Gastronomic Gifts II: Brandied Apricot-Ginger Spread

December 9, 2008


[There’s just nothing like a homemade gift for the holidays.  This year, with the purse strings a little tighter than usual, I’m determined to make at least a few in my kitchen–and thought I’d share my ideas in case you’d like to partake, too.  ]


As I’m wont to do during the drive to work, I tuned in to the CBC this morning and overheard Jian Ghomeshi (isn’t he just the dreamiest??) talk about how excited we Canadians get any time we’re mentioned on American TV. Last evening, in fact, Jon Stewart satirized our impending governmental crisis (if only that were a dream!) on The Daily Show.  As a food blogger, I must admit I felt the selfsame patriotic pride last month when Susur Lee  (also dreamy) was fêted by Ruth Reichl et al in New York, for the opening of his newest resto, Shang. I mean, now that we’re all firmly entrenched in the Era of the Celebrity Chef courtesy of Food TV, isn’t it just as exciting for us Canadians to hear mention of a Canadian chef in the U.S. media?

Oh, but way back before Canadian chefs were known anywhere beyond their own kitchen walls, before the days of Yum-O or Love and Best Dishes or eponymous cookware or chefs with “peasant” kitchens invading gradeschools and  riding Land Rovers–before all that, there was Bonnie Stern.

Stern was one of the very first “celebrity” chefs in Canada, known across the country at a time when the only viral netorking was an actual virus that networked its way through your mucus membranes and into your sinuses.  She ran a highly successful cooking school in Toronto, she owned a kitchenware store beside it, she published several best-selling cookbooks, had her recipes published in a variety of newspapers, and even tried her hand at her own cooking show for a time. 

Back in the 90s, at the apex of Stern word-of-mouth buzz, I attended one of her cooking classes; the topic was “Homemade Gifts for the Holidays.”  I was thrilled to have secured a coveted space in the always-sold-out classes, even at the exhorbitant fee of $95 (back then!). I was primed to observe the doyenne of cooking in her element, absorb every word she uttered, and finally become privy to the professinal tips and tricks she’d reveal as she prepared the most delectable and irresistible tidbits I’d ever tasted on a holiday table. 

Well, I have to tell you straight up that I was bitterly disappointed.  Sitting against the back wall of an auditorium-sized classroom (seriously, I had closer seats for forty bucks at the Bruce Springsteen concert that year), all I could see was a tiny figure in the distance that resembled the barely distinguishable collection of phosphor dot people I squinted at regularly on my (then) 12-inch television screen at home–and it wasn’t even Stern herself; it was a poor substitute, a culinary surrogate!  After whipping up a series of recipes in quick succession and without much instruction, the recipe demonstrator passed around trays of thimble-sized samples for each person to nibble upon, all fairly bland and unexciting.

One recipe, however, stood apart from the rest, and it alone was (almost) worth the price of admission:  Honey Liqueur Fruit Butter.  It was a quick, easy spread consisting of dried apricots, candied ginger, and orange liqueur.  Although I’m not, as a rule, particularly enamored of jams or jellies, I fell in love with this spread.  I swooned.  I drooled.  I surreptitiously tasted three thimbles full. 

I returned home and promptly re-created the spread, not once, but several times over the following few months.  I gave away little jars as hostess gifts; I bestowed a few jars on my sisters and close friends;  I spread it on bagels, pancakes, muffins and bread.  And then, I tucked the recipe away in a file folder and forgot about it for over a decade.

That very folder–older, grayer, fraying at the edges–has been packed up and upacked during seven separate house-moves since that time. This year, while pondering what I might cook up as holiday gifts from my kitchen, I finally remembered it.  Like the memory of a first kiss, the thought of that recipe unearthed a wave of longing and a compelling desire to once again re-create that long-ago, captivating sensation.  I dug out the file folder and cooked up a batch.  And (perhaps unlike that first kiss with your childhood sweetheart) this spread was just as good 15 years later.

I’ve subbed agave for the honey and brandy for the liqueur, with spectacular results.  This is a smooth, glossy spread that will keep for more than a month in the refrigerator, since the alcohol acts as a preservative. I love this slathered on breakfast food, but it would be a terrific filling for a danish or rugelach as well.

