Finally, I have an apricot dessert recipe to share. It has taken awhile, but from my research and inspiration, I found an apricot dessert that is not a galette, not that there is anything wrong with galettes, but I do like to have a variety. With some help from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, I developed a recipe for apricot streusel cake.
Apricots are my favorite fruit and when I find a perfectly ripe fresh apricot, it is hard for me to resist eating the whole basket. Until recently, getting a good and ripe apricot in New York is as rare as finding a four-leaf clover. You know they exist, but finding one takes a few years of constant searching. My fondness for apricots comes from a vivid childhood taste memory and growing up in Northern California. As a result, all apricots compare to that distinct and memorable flavor.
My parents had an apricot tree, along with a plum tree, a couple of apple trees and a cherry tree growing in their yard. I realize this collection of fruit trees gives the impression I lived on an orchard, or an expansive property, though that is not the case. These fruit trees are my dad’s romantic plantings for our suburban hillside home. Because I was not born when Dad planted these trees, I can only imagine his intent. In reality, once the trees were planted, they were left alone to fend for themselves. Rarely did I see Dad harvest the fruit from his trees, let alone prune a branch.
The fruit trees were my playground and fortresses, with a favored attachment to the apricot tree. I would climb up the tree and look for apricots that weren’t half eaten by the birds or bugs. The rejects were used as ammunition when I played war with two of my brothers. Perched up in my apricot tree I would attack the intruders with rotten apricots for the win. Chris and Andy would scramble about while picking up the fallen ammunition for their defense. It was all in good fun, but I was happy to have the apricot tree on my side.
Memorable Apricot Flavor
I considered the apricot tree as my turf and its’ fruit, mine. I did share with my younger brother as he was quite adventurous and never resisted the urge to climb anything that was taller than him. Together we secured our position either standing or straddling on a strong branch, then pluck off any ripe apricots within reach. If we got lucky and found apricots before the birds did, we brought inside a shirt-full of apricots for mom.
If the California sun has a flavor, it is apricot. The juicy saturated tang is lively and speaks of hours spent ripening in the dry heat, then cooled down from the evening fog. When I bite into an apricot, I can feel the heat of those summer days spent building forts and climbing trees. On those dry windless days, only something with strong flavor could tame down the arid heat. The bitter-sweet tang of ripe apricots did the job, almost as good as an orange Popsicle.
For me, all apricots compare to the ones I picked in my childhood backyard. It is not a fair comparison to the unsuspecting apricots that traveled 3000 miles to reach New York. It’s not their fault they traveled so far only to get bruised and battered along the way.
Fortunately, apricots are grown in the NY Hudson Valley and with the popularity of farmers markets, are now more available. I am so happy for this because since moving to NY and having many a disappointing and mealy apricot, I stopped buying them. It is just in the past couple of years I decided to give local apricots a try.
So now, my big adventure is seeking out reliable markets to get NY apricots that are ripe and full of flavor. I bought these apricots at a local farm stand in Yorktown, but the apricots are grown north of me and on the other side of the Hudson River in Marlborough NY. I have never been to Marlborough, but now that I know there is a winery and fruit farms there, I just might have to plan a visit.
Inspiration for Apricot Streusel Cake
A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a recipe for Strawberry Sour Cream Streusel Cake by Nigella Lawson. One night I needed to make a second dessert after my first dessert was an epic fail. I knew Nigella’s baking recipes are reliable, and her strawberry streusel cake recipe looked easy to make. Although it was my first time making her cake, I made some substitutions because I was pressed for time and could not go to the store. Because my jar of vanilla was almost empty, I used almond extract instead. Almond extract is strong, so I used less than the amount for the vanilla. As long as I kept the almond flavor within reason, I believed it would pair nicely with the cake and strawberries.
Additionally, I switched crème fraîche for the sour cream because that was all I had available. The result was a tender cake with a balanced flavor of strawberries and almonds. The almond flavor was especially a big hit, and it gave the cake an unexpected and memorable flavor.
Sour Cream vs Crème Fraîche
I don’t know what it is about crème fraîche, but when I use it in baking or in pancakes, the outcome is a remarkably tender cake. Ironically, despite the fact there is more fat in crème fraîche than sour cream, the cake tastes lighter. The results are magical. Crème fraîche is considered a specialty item and therefore is more expensive than sour cream. You find it in the specialty cheese section of your store. It has more fat than sour cream, but it does not have any additives and is less tangy. I made this streusel cake with both sour cream and crème fraîche and liked both results. Some stores do not carry crème fraîche, but please do not go driving all over town looking for it. It is just not that important, plus you can spend your time more wisely, like looking for good apricots.
