[Peach Apricot Compote with Red Poppy Cream]
I seem to have a particular fondness for the red poppy, its fragile fluttering silhouette and its thread-thin stem, too thin it seems to support its flamboyant scarlet petals and contrasting black heart. I like that it is easily spotted from afar -- in the middle of a field, on the banks of a country road or in the most unsuspected places amidst city landscapes -- and I like that it is a flower best left unplucked: as tempting as it is to tuck one behind your ear, it will wither away so fast you will feel quite sorry you did.
Thankfully, there is an alternative way to enjoy red poppies, and it is red poppy syrup. Flower syrups -- lavender, geranium, rose, cornflower, mimosa, violet, dandelion -- seem to be a current hype on the French gourmet food market, surfing the wave of the old-fashioned and the quirky, in the aftermath of the whole "cooking with flowers" craze. I normally stay away from anything that's too soapy or perfumy in my food, but I do think that these syrups, if used with care and a very light-handed touch, can bring an interesting depth of flavor (and color!) to cocktails, desserts and even savory dishes.
My bottle of sirop de coquelicot I acquired from Izraël, a small store in the Marais that sells a miscellany of spices and cool food products from all over the world. The syrup is produced in Nemours, a city to the South-East of Paris, where they've had a specialty of bonbons au coquelicot (red poppy candy) since the 1870's. Ten years ago, a
chocolate maker from that city decided to widen the range of poppy-based products and added a vinegar, a jelly, a liqueur and a syrup.
While the scent of red poppy syrup straight from the bottle is vaguely reminiscent of cough syrup (red poppy is an age-old soothing remedy, for sore throats in particular), it takes on a delightful acidulated sweetness when diluted, and its flavor could be likened to a subtle mix of strawberry, cherry and pomegrenate.
This particular dessert I made just a few nights ago to bring to my sister's apartment, as I was joining her and her boyfriend for a fun and highly relaxing session of Top Model 2005 watching (the French rendition of America's Next Top Model), complete with take-out sushi and bitchy comments. The compote, served with ladyfingers to soak up the creamy juices, was deemed "délicieuse!" by my kind hosts. The hint of red poppy, lending the cream a lovely pink shade, also does an excellent job at bringing out (without overwhelming them) the sweet and tart flavors of the softened peaches and apricots.
I have been reinvited for the next episode on Tuesday.
30 rue François Miron - 75004 Paris
01 42 72 66 23
Compote Pêche Abricot à la Crème de Coquelicot
- 6 yellow peaches, ripe
- 6 apricots, ripe
- 1/3 C crème fraîche (heavy cream)
- 2 Tbsp sirop de coquelicot (red poppy syrup)
Note: If you are unable to find red poppy syrup, you can experiment with other flower or berry syrups, or simply substitute maple syrup.
Preheat the oven to 360°F (180°C).
Wash and dry the peaches and the apricots. Peel the peaches, remove the stones and slice them (the peaches, not the stones, that would be difficult and may not taste very good anyway). Quarter the apricots and discard the stones. Combine the fruit in a baking dish.
In a small mixing-bowl, whisk together the cream and the red poppy syrup. Pour evenly over the fruit, and put the dish into the oven to bake for fifteen minutes. Let cool and serve with ladyfingers (biscuits à la cuiller or boudoirs), or substitute other kind of light-textured cookie.
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