This week’s rich apricot compote was inspired by a blissful night’s sleep in the Mexican desert beneath drying camomile blossoms, and provides a sweet filling for a batch of pillowy shortcakes
Claire Ptak is an author and food stylist and owns Violet Bakery in London.
Sat 18 Jun 2016 06.00 BSTLast modified on Tue 9 Jul 2019 09.38 BST
Apricot, camomile and honey shortcakes
Apricot, camomile and honey shortcakes: ‘In the US, shortcake is usually served with fresh strawberries; I suppose it’s our take on the cream scone.’ Photograph: Kristin Perers/The Guardian
Afew years ago, I cooked at an event in California with Eric Werner, chef proprietor of Hartwood restaurant in Tulum in the heart of the Caribbean. Eric’s food is the very definition of local. All his ingredients come from the restaurant’s immediate surroundings. What he can’t source, he and his wife Mya grow, exploring the rich traditions of Mayan cooking.
Some of the flavours he brings to the table are strong honey, sweet camomile, warm cinnamon and the native Mexican vanilla. After reading his new cookbook, I was inspired to apply these flavours to my favourite summer fruit – apricots – the results of which are magical. In the US, shortcake is usually served with fresh strawberries; I suppose it’s our take on the cream scone, but with freshly whipped cream, rather than clotted. They are the perfect vehicle for myriad combinations of summer fruits.
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Upon tasting the tangy fruits steeped in camomile, I remembered a nearly forgotten adventure I had in Mexico in my early 20s. My friend Amy and I were backpacking for six months on a budget of US$5 a day. The heaviest thing we carried were our boots and a dog-eared copy of Lonely Planet Mexico, which had been ripped in two so that I could carry one half and she could carry the other.
One night, we found ourselves deep in the desert of San Luis Potosí state with nowhere to stay as the sun started to set. A Mexican friend that we had made along the way had a few words with the owner of a corner shop and, before we knew it, we were being led back to an external concrete shed with a wooden roof and painted blue shutters where we were told we could sleep for the night for a few pesos. Inside, the walls were lined with bushels of drying manzanilla, or camomile – the scent so soothing it lulled us all into one of the best night’s sleep of the trip despite the very hard floor.
Tip: The cinnamon and vanilla will keep infusing the compote after cooking. For a subtler flavour, remove before cooling
Apricot compote with camomile and cinnamon
This will keep in the fridge, in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
Apricots and camomile inspired by Claire’s Mexican adventures
‘After reading the new Hartwood cookbook, I was inspired to apply these flavours to my favourite summer fruit – apricots – the results of which are magical.’ Photograph: Kristin Perers/The Guardian
Makes 1 large jar
1kg just-ripe apricots, halved and pitted
½ vanilla pod
1 tbsp dried camomile flowers
½ cinnamon stick
150g caster sugar
1 Add all the ingredients into a large bowl and toss. Macerate for one hour to dissolve the sugar and draw the juices out of the fruit.
2 Turn out into a heavy saucepan or jam pot, then cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, or until the apricots break down a bit.
3 Let the mixture cool slightly before transferring to an airtight container.
Apricot, camomile and honey shortcakes
Makes 4 large shortcakes
280g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp caster sugar, plus 50g more for sprinkling
½ tsp fine sea salt
100g unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1cm cubes
200g single cream
¼ batch apricot compote (from above)
300g double cream, gently whipped
A drizzle of honey
1 Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.
2 In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients. Add the cold butter, blitzing until it resembles a coarse meal texture (or do this by hand with a pastry cutter).
3 Quickly add the cream, mixing until it just comes together. Be careful not to overmix.
4 Turn out on to a lightly floured surface, and pat into a cube shape. Rest for 10 minutes.
5 Once rested, roll to a 2cm thickness, then cut into hexagons. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Rest for 10 minutes, then bake for 15-20 minutes until springy and golden at the edges.
6 To assemble, cut the shortcakes in half, spoon over the compote and a dollop of whipped cream, then drizzle with honey.
Claire Ptak is an author and food stylist and owns Violet Bakery in London. She is the author of the Violet Bakery Cookbook (Square Peg); @violetcakeslondon