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A mouthful of French Summer

A mouthful of French Summer
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First Published: Thu, Jun 03 2010. 09 55 PM IST

Cherry top: Clafoutis is a rustic dessert.
Cherry top: Clafoutis is a rustic dessert.
Updated: Thu, Jun 03 2010. 09 55 PM IST
A well-made clafoutis, with the ripest of cherries bursting out of a creamy sweet batter, is the essence of a perfect summer day: Close your eyes and you’re lunching under a tree in a Provencal village. It’s a dish that celebrates bumper crops and an overflowing dairy and with our own market stalls groaning with soft fruit, I can’t let the moment pass without a recipe for this classic dish.
Click here to view a slideshow on how to bake a classic clafoutis
From the verb clafir (to fill), clafoutis is a simple rustic dessert from the Limousin region of central France in which cherries, preferably the black, slightly sour variety, are baked in an egg, milk and sugar mixture. It may be simple but as with most classic dishes, people get very worked up about authenticity. With clafoutis, the most vexed issue is whether to pit the cherries or not. Larousse Gastronomique, the learned French food bible which we disobey at our peril, says, “As a rule, the cherries are not stoned as the kernels add flavour to the batter during cooking.”
Cherry top: Clafoutis is a rustic dessert.
Personally, I wonder if leaving the fruit intact had something to do with busy farmers’ wives rushing to get a meal on the table for their ravenous menfolk. I prefer to pit the cherries—I’ve never been a fan of picking stones out of pudding even if it does mean you can play “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor…” afterwards.
I’m in good company. Legendary food writer Ginette Mathiot, who back in 1932 wrote La Cuisine Pour Tous, a book which has graced the kitchens of generations of French housewives, states quite plainly, “Laver, equeuter et denoyauter les cerises (wash and take out the stalks and stones).” If it’s good enough for millions of French housewives, it’s good enough for me and with a cherry stoner, preparing the fruit isn’t such an onerous task. Then once the cherries are ready, it’s simply a matter of switching on the oven and whisking up a simple batter.
The traditional clafoutis contains cherries but other fruits can be substituted (although according to Larousse we must then call it a flaugnarde). While I was a student in Paris, I lodged with a family from Limoges in the heart of clafoutis country. Maman, by her own admission, was no cook, but she could rustle up a mean clafoutis, always made with apples. For pure nostalgia, I think apple “clafoutis” may still be my favourite; it’s certainly the one I make most often, keeping the spirit of summer alive all year round.
You can experiment with apricots, figs, pears, plums, cape gooseberries or for a contemporary take you could make individual clafoutis in a muffin tin. One thing to remember is that the fruit is the star of the show here so it goes without saying that the better the fruits the more sensational the pudding. Summer eating doesn’t get much better than this.
My recipe is based on Ms Mathiot’s—obviously she never mentioned malai (cream) but because of its similarity to French crème fraiche, I think it adds a certain je ne sais quoi.
Classic Cherry Clafoutis
Ingredients
500g cherries
100g plain flour
90g caster sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
6 eggs
200ml cream
200ml full-cream milk
Method
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Lightly grease a baking dish or tin big enough to hold all the ingredients—I use a 25cm glass pie dish. Wash the cherries and remove the stalks and stones. Or don’t—your call.
In a large bowl, whisk (or beat using hand-held mixer) the flour, eggs and sugar until smooth. Gradually add the milk and malai and whisk until you have a smooth liquid almost like a thick pancake batter. Tumble the cherries into the baking dish, then cover with the batter.
Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for about 35 minutes. When ready, the clafoutis will be puffed and golden. As it starts to cool, it will sink slightly. Sprinkle with caster sugar and serve at room temperature.
Any leftovers will have you leaping out of bed the next morning for a breakfast treat.
Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at http://eatanddust.wordpress.com
Write to Pamela at pieceofcake@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jun 03 2010. 09 55 PM IST