Apricot Streusel Cake
Recently I bought a pound of fresh apricots and it occurred to me the recipe for strawberry streusel cake would work with apricots. Apricots are not as watery as strawberries, but I thought the fruit purée would still have the right consistency for the cake. It is not often you see an apricot cake, so it is a pleasant surprise.
Apricot streusel cake has many personalities as it is like a coffee cake but is equally at home as a dessert after a roast chicken dinner. It is similar to a peach cake but has a lot more butter and jammy flavor. Because there is so much butter in the cake batter a familiar aroma of an all-butter pie crust wafts out of the oven as it bakes.
It may smell like pie, but this is definitely a cake. A cake that is tender, moist and easily transportable. Serve it for breakfast or dessert as it is right at home for either course. It is a perfect cake to bring along for a summer weekend getaway, picnic, or brunch with friends. It also tastes great the second day. However, my real assurance came from Joe when after he took one bite said, “This is awesome.”
More Apricot Love
Substitute the peaches with apricots in Peaches and Berries with Bourbon Sabayon
Apricot Streusel Cake
Almond extract or bourbon are great complimentary flavors with apricots. I like to use either one with this cake or a combination of both instead of vanilla.
This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Strawberry Sour Cream Streusel Cake.
- 7 oz (200 g) fresh apricots about 5-6 small apricots
- 3 TB (72 g) apricot jam
- 1 ½ tsp (4 g) minced fresh ginger a small piece just over an inch long and a half-inch wide
- 1 ½ tsp (7.5 ml) fresh squeezed lemon juice *see notes
- ½ tsp (2 g) almond extract *see notes
- 2 tsp (6 g) cornstarch
- Smidgen pinch of Kosher salt if needed
- 2 cups (309 g) all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup (164 g) granulated sugar
- 1 tsp (4 g) baking powder
- ½ tsp (2 g) baking soda
- 12 TB (188 g) cold butter 1 ½ sticks cut into ½ inch pieces
- 1 cup (8 oz / 225 g) crème fraîche or sour cream
- 1 large egg
- 1 ½ tsp (8 g / 7.5 ml) almond extract or 1 TB (15 ml) Bourbon
- 2 tsp (13 g) Demerara sugar
- 8 g sliced almonds (small handful)
- 2 fresh small apricots
Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C / Gas Mark 5 with the rack in the middle position. Oil or butter a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan. Reserve until later.
Make the apricot purée
Peel and cut up the apricots then place in the blender or container for an immersion blender. Add the apricot jam. Zest the lemon peel and grate the ginger over your container or blender to catch any of the lemon oils and juices from the ginger.
Make a slurry with the almond extract, lemon juice, and cornstarch then add to the blender or your container. Purée until smooth. Taste the purée and if it seems too bitter, add a smidgen pinch of Kosher salt. Taste again then set aside. The flavors will balance out when added to the cake.
Make the cake
In a large bowl add the flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Use a small whisk and stir the mixture until evenly incorporated. Add the butter and use your fingers to smoosh the butter and mix in with the flour mixture. Do this until your flour looks like coarse sand, just like making a pie crust by hand. Measure a ½ cup (125 ml) of the flour mixture and add to a small bowl. Reserve for the streusel topping.
Add the crème fraîche or sour cream, egg, and almond extract (or bourbon) to the large bowl with the flour mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. This batter looks thick, but it should be smooth.
Add just over half the batter to the prepared pan and spread over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. You want to create a flat bottom well for the purée to rest. Try to get the batter about an inch up the sides. Do not worry about making the bottom level even. The batter is sticky, and I found wet hands helps move the cake batter into position.
Add the apricot purée in an even layer across the bottom and nestled inside the well. Make sure the rim of cake batter is taller than the height of the purée. Spoon the remaining cake batter on top and cover the purée being careful not to push the apricot purée up and over the rim.
Make the streusel topping
Add the sugar and almond slices to the small bowl with the reserved butter-flour mixture. Toss with a fork or your fingers until it is evenly combined. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the top of the cake.
Slice each apricot in half then each half into five wedges. Arrange the sliced apricots over the top of the cake in a haphazard pattern. Sprinkle with a few more sliced almonds.
Bake the cake until it is light golden brown, about 45 minutes. Insert a toothpick in the center of the cake to make sure it is cooked through. You will see some crumbs on the toothpick, but nothing should look wet or raw.
Completely cool the cake on a wire rack before you remove the springform pan and serve.
