Monday, August 2, 2010
Easy, Elegant, French
Sometimes I wish I were French. French women have an easy sense of style, always looking perfect but not looking like they put any effort into it. French design is equally chic and unfussy all at once. And French food is the same. I think a lot of people associate French food with foo-foo presentations and teensy portions. But I think of elegant items, with seasonal ingredients and bursts of flavor. Think less Paris and more Provence.
Take the clafoutis. It is basically a custard, a preparation upon which a thousand dishes are based. Add a little flour, some lemon zest and cherries, and you’re done. It couldn’t be easier, or prettier. A creamy lemon color studded with bright red fruit, all puffed and golden, dusted with powdered sugar.
Traditionally, this is made with the pits left in the cherries for depth of flavor. Since I don’t relish the idea of spitting out cherry pits (not very ladylike), nor do I want anyone to choke, I pitted the cherries. If you wanted to add that deep cherry flavor, I’m sure a little kirsch or even a splash of port would bring out the flavors magnificently.
What troubles me about the clafoutis is when to eat it. I picture a French lady making it when her friends stop by for coffee. But no one really stops by my house for coffee, so I make it for dessert. My husband recently pointed out that is a lot like a baked pancake and I ought to make it for breakfast next time. Since I am not a Frenchwoman, and since I like to think traditional preparation is the foundation from which to jump, I think this would be grand.
If it is not cherry season, this is also good with raspberries, and I imagine it would taste delicious with just about any fresh fruit you add; raspberries or blackberries would be excellent. If you choose to go with stone fruit, such as nectarines, I would use fruit that is not too juicy as it will separate from the custard and everything will become soggy.
I may not be French, nor have a Frenchwoman’s sense of fashion or design, but I like to think I have her sensibility when it comes to food: find good ingredients at their peak of freshness, and remake the classics using what you have. It’s simple, delicious, and – I think – elegant.
This is a versatile recipe that works well for dessert, breakfast, or to serve with coffee or tea in the afternoon. As always, the fresher the cherries and the higher quality the eggs, the better the result. As with any very simple dish with few ingredients, use the best ingredients you can find. A cherry pitter makes quick work of pitting the fruit. I adapted this from a recipe that appeared in Food & Wine.
½ cup flour
¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
4 medium eggs, preferably free range
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ cup milk, plus 2 tablespoons
1 ½ cups pitted fresh cherries, halved
1 Tablespoon powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 10” quiche pan or gratin dish.
Stir the flour, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. In a small bowl whisk the eggs. Add the milk, then whisk in the butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and whisk vigorously for a few minutes, until the batter is pale in color and smooth.
Pour the batter into the buttered pan. Place the cherries on top of the batter, evenly dispersing them. They will sink just a little, but that is okay.
Bake for 20 minutes, until the sides have puffed up and it is golden brown. Let cool slightly, then dust with powdered sugar.
Serve warm or at room temperature (or even cold, straight out of the fridge), with a dollop of whipped cream, spiked with kirsch or port, if desired.