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November/December 2014

Apricot Preserves

We tasted five top-selling products plain and in our Cook's Illustrated French Apple Tart.

How We Tested

UPDATE: May 2015

We recently learned that Hero Premium Apricot Spread has been reformulated. It now contains slightly less sugar per serving and, although the sweeteners haven't changed, the label now lists wheat syrup instead of glucose syrup. After tasting the new version, we still recommend it.


We like the deep, sweet-tart flavor of apricot jam on toast, but it’s also a pantry staple for the bakers in the test kitchen. Like professional bakeshops, we use apricot jam to add a glossy sheen and delicate sweetness to fruit tarts. To find the best double-duty jam, we tasted five top-selling products plain and in our Cook's Illustrated French Apple Tart.

In our plain tasting, tasters wanted visible pieces of fruit suspended in a spreadable jam and docked two products for being too thick or too runny. We also preferred traditional preserves, which must have a 45:55 ratio of fruit to sweetener, to those that exceed the required amount of fruit and are labeled “fruit spreads” or “spreadable fruit.” Though this extra-fruity formula may sound appealing, two spreads replace sugar and syrups with a mix of fruit juice concentrates. The assertive flavors of fruits like grape, pineapple, and pear competed with the apricots. Only one spread, which sweetens with sugar and glucose syrup rather than competing fruits, earned our recommendation. Meanwhile, both preserves had especially “deep,” “authentic” apricot flavor that won them spots at the top. Even though the preserves’ fruit chunks—sometimes as large as an entire half-apricot—were occasionally difficult to spread, our tasters liked the presence of real fruit.

In our French Apple Tart, where we added a small amount of apricot preserves to the filling, we continued to notice flavor differences among products, but they were less pronounced and none were objectionable. A particularly “tropical” tasting spread even won praise from some tasters. All the products, even the most gelatinous, were also easy to strain and paint across the filling. And once glazed and broiled, the tarts came out evenly caramelized and golden brown. Though any of the products we tested will work for baking, we want apricot preserves to taste only of their namesake fruit when we spread them on toast. We’ll stick to products that don’t use any fruit other than apricots. In the end, our favorite was, surprisingly, not a fancy European import but the most classic American brand on store shelves.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.