generous dusting of powdered sugar and even a spring of fresh rosemary.
Maybe next time… *Feel free to adjust the amount of sugar according to the sweetness of your apricots, keeping in mind that they get a bit tart-er as they cook. A bit of cornmeal in place of some flour would be an excellent addition to the crust of these bars; try replacing 1 or 2 tablespoons. I’m confident that a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream is a wonderful topping on each and every slice, offering a creamy and neutral flavor to an otherwise powerful palate. The cream, or even a drizzle of custard or icing, could also make the bars a little bit prettier — always a welcome dessert feature!