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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Recipe: The Tortoise - "Apricots Never Had it so Good"

Recipe: The Tortoise
"Apricots never had it so good"
Baked 06.20.14

Tortoise - Apricot and Lemon Thyme Biscuit Cakes with Pecan Praline Glaze

Apricot / Pecan / Caramel

Requested by
Father's Day Pick

By all appearances, the inmates at Bedlam have opened a Cinnabon franchise. Good thing Dad has a sweet tooth.

To be honest, I was grateful when I woke to see the sunrise this morning, trepidatious as I had drifted to sleep, uncertain if a diabetic coma might overwhelm me in the night. Literally sweet dreams.

Overhead of Tortoise with Apricot, Pecan, Praline and Lemon Thyme

The Tortoise is sweet. There's no denying it. But at the heart of this pastry there is a balance to the sweetness - the tart apricots, the nutty toasted pecans and the herbaceous (love that word) brightness of the lemon thyme.

"A boulangerie breakfast, south of the Mason-Dixon line"

After much testing, the body of this pastry ultimately came together as a unique cross between a biscuit and a meringue. How does that work?

Think of it as a hybrid between a buttermilk biscuit and a macaron. Lots of butter is cut into flour and then bound together with buttermilk and egg yolks. The dough is then loaded with fresh, medium diced Apricots.  Lastly, and as gently as possible, egg whites and sugar are whipped to stiff peaks and folded into the dough. Unique indeed.

The entire biscuit cake (there's no other way to appropriately describe it) is then sealed with a toasted pecan praline glaze. No bite is free of the sugary shell - nor should it be.

And as if the original inspiration ingredients of apricot, pecan and caramel were not exploding from every surface of this treat, each Tortoise is topped with a dried slice of apricot and a whole toasted pecan.

While they may appear to be anything but simple, I'm happy to report that the recipe is relatively quick and easy. You'll have to try them yourself.

- The Components -
& Recipes

One batch yields 24 biscuit cakes. The recipe can be scaled for smaller batches. 

The following is the recommended order for preparation:
  1. Dried Apricots - 10 minutes active prep time; 4 hours to dry in the oven
  2. Toasted Pecans - 10 minutes 
  3. Apricot and Lemon Thyme Biscuit Cakes - 20 minutes active prep time; 20 minutes baking
  4. Pecan Praline Glaze - 20 minutes
For some general recipe reminders, check out this post.

Dried Apricots:
"Homemade fruit roll-ups"

Dried apricot slices are the very-edible garnish atop the Tortoise biscuit cakes. However, given the time required to dehydrate the fruit in a barely warm oven, it's best to prepare these first.

Drying is a traditional preparation for apricots throughout the world. Slowly removing the moisture concentrates the sweet and tart flavors. In this preparation, thin slices are used rather than the whole fruit.

Yield: 24 slices - one garnish per biscuit cake

Chef's note: Why not make a bunch? Dried apricot slices are great for readily available snacking... and they're so much easier to make in bulk.

  • Fresh Apricots: - 3 count (minimum 24 slices required)

1. Cut each apricot in half and remove the pit.

2. Using a chef's knife or mandoline, slice each apricot into very thin pieces (approximately 1/16th of and inch).

3. On a silpat-lined sheet pan, lay out the slices in a single layer. Do not overlap any of the slices as this will slow the drying process.

4. Place the sheet pan in the oven and set the oven to the lowest temperature setting (ideally around 120 degrees Fahrenheit, but no more than 150 degrees Fahrenheit) for approximately 4 hours, flipping the slices after 2 hours.

Chef's note: Most modern ovens cannot be set as low as 150 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep the temperature down, use a side towel to hold the oven door ajar.

Drying Apricot Slices

Toasted Pecans:
"Five minutes makes all the difference"

If you want these pecans to taste their best, you must toast them. Five minutes in the oven is all that is needed for a complete transformation. The flavor enhancement is worth every second.

Unbroken pecan halves are used to top each biscuit cake. A full Tortoise recipes requires 24 pieces. An additional 3-4 pecan halves are placed at the bottom of each biscuit cake before baking; however, broken pieces can be used.

The pecan pieces, which are finely chopped after toasting, are used in the Praline Glaze. 

Yields: Enough Pecan Halves and Pecan Pieces for one full "Tortoise" recipe

  • Pecan Halves: 2 Cups 
  • Pecan Pieces: 2 Cups


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Arrange the pecans in a single layer on a sheet pan and place the pans in the oven for 5 minutes. Do not over bake! Keep a close eye on the pecans as they can quickly turn from toasted to burned.

3. Remove the pecans from the oven and allow to cool on the sheet pan.

Apricot and Lemon Thyme Biscuit Cakes:
"Apricot never had it so good"

A "biscuit cake" - it's what I would like to think would happen if a 
Parisian boulangerie made a simple southern biscuit... buttermilk batter combining with sweet meringue. It's soft, crumbly, sweet and chewy - the perfect vehicle for fresh cut apricots that hit each bite with a bright tartness. And the lemon thyme infuses the cake with almost surprising, herbaceous notes.

