Reporting back on the various fruit leathers

I pulled all of my various fruit leathers out of the dehydrator today, photographed and tasted each one so that I could see what I might be interested in making into a bigger batch … and, of course, so I could report back to all of you :)

If you remember from my original post about this experiment, I used about half of a #10 can of food-service applesauce as the base for all of these various fruit leathers. They each dried the same amount of time, approx. 24 hours in my new Nesco Dehydrator, set on 135 degrees.

First, we have the Apricot version:

This was a really nice combo flavor-wise. Like all of the leathers where I used big chunks of another dried fruit in them, this one wasn’t quite as dry as the ones with no chunks … but–in comparison in that specific group–the apricot was probably the driest of them all. I think I could definitely make/enjoy this version again, but I’d probably cut the pieces smaller next time and mix them into the applesauce … rather than just dropping big chunks on top of it like I did this time. They definitely sunk into the applesauce this way (by their own weight) but the chunks have a fairly large profile on top of the leather this way, and the various pieces would stay better glued to the whole if they were smaller.

I didn’t have that same height problem with the Black Onions Seed version.

If you’ve never tasted them before, black onion seeds (aka: nigella) are frequently found in Indian food. I particularly love them in naans/breads. They’re small and crispy–without being too hard–and they have a wonderful, somewhat pepper-cardamon flavor. They are also EXCELLENT with my applesauce fruit leather … as I suspected they might be. As I’ve said here before, I definitely subscribe to the Asian philosophy of food that says … go ahead … hit every taste bud on my tongue simultaneously … I dare you! Needless to say, these Nigella and Apple fruit leathers are a big hit with me for just that same reason!

My next flavor was more of a classic combo: Apples and Black Raisins.

These were tasty as well. I’m a huge fan of raisins of all forms, and these big black beauties were a great addition to my raisin foods collection. I’m not surprised I liked them: that’s why I reached for the raisins when I was creating … duh! :)

They also seemed to end up fairly dry … except right up around the raisins. There, it seemed to take longer for the applesauce to dry … so they were still a bit tacky around the edges. Needless to say, if I were making a whole batch of any of these that ended up being less than adequately dry … I would have left them in the dehydrator longer … but I was just running a comparison here on drying times … while I was also focusing on finding the best combos.

The next version was another “chunks of dried fruit … tossed into applesauce to dry again” kinda combo: Dried Blueberries this time.

These were tasty,  but–honestly, when you looked at the overall flavor–the blueberries basically took over. I could barely taste any apple in the combo … which could be good or bad, depending on how you look at the situation:

  • good, in that … you could toss a small handful of these very expensive blueberries (I paid $9.35/lb for these … and considered it a good deal!) into a blender or food processor with a cup or so of applesauce …and stretch that great blueberry flavor across more, less-expensive fruit … and then use the blend to make fruit leather. I haven’t tried it … yet :) … but I’ll bet the resulting fruit leather would taste very strongly of blueberries … without the expense of using actual blueberries for the entire bulk.
  • and bad, in that … if you actually wanted the taste of apple AND blueberry in your fruit leather … you might have to use such a small amount of blueberries that it wouldn’t look very pretty. If you chopped it small or turned it into a paste, then mixed it in to the fruit like I suggested above … I’m afraid your leather would just come out kinda gray looking: not very appetizing.

I also tried a couple of crazy additions, like this Butterscotch Chip version.

The size of the chips made this particular version work better than I expected. Note: see the disaster that was white chocolate chips to see what I mean by that. I tried two of the four types of melty, chocolate-like chips I had in the house … just to see how they’d stand up in the dehydrator, and in this sort of application. Those little small butterscotch chips didn’t leave big damp spots in my fruit leather, and–just like in a good chocolate-chip cookie, etc.–the chips melt slightly … but they stay in place, and they simply reform themselves/harden as you remove them from the heat source and let them go back to room temp.

Taste-wise … I just don’t know about this combo personally. I thought it might be awesome, but–once it was done–it almost felt cheap or mass-manufactured in my mouth … and that’s just not the vibe I shoot for when I’m creating in my kitchen. I want WOW! I want POP! I don’t want some sort of “Krispy Kringle’s Wow-Pops: Now with more WOW!” mass-produced sort of flavor … and that’s really what I got adding these butterscotch chips.

Bottom line, they just had such a manufactured taste to them that it spoiled my overall enjoyment of this version. It was just too sweet and creamy to be fruit leather, so I’ll save my butterscotch chips for something else, thank you!

On the other hand, the Brown Sugar Rock Candy version didn’t taste mass-marketed in the least.

In fact, it was as delicious as the last time I used that same tactic with a mango fruit leather. The only problem was … my applesauce was already sweetened … so the brown sugar crystals made it really too sweet. Plus, the presence of all that sugar made it take longer to dry than some of the others around it … so it ended up being a little sticky at the end of my experiment. It could have taken another 6-12 hours to dry properly.

In contrast, my Candied Mandarin Orange Peel version dried perfectly.

However–as much as I love the candied mandarin peel–I got carried away with it in this case. I put WAY TOO MUCH in with the applesauce … so it just TOOK OVER! MASSIVELY SO! I wasn’t even able to tell if the tastes matched well … because all I could taste was orange.

Mental note: try powdering the orange peel first. Blend it into the applesauce HEAVILY. Dry completely. Cut into sections. Wrap and freeze. In other words, use the applesauce-based fruit leather as a carrier for all that great flavor … by making flavoring sheets that will easily melt in hot foods. Could make a great way to add a hint of orange, lemon, etc. to jellies, jams, etc. Or even a great way to add flavor to hot drinks like tea. Hummm? :)

Next on the roster comes Cardamon.

