I suppose there comes a time in every cooking blog when you make something and it just doesn’t meet your standards for one reason or another. I could have faked my way through this one and crafted just enough nice looking photos to make you think this was a great dessert. Or I could have just left it out of the blog altogether and forgotten I ever spent time on it. But you’re my friends and I’m not doing this for the web traffic. I thought I would do something you don’t see in cooking blogs and that is to start a “Dud File”. That’s right. I’m going to blog about my duds too and, because one of the purposes of this blog is to educate, what better way to learn than to learn from a failure? Kind of like picking up the pieces after an airplane crash and figuring out what went wrong. Fortunately for you (unfortunately for me) there is a lot to learn from this one silly recipe that I thought was going to turn out well. This was another of the recipes in the June issue of Bon Appétit that sounded great on paper and I could see it in my mind’s eye. It turned out there were so many things wrong with this recipe that I am compelled to start the “Dud File” with this entry. Let me tell you why.
Here’s the URL to the recipe on the Bon Appétit website: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Roasted-Apricots-with-Honey-Vanilla-Creme-Fraiche-359249
* 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
* 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
* 6 large or 12 small apricots (about 1 1/2 pounds), halved, pitted
* 3 1/2 tablespoons honey, divided
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
* 1 8-ounce container crème fraîche or sour cream
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
This looked like it was going to be a cinch. Not very many ingredients…sugar, honey, crème fraîche, butter, vanilla, some fruit and an interesting spice, cardamom. What could go wrong?
Crème Fraîche is a wonderful thing. If you’ve never had it you might say it tastes like a smooth cross between sour cream and buttermilk. In fact, if you’re in a pinch and can’t find it, that is one of the ways to make a crème fraîche substitute. Some will just use sour cream itself as a substitute, but you do end up lacking a bit of that buttermilk flavor and lose the right to say some French words all shee-shee like when you serve it. Here’s a Wikipedia article on it if you want more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cr%C3%A8me_fraiche People use crème fraîche in mashed potatoes instead of cream sometimes. It’s often found in wonderfully rich French sauces. Overall it’s just a really great ingredient and when I see it in a recipe I’m always intrigued. Combined with honey and vanilla I was ready to be impressed…more on that later.
I first halved and pitted the apricots.
I dutifully packed a cup of brown sugar. Notice that the recipe says “Golden Brown Sugar.” Okay…my market sells dark brown sugar and light brown sugar. What is golden brown sugar? I had to look that up. According to http://foodsubs.com, golden brown sugar is equivalent to light brown sugar. Whew! One tragedy averted because I didn’t have any dark brown sugar, but a seemingly routine ingredient was momentarily confused. Perhaps this is just a terminology blind spot I have, but using the words that you find on the labels in a recipe is usually a good place to start. Foodsubs goes on to give a substitution if all you have is dark brown sugar. That is 2/3 cup of dark brown sugar with 1/3 cup of white granulated sugar. Given that the difference between dark and light brown sugars usually comes down to how much molasses is in the sugar it makes sense to just “dilute” dark with regular granulated sugar if those are the ingredients you have. So at least one good thing came out of this exercise in that I found foodsubs.com.
The recipe has you sprinkle 1 tsp of cardamom into the brown sugar and mix it around. Easy enough. I would say though that the cardamom flavor was a bit too strong and if I did this again I would try it again at 1/2 tsp. It’s a wonderful spice, but just like using most spices getting them in the right proportions is key.
Their next instruction said “Add the apricots”. At first I thought to add them on top which is what I did, but later wondered whether they should have been tossed with the brown sugar. Given that they had you mix the brown sugar and cardamom in the baking dish I was left to assume that you added the apricots on top or otherwise wouldn’t they have you toss it all together in a mixing bowl? I’m not sure I’ll ever know. So the engineer in me lined up the apricots in nice neat lines and they fit exactly in the baking dish specified. So I felt all smug and comfortable about how even that turned out.
They have you pour 1/4 cup of water over the fruit and then distribute the diced butter over the pan. Again, this is where I started to wonder whether this should have all been done in a mixing bowl. We’re clearly making the beginnings of syrup and the apricots need to take advantage of this syrup while they’re roasting and they’re starting out on top? 1/4 cup of water is not a lot, not enough to easily wet all the sugar straightaway when the sugar is spread out over the bottom of a big flat baking dish that you’re about to put heat underneath. Shouldn’t this have all been tossed in a mixing bowl first and then distributed in the baking dish? The recipe has no specifics.
