Once upon a time, the Blenheim apricot reigned supreme in the sprawling orchards of Santa Clara Valley. Today, however, apricot trees have been displaced by suburbs and production of this fragile, intensely flavored fruit is so small it has been included in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste alongside New Town Pippin apples and Sun Crest peaches.
Large commercial growers in other areas can’t be bothered with such a delicate variety of fruit. The amber skin is tissue thin, bruises easily and freckles with sunburn. The season is over in the blink of an eye.
Yet the flavor is exquisite, with undertones of honey balanced by a delightful touch of acid. The soft, ripe flesh is so juicy, it drips down your chin as you eat.
So it was cause for celebration when fresh Blenheims arrived at local farmers markets last week. A few small growers from San Benito County set up tables with the apricots displayed in baskets like the jewels they are. Some felt a little too firm – Blenheim’s ripen from the inside out – but they soon turned soft and voluptuous on the kitchen counter.
I like them in this rustic tart made with puff pastry from the supermarket freezer case. The simple custard is quickly stirred together with mascarpone cheese, egg, sugar and a little lemon zest. Quartered apricots are arranged on top and the tart is popped into a hot oven.
This is a good way to use fairly firm apricots, which hold their shape when baked. It also would bring out the most flavor in the rather bland Patterson apricots that dominate the commercial market. Peaches and nectarines would work as well, although you should cut the fruit into thick slices rather than quarters.
If you’re lucky enough to spot any Blenheims at the market, though, don’t pass them by just because they aren’t as uniformly pretty as other varieties. You’re bound to become a fan at first bite.
1 sheet of thawed puff pastry (see Note)
2 eggs, divided use
1 teaspoon milk
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
10-12 small apricots
¼ cup apricot preserves
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry into a large rectangle about 1/8- to 1/16-inch thick. Place on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Fold over about 1 inch of the border on each edge to form a rim. Beat together 1 egg yolk and milk in a small bowl to make a glaze and brush it over the surface of the pastry. Reserve the remaining glaze and save the egg white for another use. Chill the pastry base while preparing the tart filling.
Stir together the mascarpone, sugar, lemon zest and 1 slightly beaten egg in a medium bowl until smooth. Cut apricots into quarters, removing pits.
Take pastry out of refrigerator and spread mascarpone mixture evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Arrange apricot quarters over the filling in any pattern that appeals to you. Brush the remaining egg glaze over the pastry rim of the tart.
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes and the reduce heat to 350. Bake for about 30 minutes more, until tart is a golden brown on the bottom and fruit is tender.
Place baking tray on a wire rack to cool. Just before serving, warm the preserves in a small saucepan, strain, and brush evenly over apricots and filling. Serve.
Note: Although frozen puff pastry made with butter unquestionably is the best, it is very expensive. This tart, with its rich filling, works quite well with the less expensive and widely available Pepperidge Farms brand pastry sheets, too.