This is a very classic dessert in many countries of Europe, with different tweakings. In my crusade against common sugar, I decided to try and make it sugar-free. It’s incredibly easy and you can get as tipsy as ever while eating alcohol-oozing-fruits, but with less bad conscience… my family is gonna give me a medal for that, I know it. Well, most of the alcohol just evaporates during the cooking. Pity. Instead of using red wine for poaching the fruit, which is the traditional ingredient in Spain, I prefer sweet wine, preferrably light in color for a nicer look and a milder taste. I looove sweet wine and besides you don’t need to add as much sugar or sweetener in this case, as the sweet wine is… well, sweet, brimming with healthy fruit sugars.
Regarding the fruity ingredients, it’s totally up to you. I’m giving here the fruits of my choice, but that’s very personal. Some people prefer it with more fresh fruit, others with more dried fruit… Here’s my take on this dish:
Sugar-free Christmas compote, Spanish style
- 250 g pitted dried apricots
- 100 g pitted dried dates
- 100 g pitted dried prunes
- 200 g dried figs
- 2 firm pears (Conference for example)
- 500 ml white sweet wine like moscatel (you can use a tawny port too)
- 500 ml water
- 1 stick cinammon
- 1 tsp allspice (optional)
- 1 dash orange extract or 1 tsp orange zest (also optional)
Some people like to add apple too, but the apples must have a very firm flesh, so that they don’t «deconstruct». Please use the best quality dried fruit available. It makes a difference. In Spain dried fruit is very popular and usually of good quality. Dried fruit is eaten in tons around Christmas.
The preparation is pretty straightforward. Peel the pears, quarter them and put all the ingredients together in an enameled pot. Bring to a boil. Simmer until all the fruit is tender, around 40-50 minutes depending on the ripeness of the fresh fruit and the freshness of the dried fruit. I boil the compote without any sweetener and then try for sweetness when done, because you can always adjust it later. In this case the result was, in my humble opinion, sweet enough, which means I was using a VERY sweet wine. So I didn’t add anything else. If more sweetness is needed, please avoid filthy synthetic sweeteners like aspartame and use natural sweeteners like agave syrup and maple syrup.
There’s something that’s often overlooked when subtituting sweeteners, whether natural or synthetic, for sugar: its preserving properties. Sugar is a hygroscopic substance, which means that it «scavenges» the water surrounding its molecules. Therefore the sugar molecules «steal» the water that microorganisms need to thrive. I can’t give you the reference where I found this… I don’t remember. Believe me, I’m a chemist… (pause)… (silence)… you, at the end of the class, I won’t tolerate any giggling… Well, that’s why this sugar-free compote must be kept in the fridge and I guess its «shelf-life» will be shorter than if it was sugar-full. Of course, you can always store it in jars and sterilize them, like any other preserve. But I’m sure the compote will have no time to go bad at my home. This compote is delicious served with vanilla ice-cream or on a waffle cup with custard… yum.