The recipe says “occasionally basting with syrup in dish”. So about half way through the 12-15 minute roasting time at 425 I used a big spoon to flip and toss the apricots in the syrup and then finished them.
This is one more bright spot out of this exercise in that I got this wonderful photograph of the roasted apricots as they came out of the oven. It might even turn into some kitchen art suitable for hanging on the wall at some point.
While that is cooling down (they say 5 minutes), I started on the honey vanilla creme fraiche. Very simple, add an 8 oz tub of creme fraiche into a mixing bowl. Add 1.5 tbsp of honey to it along with 2 tsp of vanilla extract and whisk it together. Easy, right? Here was another breakdown in the recipe that had me confused. Usually when you whisk ingredients like this together you are simply mixing a number things together. After I was done whisking this it had a soup-like consistency which didn’t make sense. I put it back in the refrigerator and it did stiffen up to some extent, but it became clear when I plated the first attempt that this mixture was just too loose. It really needs to have much more structure. So I decided to go ahead and pull out my electric mixer with the whisk attachment and whip it in order to get more body. This more or less worked. I simply can’t see how on earth simply whisking these ingredients together would ever give you the consistency required to hold up on this dessert without whipping it to at least stiff peaks. If it needs to be whipped to a certain consistency so it works with the dish then they should say so.
Now for plating. It was easily past the five minute cool down time that they recommended, but if I was to ever do this again I would let the apricots come down to at least room temperature. In fact, I would go so far as to say that you should drain off some of the syrup in reserve and refrigerate the apricots. You see when the apricots are warm they simply melted the honey-vanilla creme fraiche as you can see in the photo below. Besides making a dud photo this is exactly what it looked like one minute later which means that’s exactly what it’s going to look like when you put it on the table. It’s not impressive at all and it doesn’t show the contrast between the fruit, syrup, and creme fraiche. It just looks like some kind of glazed apricot and milk.
My next attempt was with the whipped version of the honey-vanilla creme fraiche. This turned out better as far as appearances go. But you can still see the apricots immediately melting the whipped creme fraiche and dribbling down the side of the apricot. So this one might have worked if I had refrigerated the apricots after roasting while reserving some of the syrup and bring it down to room temperature.
Despite the mechanical problems with this recipe, which might be fixable, I thought perhaps the taste would save it. I was wrong. I already mentioned that I think 1 tsp is too much cardamom. But I would also say that 2 tsp of vanilla in the creme fraiche is also too much. The overload of vanilla in the creme fraiche gave the whole dessert a “boozy” flavor which I just didn’t agree with. The flavors were much too strong. If you feel like showing me how it’s done on this one I would suggest starting with half or less cardamom and half or less vanilla extract. Toss the brown sugar and cardamom mixture together in a bowl with the peaches and water and then distribute it in the baking dish and dab it with butter. Let the whole mess come down to at least room temperature after it has roasted or plan to serve it mostly cold with a warm or room temperature syrup that you set aside from the baking dish after the roasting is done. Whip the heck out of the creme fraiche and then put it back in the refrigerator to get maximum structure and body to work with and so it will hold itself together until you at least get it to the table.
The last flaw in this recipe, in my opinion, is that it’s hard to eat an apricot, no matter that it was roasted, in a bowl with a spoon which was their serving suggestion. The skin is just a bit too strong and you end up trying to use your spoon to carve through the skin with it pinched on the wall of your bowl. If you don’t get that right you end up raising a half cut dangling apricot to your mouth while trying to discretely wolf it down without anyone seeing. Not my idea of the elegant dessert this is trying to be. Perhaps it would have been better with a small drizzle of the syrup on the bottom of a small plate with the apricots arranged on top and a dab of honey vanilla creme fraiche on the side. Then you could serve it with a spoon and a knife and fork.
It was definitely a disappointment given the ingredients and concept which sounded so good. Hopefully you learned something from this drama as much as I did. Perhaps I’ll do a “recipe redemption” in the future and see if I can bring this one around to be a stellar dessert. Maybe Bon Appétit will contact me and fill in all the details that I should have known. Until then there are plenty of other things I want to try.