RUMMAGE through my kitchen cupboards, and you will always find tubs of currants, raisins, mixed peel and glace cherries, such is my fruit cake addiction.

Nestled among them are half-finished packs of dried apricots and prunes. Both, I confess, are left from Christmas. Seductive, vividly orange pillows of sweet apricots vie for my attention with the rich black plumpness of the prunes alongside. Neither has to try too hard to seduce me.

Despite their natural sugariness, both compliment savoury dishes. Chewy, dried apricots are great to nibble with cheese, as are dried mango and pear, which you can track down in health food shops. Dried apricots regularly find their way into a cous cous, fragrant with mint, coriander and chilli, a perfect soft backdrop to the crunch of pine nuts, which I sprinkle over. Could roasted lamb want for anything better? Warm the apricots in a dash of white port to plump them up first, but tepid water would do in an emergency.

Prunes enjoy an entente cordiale with Armagnac. Warming them in a little brandy intensifies their luscious flavour and relaxes their texture. This alone makes a fabulously flexible puree to serve with cheeses, roast duck, ice cream or chocolate desserts. I can never resist prunes wrapped in bacon with roast chicken (or as a canape); to persuade timid sceptics, try a classic clafoutis studded with the intense richness of boozy baked prunes.

Recipes serve 4

Baked prune and Armagnac clafoutis

2 eggs

45g sugar

30g butter plus extra for greasing

20g plain flour

50ml milk

80ml double cream

A few drops of vanilla extract

A small pinch of salt

16-20 prunes

120 ml of Armagnac or brandy

1. Place the Armagnac in a saucepan and warm over a gentle heat. While waiting, halve the prunes then add to the liquor. Remove from the heat, stir well then leave to cool and steep in the liquid.

2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a moderate heat, then allow it to foam up and become a nut brown colour. Remove at once and cool

3. Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla together until creamy. Sieve the flour in then whisk together to combine. Add the melted butter and salt and pour off the marinating liquid from the prunes into the mixture. Whisk briefly to combine then refrigerate until needed. (This can be done several hours in advance.)

4. Butter four round, oven-proof dishes or moulds measuring about 15cm diameter and at least 3cm high; alternatively you can use one larger dish. Set them on an oven-proof tray.

5. Pre-heat oven to 200C. Place the batter mixture in the moulds, filling them two-thirds full (it will puff up as it cooks) then divide the prunes among the dishes too. Set the tray in the centre of the oven and bake for 20 minutes, turning the dish around halfway through the cooking. Cook until gold on top and the mix is just set in the centre. Sprinkle on a tiny pinch of brown sugar then serve at once, with crème fraiche, cream or ice cream.

Little chocolate pots with Prune, Armaganac and rum puree

(Makes 8)

250g dark chocolate

350ml double cream

150g milk

4 free-range egg yolks

2 tbsps icing sugar

For the prune puree:

2 earl grey tea bags

1 small orange, sliced

1 vanilla pod, or good quality vanilla essence

75ml armaganac or good-quality brandy

400 g prunes d'Agen, stones removed


1. Break chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl with the milk. Set this over a pan of hot water, ensuring the base of the bowl does not touch the water.

2. In another pan, bring vanilla and cream to the boil. Whisk to mix the vanilla seeds in well then remove from the heat to stand and infuse for 30 minutes.

3. Stir the cream into the melted chocolate.

4. Using a hand-held blender, whisk the eggs yolks and icing sugar together until doubled in volume. Then whisk in the chocolate mixture.

5. Pour the mix into eight ovenproof pots or ramekins. Place in a baking tray and add water to the tray (it should come halfway up the sides of the pots). Bake in a pre-heated oven at 110C for 50 minutes, of until set and slightly puffed up. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature, but do not chill.

6. For the prunes: pur 300ml boiled water into a bowl and add the tea, alcohols and the orange to infuse; split the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add seeds and pod too; stand until cold then remove both the tea bags, the vanilla pod and the orange. Rewarm the liquid (it does not need to boil, just be very warm). Add the prunes and ensure they are covered. Leave to steep for 24 hours, or longer if you wish.

7. Lift out the prunes and transfer to a blender. Boil and reduce the marinating liquid by about half then add to the prunes and process to a thick puree. (This is great as it is served with ice cream, or as a dollop on the side of roast lamb or game, especially venison or grouse in season.)

8. To serve the dessert: Spoon a dollop of the puree on the top then serve with shortbread and a small teaspoon to eat with.

Geoffrey Smeddle is chef patron of The Peat Inn, by St Andrew's, Fife, KY15 5LH 01334 840206