In the original recipe, Nigella added 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract to the fruit purée. I divided the liquid between the almond extract and lemon juice. Almond extract is strong, so I do not recommend using 2 teaspoons in the recipe. However, I have used anywhere from 1/2 tsp up to 1 tsp with good results. Feel free to divide the lemon juice and almond extract equally, or only use lemon juice. However, keep the total liquid at 2 teaspoons.
I peeled off the skin of my apricots, but I will leave that decision to your discretion. Apricot skins do not have that fuzzy offensive texture of peach skin, so I do not believe it is necessary to peel them. The apricots peels will purée thoroughly in a blender or with an immersion blender.
If you cannot get fresh apricots, use canned apricots packaged in their own juices as a substitute. Dry off the can juices from the apricots then weigh or guesstimate by size pairing the halves to make 5 apricots for the purée. There is no need to peel canned apricots.
Minced candied ginger is a nice addition to the streusel topping. Don’t go overboard with the candied ginger as the apricot is the star of the cake. Nutmeg is another spice that pairs well with this cake. Add about a half teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg in the cake batter to complement the apricots and almond flavor.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Everyone needs those back-pocket recipes at their fingertips and Maida’s Lemon Cake is one of mine. Maida Heatter’s, “The Best Damn Lemon Cake” comes from her cookbook, Cakes and her New Book of Great Desserts. She explains in the recipe’s summary the cake got its name from the first thing her friends said after taking one bite. She is the guru of baked desserts and celebrated her 90th birthday last year. I have always found her desserts reliable and well tested, especially her cake recipes. They are all classics that never go out of style.
Lemon cakes come in so many shapes, sizes and styles and this recipe is no exception. It is a loaf cake with a light lemon glaze on top that soaks into the cake. Early in my marriage, I made this lemon cake all the time. Unfortunately, I stopped because baking for pleasure was replaced with the pleasure of taking care of my children with a couple of baking projects squeezed in between.
Recently, I was reminded of this lemon cake recipe after being treated to a slice of Lemon Lulu Cake from Mother Myrick’s Bakery (A bakery in Manchester VT.) They are different types of lemon cakes, but the bright lemon flavor is similar. Lemon Lulu cake has a lighter texture and made in a Bundt pan, whereas Maida’s Lemon Cake has ground almonds in the mix and keeps its’ moisture even after a couple of days.
The only downside to this recipe is, it is not something to make at the last minute. Ideally, the cake rests for 12-24 hours before you serve it. During this resting period the cake’s lemon flavor gets more pronounced and the cake becomes very moist from the glaze. You must plan accordingly. Yet, the advanced planning has its merits too. Bake it a day or two before you need it leaves you with more time to do other activities on the day of. Also, this cake gets better with age. It freezes well, is perfect for travel, picnics and gifts.
Best Types of Cake pans for Lemon Cake
My lemon cake did not rise as high as it should because my aluminum loaf pan is larger than the one specified in the recipe. It is hard to come by an 8½ x 4½ x 2¼ inch (21 x 11 x 6 cm) heavy-duty aluminum loaf pan that does not have a Teflon coating, made of glass, or made with a dark metal. These materials are all no-no’s in Maida’s book. I am partial to Nordic Ware baking pans, but their loaf pan has an 8 cup (2 L) capacity. Chicago Metallic makes a loaf pan with the right dimensions and material as well as Wilton and Williams and Sonoma.
My cake is also darker, because it cooked faster because the pan was not made with heavy-duty aluminum. My pan is a generic lightweight aluminum pan I bought over 30 years ago at the grocery store. It might be a lightweight, but it is still going strong and baked it fair share of Pumpkin Bread over the years.
This baking experience reminded me, I should trust my instinct and not always follow a recipe blindly, I knew I should have checked the cake earlier than specified, but I followed the directions instead. Fortunately, I do not mind a darker crumb and the glaze keeps everything moist. See the links in the Notes of the recipe for the types of adjustments to make if you use glass or dark metal pans.
The only adjustment I made to the recipe is I added almond meal (flour) instead of blanched almonds. It is not always easy to grind nuts as fine as you can get with almond meal. Often the almonds start turning into a paste before you get the right consistency you want. Do not add a half cup of almond meal, measure the almond meal by weight, not volume. The two measurements are not equal. You may use the volume and weight measurement for the blanched almonds.
If you have the almond meal use that to flour the pan instead of bread crumbs. It will do the same job and add extra almond flavor to the loaf.
