Prunes in French Brandy: An Easy, Flavorful DIY Gift

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Ellen Silverman


Although I've mostly exempted myself from the gift-buying frenzy by giving money to a charity in friends' names (and sending out custom-designed e-cards to the giftees), I 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 DIY gifts I know of are food gifts. I have developed quite a repertoire over the years, like the simple homemade chocolates posted here last December.

The prunes are so intensely flavored they can be eaten almost as a candy, to finish off
a meal.

These boozy prunes are among my 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 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 an instant stress reliever.

The prunes are sublime as is or with a little crème fraiche, served over vanilla and coffee ice cream, and as an ingredient in pear or apple tarts. Since they last indefinitely, you can keep them on hand for impromptu desserts. I make them in big batches, keeping some for my own entertaining and packing the rest as gifts in canning jars. I always attach a tag suggesting ways to use the prunes, and to keep them refrigerated. (And if you haven't had time to let them mellow sufficiently before gifting them, write "Do not eat until ...".

Prepare at least one week before serving to allow the prunes to mellow.

Recipe: Prunes in Armagnac

Makes about three 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
    • 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 one 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.

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.
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