Yields: 24 biscuit cakes

*Chef's note: If your oven cannot accommodate three half-sized sheet pans at once, prepare a half recipe. This dough should be put into the oven immediately after mixing. Any dough allowed to sit will not bake correctly.

  • All Purpose Flour: 720g (6 Cups)
  • White Granulated Sugar - 300g (1.5 Cups), divided into two 150g (0.75 Cup) portions
  • Baking Powder - 29g (2 Tbls)
  • Baking Soda - 5g (1 Tsp)
  • Kosher Salt - 12g (2 Tsp)
  • Cold Butter: 340g (1.5 Cups / 3 Sticks), cut into 1 Tbls chunks
  • Buttermilk - 360g (1.5 Cups)
  • Eggs - 4 Count, whites and yolks separated
  • Apricots - 500g (8 count), small diced
  • Cinnamon - 1 Tbls
  • Nutmeg - 0.5 Tbls
  • Lemon Thyme - 1 Tbls, finely chop
  • Pecan Halves - 240g (2 Cups), toasted

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Line three half-sized sheet pans with silpats or parchment paper. Make eight piles of 3-4 toasted pecans on each sheet pan. The final batter will be spooned over each pile. Since these pecans will be covered in batter, use any broken halves you may have.

3. Mix the dry ingredients (Flour, 150g of Sugar, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Salt, Cinnamon and Nutmeg) in a large mixing bowl.

4. Using a pastry cutter, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture has a rough, sandy appearance. Do not allow the butter to melt into the dry ingredients. When done, place the mixture in the refrigerator to keep the butter cold.

5. Pour the egg whites into a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high for one minute. Continue to beat the egg whites while slowly adding the other 150g of Sugar. 

6. While the egg whites continue to beat and form stiff peaks, briefly beat the egg yolks and buttermilk by hand. Remove the chilling butter and flour mixture from the refrigerator. Add the egg yolks & buttermilk, diced apricots and minced lemon thyme to the bowl and mix gently by hand until the liquid is just incorporated.

7. Once the eggs whites form stiff peaks, fold the egg whites into the batter by hand in two portions.

8. Immediately spoon the batter over the pecan piles on each sheet pan.

9. Place the sheet pans in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time.

* Chef's note: Given the high sugar content and the whipped egg whites in this batter, the biscuit cakes will quickly go from beautifully browned to burnt. Keep a close eye on the oven after 15 minutes.

10. Once baked, remove the trays from oven and allow the biscuit cakes to cool for 2-3 minutes before transferring to cooling racks.

Pecan Praline Glaze:
"It's lick-the-spoon (and scald-your-tongue) good!"

Praline is an amazing confection that has the creamy, yet lightly crumbly texture of an old-fashioned fudge with the rich sweetness of caramel. 

Yields: Enough for one batch of 24 biscuit cakes. And there should be some leftover goo to make a few pralines (just pour the warm mixture onto parchment)!

  • White Granulated Sugar - 600g (3 Cups)
  • Dark Brown Sugar - 300g (1.5 Cups)
  • Buttermilk - 240g (1 Cup)
  • Butter - 170g (12 Tbls / 1.5 Sticks)
  • Pecans - 2 Cups, finely chopped
  • Vanilla - 1 Tsp

1. Place all of the ingredients except the vanilla in a large sauce pot with a wide, heavy bottom. Heat the pot on medium-high heat, stirring frequently.

2. Heat the mixture to the soft-ball stage (235-240 degrees Fahrenheit) - about 10 minutes

Chef's note: The soft-ball stage is the temperature required for pralines, fudge and fondant. If you drop some of the hot praline mixture into cold water, it should form a malleable ball that will flatten when rested on your hand.

3. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir constantly for 2-3 minutes. Add the vanilla after the first minute of stirring (adding the vanilla when the mixture is too hot will cause it to bubble dangerously).

4. Generously spoon the mixture over each of the biscuit cakes, making sure to completely coat each.  The mixture will begin to harden in a couple of minutes, so move quickly. If it thickens before you are finished covering the biscuit cakes, add a little water (1 Tbls as a time) and return it to the heat, stirring until it is liquid enough to use.

Chef's note: If you immediately pour the hot mixture over the biscuit cakes without stirring for 2-3 minutes, you will have a thinner, glossy looking glaze. The additional cooling time and stirring is necessary to create the desired matte finish of an actual praline.

5. As the pecan praline glaze cools, top each biscuit cake with a dried slice of apricot and one whole, toasted pecan.

- The Finished Product -

Wide overhead of Tortoise with Apricot, Pecan, Praline and Lemon Thyme

Tortoise - Apricot and Lemon Thyme Biscuit Cakes with Pecan Praline Glaze

Tortoise - Apricot and Lemon Thyme Biscuit Cakes with Pecan Praline Glaze

Questions? Comments? Send me an email or leave a comment.
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