Fruit and I have come a long way. I used to stuff myself silly with every kind of peach, plum, and apple I could get my hands on, nothing was off limits. So it was a terrible surprise when one day, in between fifth and sixth grade, a red apple turned against me.
We had just moved to a new town and my parents took me and my siblings on a picnic at a local park to blow off some steam before the school year started. There were a few rusted out swingsets and an oversized Coca-Cola can you could crawl through, although that's only entertaining for so long. I think we had sandwiches or some other picnic fare, but I can't remember exactly. It's all been blocked out by that terrible episode of The Apple.
My Dad packed a tub of caramel dipping sauce for our apple slices, and when it was time to eat, I didn't waste a minute. I ate half an apple worth of slices before taking off for the slide again, but by the time I reached the top of the ladder, my lips were tingling. I chewed on them a bit, thinking it was nothing, but it got worse. Within a few minutes, my tongue, cheeks and gums were all itchy and swollen, and we didn't know why.
Through a few rounds of trial an error (a horrible reaction to some peaches at my friend Natalie's house was the clincher), my allergist diagnosed me with a fruit allergy, and the only thing I could have for years was watermelon. Anything else and I swelled up like a balloon. It was really ridiculous, I had to carry an Epi-Pen around school and the nurse called me down to her office to see if I needed specially made lunches. I mumbled something like, "I'll just pack, thanks..." and walked sheepishly back to class.
Over the years, it has gotten better. I still can't eat apples, and I still react to some fruits, but apricots are back from the Dark Side. Just touching them to my lips 5 years ago would've made me look like a puffer fish, but they've since apologized and begged to come back. I'm starting small with this apricot torte, and I think apricots and I are back on track to being fine friends again.
First, you blitz a handful of almonds into a powder, perhaps leaving a few crunchy bits in there because you are lazy or just enjoy your cake batter studded with almonds. Then you whip up a quick and dirty batter with your standard butter, eggs, sugar and flour and top the whole thing off with a ring of halved apricots, bright orange and juicy. Now, because apricots tend to be on the mouth-puckering side of the fruit spectrum, it would serve you well to sprinkle a bit of sugar over the tops before sliding it into the oven to bake. Once it gets going, it perfumes your whole house with the scent of toasted almonds and blistering fruit, the sort of fragrance that forces you to walk in and out of the house just to have it register in your senses again. Once it's ready, the top crackles and shatters in spots and some apricots nestle down beneath the surface of the cake (a welcome surprise upon slicing). The few wedges of fruit that stuck around will fill with a little puddle of apricot juice and you might be sorely tempted to scoop them out with a spoon and forgo the cake altogether.
But don't. Let it cool ever so slightly, pour yourself a cuppa, and call it breakfast.
Almond Torte with Sugared Apricots
Adapted from Orangette & Marion Burros
1/3 cup finely ground almonds
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
6 ripe apricots, halved and pitted
1-2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are finely ground. Don't worry about overdoing it, I let mine whirl for a good while with no sign of almond butter in sight.
In a small bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt.
In the food processor, pulse together the butter, sugar and eggs until just combined. Add in the dry ingredients and mix in short bursts until the flour just barely disappears. Scoop the batter into a 9-inch spring-form pan and spread it evenly with an offset spatula.
Arrange the apricot halves evenly across the top of the batter and sprinkle with sugar (1 tablespoon if they are plenty sweet, or 2 tablespoons if they need a little boost. I find most apricots are fairly sour, so I used two).
Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the top is a bit crackly and golden brown. Cool for about 15 minutes before serving.