Again, just like the Nigellas I explored above, I love the flavor of cardamon for a lot of reasons … especially its impact on Indian dishes. And–just like the Nigellas–I really liked the combo of spice and apple here. They’re both pleasant breaks for me from apple combined with the usual suspects: cinnamon, allspice, clove and ginger.

Of course, the classics–like Cinnamon–didn’t gain that sort of popularity without being … well … good :)

Definitely classic. I also used a little grinder I have to do this: one that grinds cinnamon sticks and rock candy sugar crystals together simultaneously. The kick of fresh-ground cinnamon made these extra-good … but–again–that added sugar pushed it into the really sweet territory … and that’s just a territory I try to avoid. All extra-sweet does for me is make me crave more extra sweet! And, like my friend Michelle (who runs www.vitalady.com) said once:

Sugar stuff ………. Oooooooo, dangerous.  That’s like having a guy who is “just a friend,” and it’s safe to be with him, because, after all, you only sorta like him and surely not in THAT way.  But you can’t stay away.  And he calls often.  And pretty soon, you wake up in bed with him and you had one HECK of a good time.  You know it’s not good for you and your life, but you can’t stay away.  Even if you do break it off, he calls and you meet in some public place (just one cookie, people are here, it’s okay), and wham, before you know it, you’re right back in bed with him.  And you like it and it makes your head feel good, and surely it can’t be wrong, can it?

So, do I sound like one who has been there?  And whose phone number sugar still has?

I have that same relationship with heavy doses of sugar. I don’t need um. I don’t even want um. I’ll sit right there trying to talk myself out of it … while I’m eating it … sigh … so I have to avoid it. I can manage to eat sugars in small doses … honestly, you don’t see me using that much chocolate in my cooking (right?) and I try to stick more with natural sweets when I can … but if I break down and eat anything that super-sweet … it just makes me start jonesing to find some other sugar to run around with, too … and that’s a bad place to be :(

It’s part of why I love strong flavors paired with my sweets … like the Candied Ginger in my next version.

I can eat something like that–a little hunk of ginger, absolutely encrusted with sugar, and it satisfies my craving for sugar … but it gives me another flavor to obsess over: in this case, one I love! My ginger-studded fruit leather was excellent, but–just like with my other chunky add-ons–next time, I’m cutting it smaller. It would make it easier to roll them up to store, too. A smooth texture would let you tightly seal your leather in plastic wrap, shutting out most of the air that encourages your leather to deteriorate, but this chunky thing I did won’t store that well. That’s why I experiment before I commit large amounts of money and time into any bigger project. I work out the kinks first :)

Needless to say, I also tried the applesauce plain.

I completely understand why so many people suggest applesauce for a fruit leather base. It contains a lot of natural sugar and–more importantly–pectin … combined in a mild flavor that you can either enjoy solo, or compliment with something light … or even overwhelm completely, stretching another, more-expensive flavor over a greater, less-expensive bulk. I haven’t tried it yet, but I also believe that you can make a sort of flavor melt-a-way that can be a carrier for another flavor … more easily incorporating it into a warm and wet fruit environment … like a pie, a fruit spread, one of my crumbles. I don’t know … but I do know I’m going to think a lot more about it :)

Something else I’m going to be thinking about is my Rosemary fruit leather.

Oh, myyyyyyyyy! I have found a new taste treat! I’ve got another can of applesauce on my shelf, and–by the time I get through eating all of this batch–I’m almost positive I’ll be making an entire dehydrator full of these FIRST! I used the rosemary my friends in SC cut for me from the huge planter beside their back patio (thanks Susan and Tony! They’re the same people who helped me find the sumac 8) ) while I was out on my 2010 Food Journey. I simply stripped some of the leaves off of the branches they snipped for me (that are so nice and naturally dried now) and dropped them into the top of the applesauce. That was it! And–hand’s down–they’re my absolute favorite from this experiment. I tore straight through BOTH pieces as soon as they came out of the dehydrator! :)

Another surprisingly tasty version was my English Walnut.

Again, I’ll be chopping my nuts smaller next time … but these reminded me of Liberty Orchards Aplets and Cotlets, great little fruit and nut treats they make on the other side of the mountains from here. All I’d have to do is add a little powdered sugar, and I don’t know if you could tell the difference between them … so this version of the experiment REALLY has me thinking further. They’re probably my second favorite in this experiment, tied with the black onion seed ones above!

In contrast, every experiment has to have its abject failure … and White Chocolate Chips is mine :(

I was concerned that these standard-size white chocolate chips were going to be too big … and I was right. They held moisture against themselves that kept the entire mass way too soft. Again, with time … these may have ultimately firmed up … but I had the same problem with them that I had with the butterscotch version above. They just tasted like bad mass-market candy … instead of something as yummy and interesting as a few of these other versions. I consider this one a great big “Uh, NO!:(

And–last but definitely not least–I tried Golden Raisin.

I liked the Golden version better than the Black Raisin version … but, then again, I tend to prefer the lighter version anyway. Looking at both raisin versions together, I think I also may add a little spice to them next time–in addition to chopping the raisins up some–and who knows? I may end up tossing golden raisins and English walnuts together in my food processor for a quick rough chop … then sprinkling a little fresh-ground cinnamon on them while I’m at it … before mixing them with the applesauce and setting them up to dry. They could rock hard! :)

All in all, I’m thrilled with the possibility here. I am going to try to find some unsweetened applesauce in #10 cans, but I’ve already got a few quarts of my own applesauce in the pantry (from three different cookings) that are all Splenda-sweetened … so I’m getting ready to pull them down to try them in this recipe, too.

Great experiment! Needless to say, it’s got me thinking of other kitchen geekery I want to get into 8)

About Lane

Just a canner ... on this food journey called life :)
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