Apricots are one of my favourite stone fruits during summer and although here in Australia they are not in season at the moment, there are a few bottled and tucked away in my pantry waiting to be eaten. Mamma usually bottles a few at the end of the season when we have had a good haul and always gives us a few jars and does the same with their peaches.
This cold weather in Melbourne has called for some baking. I made this apricot and flaked almond tea cake, which is as thin as a flan base allowing the halved apricots to just pop their little heads through. This means you can have a larger slice and enjoy more apricots and not feel guilty. I often use this cake recipe when I want to bake a light tea cake with either cinnamon or in this case with preserved fruits.
I posted this image on Instagram and have had a few asking for the recipe of both the cake or wanting to know the process of preserving or bottling the apricots. I am not the expert on bottling fruit as Mamma has always done this for me, so the below process is one that she follows. It did however prompt me to do some research on bottling fruit, and have found that it is very much an easy process. If you follow the general guidelines for using jars, and method of processing, you cannot go wrong.
Mamma's Bottled Apricots:
There are specific jars to be used, but mamma has always used passata jars with a screw top, like the ones shown above. These have worked for us as the bottled fruit has never been stored for more than a few months due to small quantities made and far too delicious to leave in a pantry for too long. It is important that the jars are fully cleaned and sterilized. Ensure that the screw tops have a good seal.
Preparing the Fruit:
Only firm fresh fruit should be used for preserving. The apricots should be washed in cold water and drained in a colander. The fruit can be bottled whole if small enough, or halved and stones removed.
Making the Syrup:
Mamma uses a basic sugar syrup which requires 1 cup of sugar to each 2 1/2 cups (625 ml) water. Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, stirring constantly until all the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil rapidly for one minute, then take off the heat and allow to cool fully.
Packing the Jars:
Fill the sterilized jars with the fruit. The apricot halves are layered with skin side up in the jars within 2 1/2 cm (one inch) from the top. Pour the cold preserving syrup over the apricots and allow it to seep down through the fruit. Tap the jars to make sure that there are no air bubbles. The apricots must be fully covered or they run the risk of discolouring. Place the lids on the jars and screw down not too tightly to allow the steam to escape during the processing.
Water Bath Processing:
There are a few methods of boiling the jars which include the water bath, oven method and the use of a pressure cooker. Mamma uses the water bath, which requires the jars to be arranged in a large saucepan. It should be large enough to fit the amount of jars without too much space around them. To avoid the jars from moving around, place a tea towel in the base and then the jars and ensure that they do not touch each other. Another tea towel can be placed around the jars.
Pour cold water over the jars making sure that the water covers the jars by about 2 1/2 cm (one inch). Cover pot with the lid and put on the stove top over a low heat.
There is a science to this part of the process and there are temperature and cooking time charts relating to the different fruits. For example, the temperature of the water should be raised to 55 C (130 F) in one hour and then maintained to the required temperature - for apricots: 85 C (180 F) for 15 minutes. Mamma on the other hand brings the pot to a slow boil and cooks them for 15 minutes. She allows the jars to cool down in the water overnight in the pot. A complete vacuum should be formed if the lids are tight. If the lids are loose, a seal has not been made and and the contents should be eaten within two days.
Apricot & Almond Tea Cake (torta di albicocche e mandorle)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Serves 8 large pieces
60g unsalted softened butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup caster sugar
1 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup milk
12 apricot halves (fresh or preserved apricots can be used)
1 cup of flaked almonds
Preheat oven to moderate. Grease a 23 cm cake pan and line with baking paper.
Beat softened butter, vanilla extract, sugar and egg in a small bowl with electric mixer until very light and fluffy.
Using a wooden spoon, gently stir in sifted flour and milk. Spread mixture into prepared pan. Arrange halved apricots in cake batter and sprinkle with flaked almonds.
Bake cake in moderate oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.