Change Your Relationship with Compote

September 14, 2015

It's not just grandma's squishy prunes.

If “compote” or “stewed fruit” conjures a childhood memory of canned fruit cocktail or grandma's squishy cooked prunes, it’s time to “think different” about the modern possibilities of fruit in syrup. The concept is simple: Stew fresh and/or dried fruit in sweet syrup, perhaps with herbs, spices, strips of citrus peel, vanilla bean, fresh ginger, or just about anything flavorful that you might think of. 

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Whether you call it by the French term, compote, or just stewed fruit, the method is easy and invites invention. Look in your spice drawer and pantry for inspiration. Replace all or some of the water with wine or spirits, tea, fruit juice, or coffee (as I did for Plums in Brandied Coffee Syrup). Trade all or some of the sugar for another sweetener. Most fresh fruit that is on the firm side is fair game, as is the astonishing array of dried fruits now found in farmers markets and better green grocers.

A great compote is a light and refreshing dessert after a rich meal. But then, why not add a crunchy nut cookie, rich butter cookie, or small biscotti, choosing flavors that play well with the fruit in the compote? Add a dollop of crème fraîche or nestle a scoop of creamy ice cream into the compote for a more luscious and decadent dessert. For breakfast (or a lighter choice), top your compote with yogurt instead of ice cream.

Apples in Cardamom-Lime Syrup is simple and spectacular—much greater than the sum of its parts. Serve it with crunchy coconut cookies, coconut wafers, or coconut ice cream. Or, fish the apples from the syrup and serve them with square of spicy gingerbread.* Make a cocktail, or flavor a glass of sparkling water with leftover syrup.

*Recipes for Crunchy Coconut Cookies, Coconut Wafers, and Buckwheat Gingerbread can be found in Flavor Flours. The recipe for Fresh Gingerbread can be found in Pure Dessert. 

Apples in Cardamom-Lime Simple Syrup

From Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan 2012)

Makes about 1 quart

16 cardamom pods
1 1/3 cups water
2/3 cup fresh lime juice (from 9 or 10 limes)
1 3/4 cups (350 grams) sugar
3 medium-large flavorful apples (such as Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Pippins, Pink Lady, Sierra Beauty, or Braeburn), with skins left on, cut into 8 or 10 wedges)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Pick up a copy of Alice's new book Flavor Flours, which includes nearly 125 recipes—from Double Oatmeal Cookies to Buckwheat Gingerbread—made with wheat flour alternatives like rice flour, oat flour, corn flour, sorghum flour, and teff (not only because they're gluten-free, but for an extra dimension of flavor, too). 

Photos by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Daphné Lebas
    Daphné Lebas
  • Tereza
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


Daphné L. September 19, 2015
In French, compote does not mean fruits in syrup... That's "fruits au sirop"... Compote refers to fruits that are cooked and pureed... Like apple sauce!
Tereza September 14, 2015
Great article,

Simple and nostaligic, with a twist.