This recipe is my submission to Happy Cook’s blog event, Home Made Christmas Gifts, featuring home made gifts for the holidays.

(“Mum, too bad we can’t have anything with alcohol in it. . . but we’d be happy with all those breakfast foods on their own, next time you’re slathering.”)

Brandied Apricot-Ginger Spread



My notes from the original class tell me you could also substitute dried pears for the apricots, or a combination of prunes and dried apples, adjusting the liqueur accordingly (poire William and armagnac come to mind, but any favorite will work nicely).


(c) Diet, Dessert and Dogs.


23 Responses to “Gastronomic Gifts II: Brandied Apricot-Ginger Spread”

  1. Shelby Says:

    Mmm, this spread sounds amazing!!! I bet it would taste great with dried pears =P

  2. Josiane Says:

    I’m delurking to thank you for sharing this recipe: it sounds wonderful! I’ll give it a try during the holidays!

  3. Pearl Says:

    your post made me laugh 🙂 and the spread looks amazing!

  4. mihl Says:

    I am so making this for my Dad! Thank you so much for the recipe, Ricky, it sounds fantastic.

  5. VeggieGirl Says:

    As always, your posts bring a smile to my face 😀

    LOOOVE that spread – holy yum, for sure.

  6. shellyfish Says:

    No Elsie update? Usually, no news is good news, so here’s hoping she’s on the mend!
    My mouth actually started watering reading this one! Might have to give it a try – too many good things to taste!!!
    Oh, and this was hilarious, as usual! Thanks for the lift.

  7. ttfn300 Says:

    ooh ooh, this looks so good! i think i might have to give it a try with amaretto & apricots… 🙂

  8. Lisa Says:

    Yum! This would make a nice gift for my sisters… Thx!

  9. Liz Says:

    Another great idea for a holiday gift! And really, I’m obsessed with your snowing blog… I just keep staring and staring and staring…

  10. Courtney Says:

    You are giving me so many great gift ideas–thank you, thank you, thank you! I knew I wanted to do homemade gifts this year, but was unsure of what, exactly, to give. I now have TWO of your fabulous recipes! Everyone is gonna be loving me when they get these gifts… :o)


  11. Andrea Says:

    I love dried apricots and candied ginger. This sounds great.

  12. Johanna Says:

    glad you got something out of your class, even if not as much as you might have got out of the bruce springsteen concert 🙂

    And the spread looks deliciou with that scone

  13. great story, yummy looking recipe!

  14. aTxVegn Says:

    I’m sure I’ve had that same experience at a cooking class, but thankfully not recently. I think I have some Cointreau that would work in this recipe.

  15. BitterSweet Says:

    Oh yum, what a treat that would be! And it has so much potential for other flavors if you just change out the dried fruit, too.

  16. Lisa Says:

    A lovely gift idea. Much more special than purchasing something from the store.

  17. Lucy Says:


    I am licking the spoon as I type. Ricki, this is EXCEPTIONAL.

    Not sure I’m actually willing to share…

  18. Ricki Says:

    Pears were recommended by the original chef as well–I bet they’d be great!

    Thanks so much for de-lurking and for your comment! I love comments on the blog–they really make my day 🙂 Hope you enjoy the spread and have a great holiday!

    I wish I could take credit for the snow, but it’s the magic of WordPress. . . 🙂

    Aww, thanks! I hope they enjoy them! (And more to come. . . ) 🙂

    Yep, I think this would be great with other fruits as well. That will be my project for next year!

    It makes a big batch–no worries! 😉

  19. Lucy Says:

    I have had to make a second batch now. To give away.

    Have kept the remainder for self. Yum-o.

  20. Happy Cook Says:

    Thankyou so much for sending this to my event; the s^read looks so yummy delicious.
    Wish i had them for breakfast.
    I don’t know what agave nectar is it a kind of juice. Can i substitiute with something else

  21. Vegyogini Says:

    Ooh, yum! It looks like you turned a semi-negative cooking class experience ($95 and not even the real chef?!) into a success!

  22. Stephanie Says:

    OMG! This recipe looks AMAZING! I can’t wait to try it out. I already went to World Market and got the crysalized ginger….now to BevMo for the liquor! Thanks so much for sharing! HNY!

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