Apricots — In the Morning (Part 1)

Memories of dried apricots.

Whenever I bite down on a baked good bursting with orange flecks of sweet-tart, chewy dried apricots, I can’t help but think of family road trips.

It makes me think of a time, ensconced in the back seat of my parents’ car, when I’d get all giddy as we pulled into the parking lot of the original Nut Tree in Vacaville. It was the perfect spot to take a break on trips to Sacramento to visit family friends or to Lake Tahoe, where my family used to rent a cabin in the summer. You could fill up on lunch, beverages, or even take a mini train ride. What it meant most to me, though, was getting my hands on a loaf of apricot nut bread.

You’d find the tea cake loaves stacked on a counter, wrapped in paper and plastic, and tied with a fuzzy string of orange yarn the same color as the apricots. There was a date nut bread, and a blueberry one, too. But my family’s favorite was always the apricot.

We’d buy a loaf — or two — and carry it home, where we’d enjoy a slice for breakfast, dessert, or an anytime snack. It was tender, moist, crunchy with nuts, and bursting with tanginess here and there from the pieces of stone fruit. It’s remains my first — and fondest — memory of dried apricots.

Back then, a car trip was something special, as plane tickets for a working-class family of five were a stretch. I guess that’s why dried apricots inexplicably make me think not only of family, but of adventures and travel, sort of like my own edible Eurail pass.

The Nut Tree closed long ago. Although there’s now a Nut Tree Theme Park, I’ve never stopped at it. And I doubt the nut bread is still part of the repertoire.

Flaky, buttery apricot scones.

You could say that “Apricot Flaky Scones” from Flo Braker’s “Baking for All Occasions” (Chronicle Books) cookbook are not at all like a Nut Tree nut bread. They aren’t, except for the fact that they do have jewels of dried apricot pieces throughout a crispy exterior and a fluffy, buttery interior. They also have nuts — in this case, pistachios. Like my nut bread of yore, the scones also are not overly sweet, making them a nice way to start the day without an over-bearing load of sugar.

Braker gives precise directions for folding the dough into thirds like a business letter, so that the scones end up slightly puffed and layered inside. And they do. She says to cut them into thin, small wedges to create 14 scones. I like my scones a little wider, so I cut the dough into a dozen instead.

No, these Apricot Flaky Scones don’t resemble a Nut Tree apricot loaf by any means. But one bite of a just-baked scone still warm from the oven is enough to transport me back on the road again.

Apricot Flaky Scones

(makes 12-14 scones)

For scones:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

6 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons moist dried apricots, finely diced to yield 3/4 cup

1/2 cup unsalted, shelled pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped (optional)

2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For glaze:

2 tablespoons well-shaken buttermilk

3 tablespoons turbinado or other raw sugar

Before baking: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

To make scones: In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and whisk to blend. Scatter butter pieces over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter just until the majority of the butter chunks range in size from peas to coarse crumbs. Stir in the apricots and nuts, if using.

Stir orange zest into buttermilk, and drizzle half of the buttermilk evenly over the surface of the flour mixture. Toss lightly with a fork. Then add remaining buttermilk and toss until mixture comes together in a shaggy mass. If any areas remain dry, gradually add more buttermilk, 1 to 2 teaspoons at a time, tossing lightly to distribute the buttermilk. With lightly floured hands, transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, shape into a rough, semi-cohesive mass, and knead gently about three times.

On the lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a 12 by 5-inch rectangle. Fold dough into thirds like a business letter; working from a short end, lift bottom one-third of the rectangle up over the center and then fold top third down to cover. This folding creates layers of dough and fat, so the scones will puff up slightly as they bake and will have a flaky texture. Roll out the dough again into a 14 by 5 1/2 by 3/4-inch rectangle. Transfer it to  a baking sheet, place a piece of plastic wrap on top, and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes, to rest and to partially chill the dough.

Carefully transfer the chilled dough to a cutting board. Cut small wedges with a sharp knife. You’ll have 11 to 13 of them, depending upon how large you cut them. Place wedges, about 1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. (Depending upon the size of your baking sheet, you might need to use two pans.)  Gently press the 2 end pieces from the rectangle together to form a wedge, and add it to the others on the baking sheet.

To glaze scones: Brush tops of scones with buttermilk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake scones until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer scones to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature the same day they are baked.

