Winters bouquet

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A number of weeks ago I brought a bowl of speckled yellow green apples into my room to take a photo of. An unusual variety, with a rough skin airing on the side of a mans five o’clock shadow. Nicely nestled in the bowl atop a little dining table I’ve wedged into my bedroom, formally patio, that’s why it’s so sunny! (And why I sleep with two comforters and sometimes a knit hat) I decided to keep the bowl of apples in the bedroom, in place of flowers which have long since tucked in until spring.

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Seeing an apple soaking in the early mornings winters sun seems quite appealing to me. I’ve been munching on an apple in my bedroom many mornings lately when I’m not in a rush. As I tidy the bed, unknot my hair, dress and chat with Thomas, my pet bird, about today’s plans. Have you ever seen Benjamin Franklin’s Daily Scheme? “Munch on an apple as you tidy yourself and your space before getting on with it!” Just kidding, that’s my daily scheme!  And because of it I’ve been topping up my bowl of apples each Saturday. The abundance of apples has lead to a few namely pleasures. 1. Discovering  locally grown and unfamiliar varieties. 2. Baked apples with prunes. 3. A morning snack to hold me over before whatever is in store for the day. More talk about point 1. and 2. . . .  For me,  the most notable apples of the year have been a delicate French varietal known as Calville Blanc d’Hiver, almost quince like in appearance, soft and honey like to taste. Golden Russet, being the one I first photographed, under its tannic and rough speckled skin a refreshingly juicy, sharply cider tasting flesh awaits.  Finally, the elegant Winesap. Tasting like roses, and rose tinted  wine.  Each I’ve cored and piped inside a floral pruney paste. Raisiny, vanilla-like and chocolaty, there is something about this prune paste which has made for a wonderful treat with apples.
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Baked Apples with Prune Filling

Prune Filling – A paste I learned from a sunny English chef, as she casually tossed ingredients about pastry counter into the processor. Between pulses she’d taste, smiling the whole bout of it. Truly, she loved a good prune and showed me shortly that I would too.

It’s a rough ratio of things but prunes should be dominant. I have found this recipe to work for me, packaging the remaining and keeping in the fridge until another night in the week which calls for more baked apples.

  • 4 apples
  • 400 grams prunes
  • 200 grams blanched almonds, ground coarsely in a oter and pestle, plus more for garnish
  • 75 grams light brown sugar
  • Large knob of softened butter
  • Pinch of maldon salt
  • Glug of amaretto, or of course, whatever is still lurking in the pantry.

Begin by preheating the oven to 325ºF. Set your prunes in a bowl and soak in a small glug of amaretto. Set aside just for a few minutes as you prepare your other ingredients for assembly.

Take a handful of whole almonds, and spread onto tray, sprinkling a bit of sugar atop. Toast until golden about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare you apples and baking parcels. Core the apples and set aside. Cut parchment paper into squares just large enough to contain one (I like two!) apple. Along with a few strands of bakers twine to tie each apple parcel up. Set aside as well and move onto the filling.

It will all be done in a food processor. Begin by adding the prunes and their soaking liquor, pulsing until a jammy. Add a large, softened knob of butter, I’d say in between a ⅓ cup and ½ cup along  with the brown sugar. Pulse again until well combined. Adding a splash more liquor as needed and a pinch of maldon. Lastly adding the ground almonds, only pulsing together until just combined. Transfer the sticky and fragrant prune paste into a piping bag and pipe into each cored apple set atop their parcel, topped with a spoonful of butter, a few drips of the chosen liquor, a dusting more of sugar and a sprinkle of the almonds toasted earlier.  Tie up with the twine and bake in a pan until soft, about an hour, the time depending on the apple variety. Serve at once or reheat later. I love mine with creme fraiche loosened with heavy cream pooled in the base of the dish.

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Crispy leaves and shively prunes

A Flicker in October

The wick begins to pool
one leaf falls
the wax begins to drip
a crunch under foot
my cheeks begin to glow
this precious time
before the wick runs out

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Prunes! Glorious jammy things. Juicier than an apricot, whose color is alluring, but it’s the prune I find most satisfying of the dried fruits. A thin protective skin, just barely sealing a smoothing prune cream. Confoundedly a flavor both of vanilla and milk chocolate. And even a fragrance faintly reminiscent of orange blossom. Glorious prunes!

The leaves are beginning to turn in New York. Yellow and crisp. A few scattered underfoot, one crunching, another saved inside a book. The sun is still warm to the bone, and it’s…quite. Where might be the flock of finches whom lived in the tree outside my window be? The window unit is unplugged and the floor fan switched off. This precious, and perhaps introspective time!

I was a thinking about what I might like to eat for breakfast during the next few days, while I had the time, and prunes showed up first in mind. The first place I looked for inspiration was a big cookbook, humorous and light, but each recipe a rather serious matter. Fairly charming that such a talented and experienced chef wrote a book for us at home, reading in a way that feels, well quite doable. Needing only the right ingredients and a good dose of confidence. One day I’ll get to that warm pig’s head… ! Seemingly, Fergus Henderson loves prunes too. And seemed to crave the same sort of pruney breakfast loaf as I did. A prune loaf with brown sugar and molasses, extra vanilla for a lift of fragrance, and then quite a buttered tin – yielding a crust buttery and textured. The heavenly heavily buttered tin is a small trick I learned in school, beurre en pommade, a consistency mayonnaise like, which when heavily lining a tin makes the most lovely cake and loaf crusts.

So here is a slightly adapted recipe of Fergus Henderson’s le grand prune loaf. Fit for even those who may think they might not like a shriveled prune.

Prune Loaf 1

Prune Loaf

  • 4 ½ oz softened (soft by leaving out, mine usually overnight) unsalted butter, and extra for greasing the pan
  • 4 ¾ oz light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 8 oz flour, plus a five fingered pinch for dusting the pan
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste, or 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp black molasses
  • 3 tbsp prune juice, mine coming just from my soaking liquid of tea and prunes.
  • 3 tbsp full-fat milk, obtained at the coffee shop, thank you baristas, a generous slice coming your way!
  • 20 oz prunes, and strips of lemon peel, soaked in two bags of black tea, mine being a rose like blend, soaked overnight or least an hour before.

Rummage about for a loaf tin, mine being a tube pan. With your softened butter, brush heavily into pan. Dust with a bit of flour and tap the excess out. Set aside and get on with the mix.

In a bowl with a wooden spoon, paddle the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Incorporate the beaten eggs slowly, which will help prevent a curdle. Sift in the flour, baking soda, salt and mix in. Next add the vanilla, molasses, prune juice and milk.  

Fill your prepared tin with half of the mix, then lightly pressing in the prunes. You’ll notice it’s quite a lot of prunes, it is, a prune loaf! Spoon in remaining mix and lightly spread about evenly. Place in the fridge for 2 hours. The chill stops the prunes from sinking to the bottom during the bake.

Bake in an oven preheated to 350ºF for 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven, invert onto a rack, remove tin, and allow to cool for ten minutes before serving.

**Fergus Henderson mentions a mist in his recipe which is 2 ½ oz of prune juice, heated in a saucepan until it starts to boil. Off heat, ¾ oz of Vieille Prune (prune brandy) is stirred in. Two spoonfuls of mist is soaked into a slice before serving along with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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