Fruit leather was a status symbol in my elementary lunchroom in the late seventies: we’d wrap it around our fingers and cast imaginary spells at each other, and of course it was tangy and delicious. It’s also surprisingly easy to make. If you are interested in playing around with dehydration, there is no better entry point. Though any nearby kids will gobble it up, grown folks will be equally delighted: I recently served this fig fruit leather rolled with a fresh chevre, and they were an unexpectedly popular hors d’oeuvre.
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Fruit leather teach the key skills of food-drying: patience and observation; and if you make it with fruit at the peak of its season, you won’t believe how much better it is than store bought. When you dry food, you are slowly removing water without browning it, and that makes for a pretty thrilling concentration of flavors. Although a dehydrator can go lower in temperature than an oven (here's Amazon.com's best-selling food dehydrator), by lowering your oven to its lowest setting, you can get to know the process quite well.
This basic recipe will work with any kind of fruit. Many fruit leathers benefit from the addition of a pectin-rich fruit, like apple or banana; it helps craft that tell-tale clingy texture. Fruit leathers also taste best with some serious acidity, which when I made this recipe using figs, meant adding a good zingy burst of lemon juice mixed into the fruit purée before drying.
As for patience, don’t be afraid to turn off the oven and let your leather cool for a few hours. If after a rest it’s beading with moisture, simply give it another session in the oven (or in the dehydrator).
A Recipe For Any Kind Of Fruit Leather
Makes about twenty 1" strips
1. Position racks in bottom and top thirds of oven and heat to 170 degrees. Line 2 large sheet pans with silicone baking mats. (You can also use parchment paper, but it tends to stick.)
2. In a food processor, purée 1½ pounds fruit (berries hulled or stemmed, stone fruit pitted) and½ cup unsweetened applesauce until completely smooth. Taste purée. If it needs sweetening, add a little honey.
3. Pour purée down center of each sheet pan. Using an offset spatula, spread evenly across pan, leaving 1" border and making edges slightly thicker. (Edges dry out fastest, so this helps to keep them from cracking.)
4. Transfer to oven and cook until purée looks leathery and feels firm but slightly tacky, 4–6 hours depending on water content of fruit. Turn off heat and let cool to room temperature in oven.
5. Top with a sheet of parchment paper and turn over onto a counter. Carefully remove baking mat; roll up parchment and fruit leather together. Using kitchen shears, cut rolls into 1" segments. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 weeks.
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