From “Baking for All Occasions”

Tomorrow: Apricots — In the Evening (Part 2)

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Date: Wednesday, 29. April 2009 4:02
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Fruit, General, Recipes (Sweet)

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20 comments

  1. 1

    These scones look delicious! Yes, dried fruits always remind me of mountain trips with my family…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. 2

    I love the apricot story. Funny how the promise of something delicious can make those never-ending, family road trips bearable.

  3. 3

    Our family travel always happened by car too. And, your scones look delicious! I like the folding technique. Have to try that.

  4. 4

    Delicious scones with apricots and pistachios!

  5. 5

    wow, thanks for the post. I’ll have to try it one day.

  6. 6

    Great post and recipe! We haven’t made scones in a while now. Thanks for the craving.

  7. 7

    Yum! I love the idea of folding the dough over so you get layers. I need to start making scones, they’re so awesome. So are apricots!

  8. 8

    Yeah, but can you get ‘em in culinary lavender?

  9. 9

    Great story. A piece of yourself in each scone!

  10. 10

    I love apricots and I love scones. Great recipe and I love the story about your family :-)

  11. 11

    Carolyn – another lovely column. You will crack up if you see the food that Doc’s parents loaded their-now-our car with for our four day road trip to Boston.

    Their favorite fruit stop is Casa de Fruta neary Gilroy. We get raisins that are insane (I don’t even like raisins, generally) dried apricots, peaches, plums, mangos and more.

    We have another batch now and am starting to think of macerating some for holiday fruit cake…?

  12. 12

    apricots were one of my favorites as a kid, but I haven’t even thought about them in years. I think I need to get some now!

  13. 13

    Carolyn, you are right -the new Nut Tree is kind of a sterile, pre-packaged sort of strip mall. There is still a little train ride, though, along with some other overpriced children’s rides in a section in the back.
    Thanks for another good-looking recipe. Next time I’m at Olsen’s cherry stand in Sunnyvale I’ll look for some good quality dried apricots.
    About cutting in the butter – my family likes to keep a box of butter in the freezer and then use a cheese grater to grate it into the dry mix Turns out to be just about the right size, and it’s FAST!
    Also when cutting, we use one of those clear plastic OXO pizza cutters that are safe for non-stick pans. Just set the dough onto the cookie sheet and zip zip zip. Seems to maintain (not smush together) the layers in buttery flakey dough just like cutting straight down with a very sharp knife.

  14. 14

    Jacqueline: We stop at Casa de Fruta on road trips, too. Had no idea the raisins were so good, though. Must try them next time.

    Rena: Thanks for the great tips, especially the pizza cutter one. I normally use a dough cutter/scraper to cut my scones. But the pizza cutter sounds much more efficient.

  15. 15

    Funny you write this, because I just drove by the old nut tree yesterday! These scones sound great, I love dried apricots.

  16. 16

    Thank you for sharing such lovely memories! The scones look wonderful – just the kind that you eat slowly and savor every bite. My favorite roadtrip food memory isn’t nearly as elegant: my husband and I would indulge in a canister of Planters cheese balls when we drove to visit family – it was the only time we did so! 8-)

  17. 17

    Tangled Noodle: Actually, most of the times road-trip food is NOT elegant. That’s the beauty of it. In fact, Jacqueline (above) can attest to the fact that she and I were on a road trip to the glaciers of Alaska last year, and the backseat was filled with bags of everything from pork rinds to Doritos to York Peppermint Patties. And we had a couple of chefs with us, too, who were noshing away on it all.

  18. 18

    I, too, used to stop at the Nut Tree every time I was driving to or from Sacramento. And yes, I miss it, too. It was a fun halfway point to take a break, eat some good food, and scour the gift shop looking for interesting foods/candies to take with me. It had a unique homey feeling to it, and the snacks, candies, and other tasty treats were better than anything else you could find.

    As for your scones…woo hoo! Anything with buttermilk and apricots in it is on my list of favorites!

  19. 19

    The scones look delicious and I’ve been in an apricot sort of mood lately – taken to getting bags of them to nibble at my desk. It seems to be a changing of the guard that these lovely nut houses (stores) are closing – the small store that was a veritable institution on Geary near Neiman Marcus recently shuttered.

  20. 20

    My Grandma lives in Davis so we used to always stop at the Nut Tree. Back in the day the restaurant at The Nut Tree was really the only “nice” place around so special occasions were spent eating there. The new Nut Tree is basically just a strip mall and not worth stopping at.
    Funny, whenever I see apricots (which I love) I always think back to when I was growing up and lived near the Del Monte canning plant in Sunnyvale. The worst smells would come from that place when they were canning apricots!

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