Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Grandma's Apricot Bread

For my first recipe post of the new year I wanted to get back to basics. (Yeah, I know, I posted already, but that was a cliché "Best of" post, not a recipe, so it doesn't count.) Something simple, not the fancy schmancy fare so abundant during the holidays, but a down home, easy to make, satisfying recipe. So I decided to make my Grandmother's Apricot Bread recipe. Well, I also had a big bag of dried apricots that I was going to use for our Thanksgiving stuffing. (Yes, I do weird things like add dried fruit to stuffing.) But we had a sort of "Un-Thanksgiving" and I didn't make stuffing and was left with a big bag of dried apricots. Any who, point is, I decided to make Apricot Bread.

This is one of the few recipes I have from my paternal Grandmother. As a child I didn't spend much time with her and what time we did spend wasn't in the kitchen. She wasn't particularly know to be a good cook. Not to say she was a bad cook, more of a practical, nuts and bolts, type of cook. I assume, fairly typical for a housewife in rural South Dakota in the 30's and 40's. Making do, so to speak, with the ingredients available, war rations and such. So, by modern culinary standards, there may be many things "wrong" with this bread. It's kind of heavy, a bit overly moist, maybe a tad bland. But growing up my Dad loved it. The recipe was handed off to my mom, who didn't particularly like to cook, but made this for my Dad, because he loved it. And so, I grew up with it and now, flaws and all, I love it. I've never tried to change or improve it because to me, it tastes like my childhood, like my mother's cooking, like my grandmother's cooking. Kind of baking nostalgia. In an ever changing world, made so small by technology, somethings should be left as they are. So if you're in the mood for an "old school midwest housewife's recipe", try this apricot bread.

Here's whatcha need to get started: dried apricots, sugar, softened butter, an egg, orange juice, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. You could also add some chopped nuts, about 1/2 cup, if you like. My dad doesn't like nuts in his baked goods so I've never had or made this with nuts. But if you're nutty, go for it.

These are the apricots. U-G-L-Y! For sure. That's because they are unsulfured. No sulfur dioxide added to keep them plump, soft and goldeny orange. Probably not what you are used to but, they are great for baking! Not so great for eating out of the bag. Kind of leathery and tough. But cooked in a recipe they are far superior in taste and texture to the gooey orange blogs we're used to. Plus, none of that yucky sulfur dioxide. (I discovered these because my sister is very allergic to sulfur dioxide.  I now try to avoid it in any dried fruit.) If you can't find the unsulfured apricots, by all means use the regular kind, my mom did for years, but if you can find them please take a leap and try them out.

Before you measure the apricots you need to chop them up. I started with a knife but these are pretty sticky and tough so I ended up using my kitchen shears to snip them up. Works just fine.

Once they are all chopped/snipped up, measure out 1 cup and then put them in a bowl with enough warm tap water to cover. Then let them sit for at least 30 minutes. 

After a minimum of 30 minutes, drain the apricots, reserving 1/4 cup of the liquid. Press down on the apricots to get most of the water out, you don't want them to be mushy. They're looking a bit more edible now, soft and plump. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a standard sized loaf pan.

Next beat together the sugar, butter and egg. Get it nice and smooth.

Stir in the orange juice and reserved 1/4 cup of soaking liquid.

Sift the flour before you measure it, then sift it again with the baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add the flour mixture to the liquid with the mixer on low and mix just until all the dry ingredients are moistened. If the batter is a bit lumpy turn the mixer to medium for just 20-30 seconds. You don't really want to beat the batter, just get the larger lumps out.

Gently fold in the apricots until they are evenly distributed. If you're using nuts you'd add them here as well.

Spread the batter in a greased loaf pan. I had some of these foil pans leftover from my holiday baking and they work great, but any standard loaf pan will do. Bake at 350°F for 55-65 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Ooohh, nice and golden brown. Let it set and cool a good 20 minutes before slicing.

This is great just as it is or you can toast it up and add a bit of butter. And now those ugly old apricots don't look so ugly any more. Enjoy!

Grandma's Apricot Bread
1 C. chopped, dried apricots
1 C. sugar
2 T. butter, softened
1 egg
1/2 C. chopped nuts (optional)
1/2 C. orange juice
2 C. sifted flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt

Soak apricots, in enough warm tap water to cover, for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a standard sized loaf pan.
Beat together sugar, butter and egg. Stir in orange juice and reserved soaking liquid.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to liquid ingredients and stir just until mixed and there are no large lumps. Fold in apricots and nuts (optional).
Spread batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for 55-65 minutes. Bread is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

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