Although we’ve mostly exempted ourselves from the gift buying frenzy – we give money to a charity in our friends’ names and send out custom-designed e-cards to the giftees – we DO like to give something extra that will afford more tangible – even hedonistic – pleasures, that they can’t get anywhere else. That means, something homemade, and the easiest, most bang-for-the-buck d-i-y gifts we know of are food gifts. We have developed quite a repertoire over the years, from homemade chocolates to jars of Apricots in Cardamom-Scented Syrup. (December 17 on public radio’s The Splendid Table, we’ll introduce three new ones)
These boozy prunes are among our favorites. A classic of southwest France, land of confit, pâté, and foie gras, they are steeped in a syrup spiked with Armagnac, the region’s delicious brandy. Since the prunes are pitted, they release some of their sweet juices to make a thick syrup, making little sugar necessary. The prunes are so intensely flavored they can be eaten almost as a candy, to finish off a meal. The Armagnac in the syrup tends to sneak up on people, and acts as instant stress reliever.
The prunes are sublime as is or with a little creme fraiche…served over vanilla and coffee ice cream…and as an ingredient in pear, apple, or quince tarts. Since they last indefinitely, you can keep them on hand for impromtu desserts. We make them in big batches, keeping some for ourselves and packing the rest as gifts in canning jars. (Weck jars are our favorites, though Amazon offers great deals on some nice-looking Italian ones ). We always attach a tag suggesting ways to use the prunes, and to keep them refrigerated.
Prepare at least 1 week before serving to allow the prunes to mellow.
Recipe: Prunes in Armagnac
Makes about 3 cups; the recipe can be scaled up indefinitely.
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
12 ounces large pitted prunes
About 3/4 cup Armagnac or Bas Armagnac, or more to taste (the flavor will mellow as the prunes sit)
In a small, non-reactive saucepan, combine the water and sugar. With a thin sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and bean to the pan and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Place the prunes in a clean dry jar and pour the syrup over them. Allow to cool completely, then stir in the Armagnac. Refrigerate for at least 1 week before serving. Taste the syrup and add more Armagnac as necessary (it will mellow as the prunes sit).
Refrigerated, the prunes will keep indefinitely.
design (or hack) your own holiday e-cards
double-duty gifts with heart (and a card)
food gifts: homemade chocolates for improvising (recipe)
our homemade food gifts on ‘the splendid table’
homemade food gift: alt-malted milk balls