In early summer, the neighborhood would fill with the sound of whistling. We would sit on the curb, rubbing the tips of apricot pits against the rough sidewalk until a hole opened up in the hard pit – which we would then blow into and whistle tunes. We would run home from school and eat quickly, with a big appetite. We knew what awaited us for dessert – golden apricots, dripping with juice, and the coveted pits inside. All the kids feverishly collected these pits (which we called “gogos”), urging family members to eat as many of the sweet fruits as possible so we could extract this treasure.
Every afternoon, a few minutes after the apricot orchestra began playing, mothers would stick their heads out of bedroom windows and threaten us with a bitter end if we didn’t let them get their afternoon nap. And so we would all stand up as one, zealously replace our treasures into cloth bags – emblazoned with names like “Gogo King” or “Gogo Champion” – and head for the playground.
There, between two and four in the afternoon, the only sound was of gogos hitting the wall or the perforated cardboard boxes we were trying our best to throw them into. This was the soundtrack to our lives back then – the whistling and knocking of the gogos, and the whoops of kids playing outside. Life had a sweet and comforting flavor, just like the apricot.
Almond meringue cake with mascarpone and apricots
This cake is easier to make than it looks, and the taste definitely justifies the effort. You may prepare the different components beforehand, but only assemble the cake right before serving, to retain the crispness of the meringue and the freshness of the mascarpone. When cooking the apricots, the amount of sugar to use depends on the cook’s taste, as well as the ripeness of the apricots in the pot – the tart ones will benefit from a bit of sugar, but with sweet apricots one could forgo the sugar altogether. The lavender flowers that are now in bloom in every public garden are optional, but they do add a special fragrance that offsets the sweetness of the cake. You can substitute fresh mint leaves or even a few dried rose petals.
For the meringue:
400 gm. blanched almonds
200 gm. superfine sugar
6 egg whites
½ tsp. salt
For the filling:
250 gm. mascarpone
100 gm. superfine sugar
1 tsp. real vanilla extract
250 ml. whipping cream
1 tbsp. lavender flowers
For the apricots:
12-14 ripe apricots
6 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. water
Start by making the meringue: In a food processor with a steel blade, process the almonds and sugar into a fine, sandy texture. Put the egg whites and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk at high speed, to obtain a dense and airy foam. Detach the bowl from the mixer and add the almond mixture to the foam, a little at a time, gently folding it in with wide strokes – trying your best not to cause the foam to collapse. The texture should resemble airy mud.
Line a baking sheet with baking paper (depending on the width of your oven, you may have to use two lined baking sheets instead of one). On each baking sheet, draw four circles that are 18 centimeters in diameter. Divide the almond foam into four and flatten each on a different circle, being careful to maintain the shape.
Place in a preheated, 160-degree Celsius oven on the Turbo setting and bake for 45-60 minutes, until the edges of the circles are slightly browned. Take the meringue out of the oven and let it cool. Carefully separate the circles from the baking paper, turn them over and let the bottom parts harden a little.
Meanwhile, prepare the whipped mascarpone: Using a hand mixer, combine the mascarpone, sugar and vanilla, until the texture is softer and somewhat airy. Whip the cream with an electric mixer to obtain a very firm, whipped cream. Fold in the mascarpone with a spatula, using wide strokes.
Prepare the apricots: Halve the apricots, remove the pits and place the fruit in a wide pot. Turn the fire up high and add the sugar and water. Stir occasionally and let the apricots sweat and the sugar caramelize – for about 10 minutes. Remove from the fire and let cool.
Assembling the cake: Place a meringue on a serving dish and top it with a quarter of the mascarpone mixture. Slice the apricots into centimeter-wide strips and arrange a quarter of all the apricots atop the mascarpone. Sprinkle on a few lavender flowers. Place another meringue on top and then repeat the process until you’ve used up all the meringue, mascarpone, apricots and lavender. Serve immediately. If you wait too long, the meringue will get soggy from the mascarpone – and although still very tasty, it will start to fall apart. Place a pitcher of cold water on the table, give everyone a big spoon and dig in.
Homemade yogurt and apricot ice cream
This ice cream is very simple to make. It’s slightly tart from the yogurt and slightly sweet from the apricots, and bursting with the taste of summer and childhood. You can easily substitute other summer fruits, or make it with chocolate spread or halvah – as long as you maintain the same ratio of yogurt to whipping cream.
10 tbsp. normal sugar
5 tbsp. water
500 ml. whipping cream
100 gm. superfine sugar
500 ml. yogurt
Halve the apricots and discard the pits (or use them to make whistles). Place the apricots in a wide pot with the normal sugar and water. Cook over a high flame, until the apricots turn a little dark and exude their juices. Set aside to cool.
Using an electric mixer, whip the cream with the superfine sugar until you get a firm whipped cream. Gently fold in the yogurt and then pour the mixture into a wide metal pan with high sides. Cut half the apricots into thin slices or little pieces, and add to the pan. Put the pan in the freezer for half an hour.
Take the pan out of the freezer and use a spoon to stir the mixture, moving inward from the frozen sides of the pan. Then put the pan back in the freezer. Repeat this process another three or four times over the course of three hours, until it has a real ice cream-like texture but is still a little soft and lumpy. Of course, you can shorten the entire process by using an ice cream maker if you have one.
Put the rest of the apricots and the liquid from the pot into the bowl of a food processor with a steel blade; process into a golden mash. Arrange several servings of the ice cream on individual dishes and top each with some of the apricot mixture.