Dried and True

Not too long ago Tu B’Shvat was equated only with dried fruit. Every good balabusta prepared fruit during the warm months, either by preserving or drying, so there would be fruit to celebrate this yom tov. There are references to dried fruit as far back as ancient Egypt. Figs, dates and grapes were the most commonly used fruit in the Middle East and Mediterranean areas. They dried well and provided both sweetness to other dishes and healthful snacks during the cold months when it was hard to get enough vitamins. Nowadays, of course, one can get all types of fruit all year long, but enjoying dried fruit on Tu B’Shvat is still traditional.

Dried Fruit Bars

These bars make a delicious low-sugar snack that even your children will enjoy.

For the crust:

  • 1 cup chopped pecans or hazelnuts, divided
  • 1½ cups flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Fruit Filling:

  • 3 cups diced, mixed soft dried fruit, divided
  • 1½ cups apple cider
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine 3/4 cup nuts, flour and sugar in a food processor; pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add 4 tablespoons of the oil; pulse until well incorporated.

Whisk egg, remaining oil and vanilla in a small bowl. With the motor running, add the mixture to the food processor. Process until the mixture begins to clump, 30 to 45 seconds — it will still look crumbly. Measure out 1/2 cup of the mixture and combine in a bowl with the remaining 1/4 cup nuts. Set aside for the topping.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a 9 x 13” pan with parchment paper.

Combine 2 cups dried fruit, cider, sugar and cornstarch in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is very thick, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining dried fruit and vanilla.

Press the dough into the lined baking dish, pressing firmly into the bottom to form a crust. Spread the fruit filling over the crust. Sprinkle the reserved topping over the filling.

Bake the bars for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until the crust and topping are lightly brown, 25 to 30 minutes more. Let cool completely before cutting into bars, at least 1 1/2 hours.

Apricot Biscotti

The addition of dried apricots makes these crispy cookies different from others already in your recipe book.

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups chopped dried apricots

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together sugar, eggs and yolks with an electric mixer until pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Beat in flour mixture until just combined, and then stir in apricots.

Using floured hands, divide dough into 4 pieces. Shape each piece of dough into a 3-inch wide log. Bake 35 minutes until barely golden.

Take the loaves out of oven and using a serrated knife, cut dough on the bias into 1-inch cookies. Lay cookies cut side up on baking sheets, and bake until golden and dry, another 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to cooling racks. Store in an airtight container.

Homemade Fruit Leather

Making your own fruit leather is a great family activity and very timely right now!

  • 1½ lbs. ripe fruit — apples, pears, berries, mango or plums (frozen is fine too)
  • ½ cup sugar or honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180 degrees F. Line a 12×18 baking sheet with a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

Cut up the fruit and puree with sugar and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour fruit mixture onto prepared baking sheet and spread to about a 1/8″ thick. Tap the baking pan on the counter a few times to settle the fruit evenly.

Bake for 6-8 hours, until fruit leather is not tacky. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. Gently peel off the fruit leather from the Silpat. Cut into squares or strips using a knife, or scissors. Store in an airtight container.

Many ingredients are prone to infestation. Please consult a local Rav for specific guidelines on how to avoid transgressions related to insects.

Readers may submit questions to the Culinary Connoisseur, c/o Hamodia, 207 Foster Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11230 or via e-mail to peppermill@hamodia.com. This weekly column has been brought to you by The Peppermill, the world’s first kosher kitchenware store, located at 5015 16th Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. (718) 871-4022. You can also read a selection of previous columns in their comprehensive cookbook, The Culinary Connoisseur, available now at your local Judaica and kitchenware stores. Jam-packed with delicious recipes, insightful food information and helpful cooking tips, this book is certain to become your constant companion in the kitchen.