Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 18, 2013

Leathers: Easy and not just for kids

W. WAYT GIBBS Associated Press
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — What does a schoolchild’s packed lunch have in common with a $300-a-head meal at a three-Michelin-star restaurant? These days, both frequently include an edible leather: a puree of fruit (or, in the case of the restaurant, more often of a vegetable, such as tomato or onion) spread thin and dehydrated until it becomes stretchy.

Commercial fruit leathers roll out of factories by the yard, and those served at high-priced restaurants are prepared by expert chefs, so you might think that such a modern creation is beyond the means of the home cook. But it’s actually amazingly quick and easy to make an all-natural fruit leather that is a tasty, healthful and highly portable snack for the lunch box or backpack. My 10-year-old loves the mango chili leather.

Sweet Raspberry Leather

Start to finish: 2 hours

Servings: 4

2 c. raspberries

1 T. cooking oil

1/4 c. sugar

0.6 grams (3/16 t.) xanthan gum

Arrange an 11-by-17-inch nonstick silicone mat on a rimmed baking sheet. Heat a food dehydrator to 150° F, or set your oven to its lowest temperature.

Combine all ingredients in a blender, then puree until thoroughly blended, at least 30 seconds. Working quickly, pour the puree onto the mat and use an offset spatula or other long, flat utensil to spread it into an even layer 1/16 inch thick. If the puree sits too long in the blender it may set into a custard-like gel; if that happens, blend it again until it becomes fluid enough that you can spread it easily across the mat.

Place the baking sheet in the dehydrator or oven, and dry until leathery and tacky to the touch. A drying time of 1-1/2 to 2 hours is typical, but the time required can vary considerably depending on the thickness and wetness of the puree layer, the temperature of the chamber, and the humidity of the air. Use the convection setting on your oven if one is available.

When the leather is done, peel it gently from the mat, and use scissors to trim it to individual serving sizes; for use as a garnish, cut it into long, thin strips. To store the leather pieces, roll them individually in waxed paper and then in plastic wrap. The leather will keep for a week when packaged this way.

Mango Chili Leather

Start to finish: 2 hours

Servings: 4

2 c. peeled and diced mango (about 1 medium mango)

1 T. cooking oil

11/4 t. (6 grams) sugar

11/2 teaspoons minced red Thai chili or red jalapeno

Arrange an 11-by-17-inch nonstick silicone mat on a rimmed baking sheet. Heat a food dehydrator to 150° F, or set your oven to its lowest temperature.

Combine all ingredients in a blender, then puree until thoroughly blended, at least 30 seconds. Working quickly, pour the puree onto the mat and use an offset spatula or other long, flat utensil to spread it into an even layer 1/16 inch thick. If the puree sits too long in the blender it may set into a custard-like gel; if that happens, blend it again until it becomes fluid enough that you can spread it easily across the mat.

Place the baking sheet in the dehydrator or oven, and dry until leathery and tacky to the touch. A drying time of 1-1/2 to 2 hours is typical, but the time required can vary considerably depending on the thickness and wetness of the puree layer, the temperature of the chamber, and the humidity of the air. Use the convection setting on your oven if one is available.

When the leather is done, peel it gently from the mat, and use scissors to trim it to individual serving sizes; for use as a garnish, cut it into long, thin strips. To store the leather pieces, roll them individually in waxed paper and then in plastic wrap. The leather will keep for a week when packaged this way.

Other Fruit Leathers

Follow the directions above, but substitute 2 c. cored, peeled and diced persimmons, apples, pears or apricots for the raspberries, and reduce the amount of sugar to 21/2 T. Use more sugar if you or your kids prefer sweeter snacks.

Tomato Leather

Start to finish: 2 hours

Servings: 4

11/8 c. tomato paste

33/8 t. extra-virgin olive oil

41/4 t. (21 milliliters) red wine vinegar

6 drops hot sauce

3/16 t. (0.6 grams) xanthan gum

Arrange an 11-by-17-inch nonstick silicone mat on a rimmed baking sheet. Heat a food dehydrator to 150° F, or set your oven to its lowest temperature.

Combine all ingredients in a blender, then puree until thoroughly blended, at least 30 seconds. Working quickly, pour the puree onto the mat and use an offset spatula or other long, flat utensil to spread it into an even layer 1/16 inch thick. If the puree sits too long in the blender it may set into a custard-like gel; if that happens, blend it again until it becomes fluid enough that you can spread it easily across the mat.

Place the baking sheet in the dehydrator or oven, and dry until leathery and tacky to the touch. A drying time of 1-1/2 to 2 hours is typical, but the time required can vary considerably depending on the thickness and wetness of the puree layer, the temperature of the chamber, and the humidity of the air. Use the convection setting on your oven if one is available.

When the leather is done, peel it gently from the mat, and use scissors to trim it to individual serving sizes; for use as a garnish, cut it into long, thin strips. To store the leather pieces, roll them individually in waxed paper and then in plastic wrap. The leather will keep for a week when packaged this way.