Apricots were definitely not a part of my childhood. Growing up in rural Devon in the 90's I don't think I ever even saw one. I remember tasting apricot jam for the first time when I was on a French exchange with my primary school, and we ate Bonne Maman apricot jam with our burnished breakfast croissants. It blew my tiny mind. Deliciously tart and sweet, it tasted like peaches, flowers and candy. It was the beginning of a life-long love affair.
Every time I went to France after that, on occasional family camping trips (most of the time we went to soggy Cornwall, but once every few years we hopped on the ferry at Plymouth with our tents on the roof) I would come back home with a suitcase stuffed full of apricot jam, or even better, a crate of fresh apricots. Their scent would fill the car as we drove home, doing battle with the ripe, sport's-sock aroma of camembert that my cheese-loving Dad had stuffed in the cool-box.
Now, in Sardinia, I feel very lucky to be able to get hold of good, local, fresh apricots, heady with scent, blushing pink and speckled with russet freckles.
Not only beautiful to look at, apricots are a cook's greatest gift, as they are one of the few fruits which are truly much better when cooked. When eating them fresh their texture can be problematic, as they have a tendency to be mushy. When cooked, the flavour is intensified and any mushiness disappears, morphing instead into an irresistibly slippery jamminess.
This cake is a wonderful way of celebrating apricots, their tartness cancels out the caramel beautifully, and the sponge itself is moist and buttery. I love the flavour of orange blossom water with any tart fruit, as its floral nature works well paired with tart fruitiness, but if you don't like it you can easily leave it out, the cake will not suffer as a result.
1 tbsp lemon juice (use the same lemon as for the zest)
175g butter, softened, plus a little extra to grease 175g caster sugar
1 unwaxed lemon, zest a pinch of sea salt 3 eggs 100g plain flour 100g ground almonds 100ml yoghurt
2 tsp baking powder
3 tsp orange blossom water
Grease and line with baking parchment a 23cm cake tin. Preheat the oven to 180.
Halve the apricots and save the stones for later (you can crack the stones open to reveal the small, bitter almond inside. This can then be crushed and used to flavour ice creams and panna cottas).
Melt the sugar and water in a saucepan, swirling rather than stirring to dissolve the sugar. Heat gently, watching it, until the sugar begins to colour. Watch carefully until it turns a light coffee colour, swirling occasionally to make sure the caramelisation is even. When it is caramel-coloured remove from the heat.
Add the lemon juice and swirl again to mix.
Pour the liquid caramel into the lined baking tin and smooth it out to form an even layer. Add the apricots, placing them close to each other, cut side down.
Beat the butter and sugar with the salt and zest, until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one by one, until incorporated. Add the flour, the ground almonds and mix again. Finally add the yoghurt and the baking powder, and the orange blossom water. Stir until a smooth batter is formed, then ladle into the prepared tin.
Smooth the top then place in the oven, and bake for around 45-50 minutes, until golden.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so, before inverting onto a plate and serving, with some cold yoghurt.