There are a bazillion and a half ways to make fruit leather. You can use one fruit or a mix of many. You can add sugar or not. You can add spices or not. You can cook down the fruit before or after you puree it — or not at all. You can dry your leather in a dehydrator, your oven, or the hot sun. Do you see what I’m getting at?
When I started my fruit leather experiments this year, I knew only one thing for sure: I had plums. Not just these little red beauties, but also a steady supply of Santa Rosas. And today I am expecting Satsumas. So I had to pick a method and get going.
For their sweetness, I added some strawberries to the tart plums. Every one of the jars below contains plums and strawberries pureed in different proportions, enhanced with varying amounts of balsamic vinegar. I sprinkled some batches with black pepper and left some plain. (Peppery for grown ups, plain for kids.) The recipe gives the proportions I liked best but, in truth, they were all good.
The same goes for the method of drying the leather. I first tried my dehydrator — a cheapie found long ago at Goodwill — then the oven, and then the warming drawer in my oven. Turns out I love the warming drawer, but every option works. The process I describe here (using the warming drawer or the oven itself) is one that I trust, because I’ve been doing it every day for a week now with great reviews on the results. But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t play, changing up ingredients and methods to determine what you like best.
Plum-Berry Balsamic Fruit Leather
1 pound pitted plums (weight after pitting)
1/2 pound strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
black pepper to taste (optional)
1. Puree the fruit in a food processor or blender. (I chose one of the lower settings on my VitaMix, because I wanted the finished leather to contain flecks of plum skin.)
2. Transfer the puree to a medium saucepot and stir in the sugar and balsamic vinegar. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the mixture has noticeably thickened. As the mixture simmers, skim the stiff white foam from the top. (I found that simmering for 10 minutes yielded 2 cups of cooked puree, which is just the right amount for a single sheet of leather.)
3. Remove the puree from the heat and, if you have the patience, let it cool to room temperature. This will make it less runny and easier to handle when you pour it into the baking pan.
4. Place a silicone baking mat on a large baking sheet and carefully pour the cooled puree onto it. Spread it evenly — using the back edge of your cooking spoon or a spatula — to a thickness of about 1/8-inch. You’re basically making a tasty plum place mat. (Another option: If you don’t have a silicone mat, you can lay a piece of parchment paper on the baking sheet and pour the puree directly onto that. In fact, I transferred my leather onto parchment paper after dehydrating it, so it may seem most efficient to simply dry the leather on the paper in the first place — but I preferred the texture of the leather when I used the silicone mat. And the mats are super easy to work with.)
5. If you want to add black pepper, grind or sprinkle some over the top of the puree.
6. Dehydrate the leather.
Warming drawer method. If your oven has a warming drawer, turn it to high and put the tray into it, leaving the drawer cracked open ever so slightly to encourage moisture to evaporate. My warming drawer holds at about 130F and it takes about 9 hours for the leather to dehydrate — perfect for putting the leather in at bedtime and retrieving it in the morning. If you have an oven thermometer, you might want to set it in the drawer to see what kind of temp you’re getting. Also, you might find it helpful to turn the tray front to back for the last hour or two, because cracking open the door means that the back of the drawer gets a bit hotter than the front.
Oven method. You can put the tray directly into your oven at the time and temp described for the warming drawer, or at 170F for about 6 hours. (When I was experimenting, I discovered that my oven’s lowest allowable temp is 170F, or 300F for the convection function. I turned to the warming drawer because I wanted the lower temperature. I also hated having the oven heating up the already hot house all day long.) If you use the oven, don’t forget to prop open the door a crack. And if you decide to do several trays at once, keep in mind that the cooking time will be extended and you should rotate the sheets occasionally (both top to bottom and front to back) so they dry evenly.
7. Remove the leather when it is shiny and a little bit tacky, but no longer sticky. I transferred my leather from the silicone mat onto parchment paper and then cut it (along with the paper) into single-serving sizes with kitchen shears.
8. Roll the leather tightly and store it in an airtight container. There’s no need to refrigerate it. You probably won’t have it for very long, in any case.