Monday, May 28, 2007

Clafoutis, a showcase for summer fruit

[Updated with details on the ideal type of baking dish for this dessert and additional sugar sprinkling]

A lot of cooking magazines go onto the shelf or into the recycling bin never to appear again. But the May/June 1998 Saveur has been a phenomenal exception. Two of the recipes have become mainstays in my kitchen. The first, a large savory pie with olive-oil crust and a filling of chard, potato and feta cheese is a year-round favorite. But the other one, clafoutis, makes a brief appearance during the short overlap of cherry and apricot season in California.

Clafoutis is essentially a very thick vanilla custard studded with fruit and baked in a hot oven so that a golden crust forms on the outside. The time in the oven softens and intensifies the fruit's flavors and probably promotes some carmelization. The Saveur recipe uses only cherries as the fruit, but since I'm a big fan of fresh apricots and so I use half cherry, half apricot.

An aside about apricots: They are not the most popular fruit among farmers these days. Last year the SF Chronicle ran a story about farmers ripping up apricot orchards in California: "California still produces 98 percent of all apricots commercially grown in the United States. Most of the crop comes from Stanislaus County, home of the Patterson variety....About 90 percent of California farmers who grew apricots 10 years ago have either yanked their trees or reduced their acreage."

Back to the recipe. The Saveur article claims that the recipe dates from the 1860s. The name derives from the word clafir, which means "to fill" in a regional dialect. The term "fill" doesn't refer to the form of the dessert--nothing is stuffed into anything else--but instead that the dessert is hearty and filling.

Before I present the recipe, a few factoids about apricots from The Oxford Companion to Food:
  • The apricot is thought to have originated in China, with first cultivation by humans around 2000 BCE. The fruit spread west along the Silk Road, reaching Iran, Greece and Rome by the 1st century BCE.
  • The Greeks believed that the fruit originated in Armenia, and that mistake carried into its botanical name of Prunus armeniaca.
  • The name apricot derives from the Latin praecocium, meaning precocious, a reference to the fruit's early ripening.
  • In the "great apricot belt" from Turkey to Turkistan, you can find a dazzling variety of apricots: "white, black, grey, and pink apricots, from pea to peach sized, with flavours equally varied."
  • The route from China to California included the Spanish, who brought the fruit to Mexico after their conquest of the Aztecs and other indigenous peoples. It eventually was brought to the California territory.
  • Apricots have been crossed with plums in various ways to create apriums, pluots, and plumcots, as detailed by Shuna at Bay Area Bites.




Clafoutis
Adapted from "Not Cherry Pie," by Corinne Trang, Saveur, May/June 1998

Equipment
A blender for making the batter (a food processor would probably work fine)
A shallow container is important so that the dessert is cooked through before the crust becomes too dark. A cast iron skillet is the traditional container, but since I don't have one I use a ceramic dish that is 8" x 10" by 2" in dimension.


Ingredients
Butter for the skillet or baking dish
1 T. vanilla extract
6 eggs
6 T. sugar
1 1/4 c. milk
2 T. kirsch or other appropriate liqueur (amaretto, brandy, apricot brandy)
A pinch of salt
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups pitted cherries
1 1/2 cups pitted fresh apricots
Powdered sugar for dusting

(Unit conversion page)


Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F (215 C).
  2. Butter a skillet or baking dish. Optional: sprinkle some sugar onto the butter, which will caramelize during baking.
  3. Cut the fruit into bite-size pieces: cherries in half or quarters, apricots in quarters or eighths.
  4. Put the vanilla extract, eggs, sugar, milk, liqueur, and salt into a blender. Blend for a few seconds. Add the flour and then blend until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute.
  5. Pour batter into skillet, place fruit into batter. Optional: sprinkle the top with a coarse sugar like Demerara for extra caramelization effects.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean and the top is golden brown.
  7. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar, if desired.


Variations
  • Try this dish with all cherries, another stone fruit (nectarines and peaches might be good), or prunes soaked overnight in Armagnac.
  • A recipe for apple clafouti from Saveur




Random link from the archive: Preserving Summer - The Sin Pot

Technorati tags: Baking : Fruit : Food

3 comments:

shuna fish lydon said...

Marc,

Thanks for the link. A little fun trick-- butter the baking dish generously and then coat with raw/turbinado or demerrera sugar. The sugar melts to form a little caramel around the custard.

It's one of my favorite facts that apricots "mean" precocious. Thanks for adding the facts.

I did see some tiny Royal Blenheims at the ferry building market, but it's true we may see the end of them in our time!

FaustianBargain said...

cherry clafoutis in the oven for a party right now. i thought i'd google blog search for it to see who else is doing it..and i was thinking that it was too early for cherry season anyways..

shuna, thanks for the sugar tip! wish i had read that 5 mts earlier. i got a pound and a half worth of cherries' pits, but i think i am going to throw it away. i seriously dont have the time to deal with cracking it. one of the few times i wish i had half a dozen little ones running around. a fun project for kids during summer even if it means that i have to let them handle a hammer.

i wonder what variety in the states is the mahaleb of the middle east. we use the ground pits in bread and other baked items.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Thanks for the delicious recipe!