Homemade Fruit Leather
In my little neck of the woods, it is the year of fruit. In fact, some are saying it may be the best fruit season in five years. Looking around at all of the straining branches, it is hard to disagree. I've eaten fine sweet berries, apricots, plums, grapes, and peaches so far this year. And now the apples are coming on strong. Such a blessing.
For a person like me, who doesn't much enjoy sweet foods, the real question is how to preserve the bounty. In the past, I'd put up quarts and quarts of sliced fruit, rows of glistening jellies and jams. But they'd never get eaten. I tried to make the move to spicier jams, to more vinegary chutneys and sauces. Still, they didn't get eaten.
I finally solved my fruit riddle this year when I discovered that I enjoy fruit leather. It is the perfect snack to have in my bag, whether I'm having a day on the go, or a day in the mountains. Better still, homemade fruit leather can be gussied up and flavored in a zillion different ways. I'm particularly fond of fruit and chile combos.
Making Fruit Leather
Rather than give you an exact recipe, I'm going to give you some broad guidelines to help you successfully make your own. I've been experimenting with making fruit leathers for a few months now, and am happy with my technique. And here's the best part - I've figured out how to turn all of those unused jams on my shelf into fruit leather, too!
The base of fruit leather is fruit puree. If you've gotten your fruit from a nice clean source, and you'd like to include peels in your puree, that works great in fruit leather. Simply buzz them up in a fruit processor. If you are using a food mill, then peel-free puree works well, too.
In my experience, it really helps to include at least one high-pectin fruit in fruit leather. Apples and apricots are particularly nice high-pectin fruits. If you are using a low-pectin fruit like peach, mix it half and half with apple (or another high-pectin fruit) in order to achieve a nicer leather.
I've also found that a bit of sugar (or honey) makes for a more pliable leather. I'm know everyone is obsessed with low-sugar recipes these days. Sweeten your recipe to taste, understanding that having a little sugar in there helps the final product not dry out rock-hard.
I also think that adding a good squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt is nice.
Cooking the Puree
Cook your fruit puree on the stovetop over low heat until it has reduced to the consistency of thick applesauce. Test the puree by placing a small spoonful onto a plate. If liquid seeps out of the edges of the fruit on the plate, the puree is still too thin.
Seasoning the Puree
Here is the place to let your imagination run wild. If you've got kiddos or sensitive palates in your house, you may wish to go with plain fruit leather, or just a touch of cinnamon. I've added all sorts of spices, chiles, and even nuts to my own recipes and have really enjoyed the results. Here are a few of my favorite combinations.
-Ditch plum/guajillo chile (guajillo chiles are mild and sweet, and combine well with many fruits)
-Apple/prickly pear fruit (juice)/green chile
-Apple/porcini powder/soy sauce/toasted onion (the umami special!)
-Pad Thai (plum/tamarind/lime zest/fish sauce)
Preparing the Puree to Dry
If you live in a place with strong sunlight, sun drying fruit leather is a lot of fun. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Spread your cooked and cooled fruit puree to 1/8" using an offset spatula. Secure a piece of cheesecloth or an old screen over the top of the pan. Set it out in the sun and wait for the magic to happen. Bring the fruit leather inside every night. The process can take anywhere from one to a few days.
If you prefer to use a dehydrator, line your trays with parchment paper. You can also make fruit leather on silicone dehydrator mats, but I recommend the parchment paper method because it allows you roll the finished fruit leather right onto the paper. As with the sun-drying method, spread the cooked and cooled fruit puree to 1/8". Dry the fruit leather at 135 degrees (F) until done. Since I live in an arid climate, I often run the dehydrator for about eight hours, then let it sit untouched in the dehydrator for a few more days.
If you prefer to use an oven, begin by lining a sheet pan with parchment paper. Spread the cooked and cooled fruit puree to 1/8", and bake the leather on your oven's lowest setting for 4-8 hrs. with door ajar, until dry.
Is It Done Yet?
To test whether or not the fruit leather has dried enough, pick at a corner of it. If, when you attempt to peel it off the paper, it pulls apart or seems sticky or damp, it needs to dry longer. If it holds it shapes and feels tacky and pliable, but not wet or goopy, you are there.
If your fruit leather seems to have dried too hard, brush the top of it lightly with water, and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. This usually gets it soft enough to roll.
The Fun Part - Making Fruit Roll Ups
This is the step that delights me to no end. The kid in me still loves a good fruit roll up. Lightly grease a pizza wheel (or a pair of scissors), and cut your fruit leather into strips, paper and all. That's right, you cut the fruit leather along with the paper on which it was dried. Next, roll the strips into logs, and secure them with rubber bands.
I'm never quite satisfied that all of the water has come out of my fruit leather, and would hate to see a batch of it mold. That's why I store my fruit leather roll ups in a container in the fridge.
Upcycling Unused Jams
If you are like me, and have endless jars of unused jam in your pantry, try turning it into fruit leather. All you have to do is mix it 1:3 (jam:apple) with apple puree. From there, follow the above steps to create tasty fruit leather.