Sweet-tasting apricot chocolate squares perfect for summer

Even the most unpromising apricot softens to sweet richness when it is cooked

Vegan apricot chocolate squares

Vegan apricot chocolate squares

 

Apricots are very much a fruit of warmer climes. Perhaps it is just the colour, but a fully ripe apricot seems to taste of the warm sunshine that has been beating down on it, raising the sugar levels and softening the flesh. Finding a ripe apricot in Ireland is a rare feat, but even the hardest, most unpromising apricot softens to sweet richness when it is cooked.

Tinned apricots are also surprisingly good and I always keep a store of them for whipping together delicious coronation chicken sandwiches (combining chicken, mayonnaise, curry powder and apricots).

Here I’m using fresh apricots to make a beautifully fresh-tasting apricot jelly layer sandwiched between the base and the chocolate ganache topping. These moreish chocolate squares remind me of Jaffa cakes, with the apricot fulfilling the role, usually played by oranges, of tangy counterpoint to the chocolate.

You can add a teaspoon of ground ginger to the chocolate base for a hint of sweet spice. The apricot jelly is made with agar-agar (so good they named it twice), rather than gelatine. The agar-agar has a higher melting point than gelatine, so an agar jelly holds its shape even in warm weather when a gelatine-based jelly could melt. The agar-agar is made from a type of algae, and so is suitable for vegans, unlike animal-derived gelatine.

Agar-agar is becoming easier to track down in Ireland and can be found in speciality shops or online. It is an essential ingredient in some Japanese wagashi sweets, often served with green tea, so might also be found under its Japanese name of Kanten.

Acidic foods may affect the gelling strength, but it is easy to test this by taking a spoonful of the heated mixture and allowing it to rapidly set on a cool surface. If the mixture does not set in a few minutes, add more flakes and simmer for a few more minutes. 

VEGAN APRICOT CHOCOLATE SQUARES

Makes 16

Ingredients
100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
75g wholemeal flour
125g plain flour
150g caster sugar
½tsp salt (or ½tbsp maldon salt flakes)
150ml cold water
75ml sunflower oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the apricot jelly:
3 apricots, destoned
100ml water (plus extra before adding agar flakes)
50g caster sugar
1tbsp agar flakes

For the chocolate ganache topping:
100g dark chocolate, chopped
60ml vegan cream (Uht soya alternative to cream) 

Method
1
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees, fan. Grease and line a 20cm x 20cm baking tin with parchment paper (ensuring the paper is slightly higher than the sides of the tin, to accommodate the jelly and chocolate layers).

2 For the chocolate base: Melt the chocolate in a bain marie (a medium bowl set over a pan of simmering water) and stir until fully blended and smooth, then remove from the heatsource. Combine the wholemeal flour, plain flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Mix the melted chocolate into the dry ingredients.

3 Combine the water, sunflower oil and vanilla extract in a bowl and mix them into the chocolatey mixture, whisking to a smooth, quite wet, cake-like batter. Transfer the mixture into the lined baking tin. Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 30 minutes, until the centre is cooked. Remove from the oven and allow to cool fully in the tin (refrigerate it for 30 minutes before the jelly layer is added).

4 For the apricot jelly: Simmer the apricots and water in a small saucepan over a low heat until all the water is absorbed. Blitz using a handheld soup blender, add the sugar and blitz again. Place the apricot coulis in a measuring jug and pour in extra water until the volume in the jug measures 250ml. Transfer the 250ml apricot liquid to the washed and cleaned out saucepan and sprinkle agar agar flakes over the surface of the liquid (before heating). Heat without stirring until boiling. Simmer stirring occasionally until the agar agar flakes fully dissolve (five to 10 minutes). Pour over the chilled chocolate cake base and refrigerate to set.

5 For the chocolate ganache topping: Heat the soy cream to just below boiling point and pour the hot cream over the dark chocolate pieces in a bowl, stirring to a smooth silky chocolate ganache. Pour the chocolate ganache over the chilled jelly layer and set aside in a cool place to set.

6 To portion, lift the bake in the parchment onto a work surface, use a large knife to cut crossways into approx 16 squares. Store in an airtight container in a cool place. If you omit the soy cream in the topping, portion before the chocolate hardens.

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