More Lemon Desserts
Maida's Lemon Cake
When Maida Heatter explains her name for "The Best Damn Lemon Cake," came from the first things her friends said after taking a bite. You just know it is good. Everyone needs a reliable lemon cake to bring to friends or just add some sunshine at the end of a meal. This loaf cake has great sweet lemon flavor but is not too sweet to turn you off. It is great paired with coffee and tea. I also like it with fresh berries.
The instructions say to let the cake sit for 12-24 hours before serving so plan accordingly. I found the cake is even more delicious the day after it is made.
See recipe Notes for specifics about the loaf pan used to make the cake with. If you do not have the exact loaf pan, no worries. Just make the necessary adjustments recommended in the articles.
- ½ cup (60 g) blanched almonds (or 60 g almond meal)
- 1½ cup (185 g) sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
- ¼ lb (115 g) butter 1 stick
- 1 cup (235 g) granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup (125 ml) whole milk
- 1 oz (29 ml) real lemon extract 1- 1 fl oz bottle
- Freshly grated zest from 2 extra large, or 3 medium lemons
- 1/3 cup plus 2 TB (113 g) granulated sugar (4 oz)
- 1/3 cup (75 ml) fresh squeezed lemon juice
Set the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven at 350°F (175°C / Gas Mark 4). Butter an 8½ x 4½ x 2-inch (21 x 11 x 6 cm) loaf pan with a 6 cup (1.5 L) capacity. Lightly dust the loaf pan with very fine bread crumbs or almond meal and set aside. (See note about pan). Line the bottom of the prepared loaf pan with a piece of parchment paper.
Ground the almonds in a food processor or nut grinder till they are very fine but are not getting pasty. Or use the almond meal.
Add the sifted flour, baking powder and Kosher salt to a small bowl and stir with a wire whisk until the ingredients are well incorporated. Set aside
Melt the butter in a small sauce pan set over low heat. Cool slightly before using.
In a bowl of a stand mixer, add the melted butter and sugar. (Make sure the eggs are cool enough so they will not cook the eggs.) Turn the speed to medium and beat to mix. Turn down the speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, thoroughly mixing each egg in the batter between each additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions.
While the mixer remains on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions and alternate with the milk in two additions. Beat in the ingredients thoroughly between each addition but be careful not to over-mix the cake batter. Also, stop the mixer to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl between each addition. Add the lemon extract and beat it in.
Turn off the mixer and remove the bowl. Add the lemon zest and ground almonds (or almond meal) to the batter and stir in with a rubber spatula.
Pour the cake batter into your prepared loaf pan and bake for 65-75 minutes. The cake is done when a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake and all the way to the bottom, comes out "just barely clean". The cake will crack down the middle because the outside cooks faster than the inside of the cake. This causes the cake to crack as the insides cook and the cake rises.
Remove the cake from the oven and let it rest in the pan for 2 minutes on a cooling rack.
After the two-minute cool, slowly baste the lemon glaze over the top of the cake. Take your time basting the cake so a nice even glaze coats the top of the cake and soaks into the body, about 5 minutes.
Let the cake rest in the pan until it is tepid, mostly cooled down. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake to loosen it out of the pan. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake. Turn the cake right side up and cool on the rack.
Once completely cooled, wrap the cake with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and let it rest on the counter for 12 - 24 hours. Or place in the refrigerator for 4 hours. Or the freezer for 2 hours before serving. I prefer the results after the 12-24 hour period, but if you need it for the same day then the freezing options works fine. Just let it defrost before you serve it.
A couple of minutes before the cake is done cooking, make the glaze. Add the sugar and fresh squeezed lemon juice in a small sauce pan set over medium heat. Stir the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved. Do not let the syrup come to a boil. Turn off the heat and set aside until needed.
Maida is very specific about what type of pan will produce the best results. You might think it is a lot of smoke about nothing but for baking, everything you use from ingredients to the oven affect the final outcome of your baked good. She is adamant about not using a non-stick pan, dark metal pan, and glass loaf pan. Her pan of choice is a heavy-duty aluminum pan. From my experience, I agree with her about the dark metal pans and glass pans, they do not bake as nicely as a heavy-duty light-colored aluminum pan does.
I used a large aluminum loaf pan, but it was not a heavy-duty one. It cooked up faster than the recipe suggested and got darker. It was either that or use my dark metal non-stick pan, which would have been two strikes against me. If you can't take her advice, use the loaf pan you have, but be forewarned. Why you should not bake a cake with a dark pan. Why you should not bake a cake in a glass pan. These articles give advice how to work with these types of pans when you need to bake with them.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.