Saturday, December 31, 2016


Frutos secos are nuts of all kinds, in Spain, as elsewhere, beloved at holiday time.

A bowl of walnuts and a nutcracker. Fruitcake studded with raisins, citron and nuts. Plum pudding with currants. Nuts and dried fruits are cherished for winter holiday treats.

In Spain, too. Frutos secos—all kinds of nuts and seeds—and frutas secas or desecadas—dried fruits add sweetness and cheer to a festive season. Almond confections such as turrón, nougat, and mazapán, marzipan candies, are the most emblematic. And there are many more.

Dried fruits are winter treats--bottom,´figs (dusted in rice flour), center, Málaga muscatel raisins, and top, dried apricots, called orejones or "little ears." Spain is known for figs and raisins. Apricots and dates are grown in Spain, but most are imported.

Walnuts--nueces--are grown in Spain, but most sold here come from California.

Pecans, known as nueces americanas or pecanas. I buy them from a chica in my aerobics class whose family has a pecan plantation not far from my village in southern Spain.

Almonds, almendras. I pick these in my garden. The ones on the right have been blanched, skinned and toasted.

Hazelnuts, avellanas, grown in Catalonia. They are an ingredient in the famous romesco sauce.

Pine nuts, piñones. Nut-bearing pine cones drop onto my patio from the tree that towers above it. I don't have the patience to crack the tiny nuts and extract the seeds, so I usually buy them. They are expensive.

Apricot-Almond Bars
Pan de Albaricoques con Almendras

Dense with fruit and nuts, sweet apricot bars are real energy bites.

This sweet is traditionally made with dried figs ground to a paste and mixed with almonds and sesame. It’s called pan de higos, or fig “bread,” although it’s not really bread nor is it baked. The confection can be made with any dried fruit—apricots, figs, raisins, prunes—or a mixture of fruits. It typically contains a shot of anise-flavored liquor, aguardiente or anis seco. You can leave it out or substitute a sweet wine such as PX or Málaga moscatel. 

This version, with apricots, contains flour, which keeps the mixture crumbly rather than sticky. It’s finished in the oven to cook the flour.

Serve thin wedges of apricot bars with mild fresh goat's cheese.

Serve the fruit loaf like candy, cut into very small pieces. It combines well with mild fresh goat cheese. Serve a sweet wine with it.

Grind the apricots in a food processor or meat grinder. I used a mini-processor, dividing the apricots and flour into three batches.

Plump Málaga muscatel raisins are the sweetest in the world. However, they must be de-stemmed and seeded. Dip fingers and knife tip in flour to prevent seeds from sticking.

Paste of ground apricots.
1 pound dried apricots
¾ cup flour
½ cup Málaga muscatel raisins, seeded
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons sesame seed
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Dash of ground cloves
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup hot water
1 tablespoon anis seco (anisette)
1 cup almonds, skinned and toasted
Oil to grease the mold

Cut the apricots into quarters and sprinkle them with the flour. Grind them in a food processor, dividing into batches, if necessary. Place the apricot pulp in a bowl. Add the raisins, walnuts, sesame, zest and cloves. Dissolve the honey in hot water. Mix it into the fruit mixture with the anis liquor.

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Oil an 8-inch round or square cake pan and line it with baking parchment.

Press apricots and almonds into mold.

Spread half of the fruit mixture in the pan, pressing it firmly. Place half of the almonds on the fruit layer and press them into the paste. Place remaining paste on top and press it into an even layer. Place remaining almonds on top.

Bake the fruit loaf 30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan. Loosen the sides with a knife and turn out onto a cutting board or plate. (Baking parchment may be removed or left in place.)

Cut the loaf into thin wedges (round pan) or squares (square pan) and place them on a candy dish.

Wrap wedges of the apricot bars in plastic film. What a nice hostess gift!

More recipes with nuts and dried fruits:
Squab stuffed with raisins, apricots and walnuts.
Roast stuffed chicken.
Turkey breast with spinach-walnut stuffing.
Walnut torte.
Fig roll (pan de higos).
Layer cake with apricots and marzipan.

1 comment:

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