Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Peach clafoutis (or flaugnarde)

A sweet creation was in the works a few nights ago.

I'm not someone who craves desserts often but when it hits me I can't let go. We had gone through a few rough weeks and I needed something to bring me comfort on a cold sad night. I won't talk about the sad part but I can say it's been a long winter with too much bad news, sickness and just recently the loss of a dear pet.

As I was rummaging through the freezer for dinner, I found a bag of frozen peach slices. Images of cobbler, pie and upside down cake came to mind. I was left dreaming of warmer days and Summer.

Without hesitation and no real plan, I grabbed the bag. Turns out they weren't very sweet or flavourful so to boost them up, I let them thaw and macerate in a mix of rum, almond extract and sugar. While they soaked up that tasty elixir, I tried to figure out my options. In the end I went with what was familiar. A billowing, vanilla scented peach clafoutis. With rum.

This was much needed and a refreshing change from brownies, junk and fatty addictions.

Clafoutis is a French dessert made of black cherries baked in a custard-like batter which is similar to crêpe batter. It is rustic looking and so simple to make yet I never get tired of the wow factor. You can tell it's ready when the sweet vanilla fragrance permeates the house and when the clafoutis is golden and puffy. As soon as it's out of the oven, the glorious clafoutis deflates and sets around the soften fruits. It is best served lukewarm. If another fruit is substituted (like my peach slices), then it's technically a flaugnarde. My husband loves to butcher that word and since nobody cares about that technical detail, I go with the flow and just call it clafoutis. In the end, I just want it to taste good.

This is my method and there is a million out there. I can't even say if it's authentic but it works for me. I often vary the temperature, baking time, liqueur or extract depending on the fruit, the season, the ripeness and sweetness. I tried orange blossom water, rum, port, kirsch, Grand-Marnier and a few others depending on the fruit and mood. Whichever I choose, I try to not go over 2 tablespoons and I always add vanilla regardless. Sometimes I add ground almonds to the flour (it makes it denser and I love the flavour) or I scatter almond slices on top which offers a nice contrast in taste and texture when toasted. It's also irresistibly pretty. This recipe is heavily adapted from the one in Chef John's Food Wishes. I baked many clafoutis before randomly viewing this video but Chef John's amusing and almost nonchalant explanations sort of stayed with me. His casual approach is beyond simple and whenever my mind gets frazzled, I start doubting myself on quantities and stall so I go see Chef John for a refresher. I like listening to him (I'm easy to entertain) and many of his recipes worked for me so I recommend his site.

Back to what's happening in the pics below... I buttered a 10" wide dish and sprinkled that with sugar as one would do with flour. The peaches were thawed and ready (soft and cool to the touch) so I carefully laid them in the dish in a circular pattern. The syrup that accumulated at the bottom of the bowl was delicious. There was about 1/4 cup. I was going to drink it but decided to add it to the batter instead.

With most fruits, I'll throw them in casually but with peaches or pears, I find that a pretty circular pattern works better. I then sprinkled the peaches with sugar.

I quickly made the batter to which I added the leftover juices. I then gently poured this over the fruits. Some fruits always float to the surface or move around a bit, that is normal and to be expected.

I carefully transferred the dish to a hot oven. Mine was already cranked to 400˚F. After 10 minutes, I lowered the temperature to 350˚F. Why? I'm not sure... I think I doubted myself and most recipes say 350˚F. I let it bake for 45 minutes. Like most baked dishes, I usually go by smell first to see if it's ready and then by looks. It smelled amazing. When I peeked, it was golden and very puffy. It wasn't as brown as my usual clafoutis and I suspect it was because of the lower temperature. It doesn't matter. It was getting late and I couldn't bother to bake it longer. The moment I took it out of the oven it still jiggled a bit (totally normal) and started to deflate (also normal). By the time I set this down and grabbed the camera, the clafoutis was already down by half an inch. As far as I know, a clafoutis always deflates as it sits to cool off (see pics below). I would have been more worried if it didn't! :)

At this point it was still pretty hot but I couldn't resist anymore. I took a big spoonful to taste and mildly burned my tongue. Was it worth it? Yes. It was all I expected from this first bite. A moist and sweet custardy blanket with vapours of vanilla and rum, wrapped around a soft poached fruit. Pure comfort. I even went for a second bite. To really enjoy this though, it has to rest and cool down till it gets lukewarm. It's even great cold the next day but to be honest, I rarely have leftovers. To allow the cooling process, I had to step away. That part is always hard but necessary. Watching an episode of Person of Interest was easy to distract me. So I guess 45 minutes went by. I then grabbed the dish and two spoons. Husband and I agreed to respect each other's sides and we scarfed it down while watching an other episode.

No pictures of cute slice, no sprinkled sugar on top. Just this dish, spoon, my guy and a tv show.

Total satisfaction.

Peach clafoutis
Heavily adapted from Chef John's Food Wishes video recipe 

1/2 tablespoon butter (for greasing)
2/3 cup sugar
3-4 cups peach slices (mine were frozen stiff when measured so it was probably 3 cups when thawed)
2 tablespoons rum
1-2 teaspoons almond extract (went by taste here)
1/2 cup flour
1 1/4 cup milk (in this recipe, 1/4 cup of that milk was replaced with the rum/sugar/peach syrup)
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
salt (about 2 pinches)

Thaw peach slices if frozen. This is one of those dishes where you put as much as your dish will allow. If you have too much, eat the rest or set it aside for something else. In a bowl, mix peach slices with rum, almond extract and about 3 tablespoons of sugar. You want the liquid to be pleasantly sweet like syrup. Let that sit for a bit. Mine sat for 2 hours. If your fruits are fresh, ripe and sweet, by all means skip that step. If you have some peach schnapps, feel free to use that instead. My rum almost made me go for cinnamon but I held back. This is all about improvising. I did it to improve the lack of flavour. You might want to try it with a very specific flavour in mind.

When you're ready to start, crank oven to 400˚F.

Grease your dish with butter. I used a flan dish which (10" wide and 1.5" high). Any shallow casserole dish (about 2 quarts) would do. I even tried it in my 9" cast iron pan with success. Sprinkle a tbsp of sugar to coat the bottom but you might need more for the sides. I usually end up using 1 1/2 tbsp. Shake and tap the pan as you move it around to distribute the sugar as much as possible (just like you would do with flour). Add a bit more to the sides if needed. You can return the excess sugar in the bowl you'll use for the batter. Many skip that step but I find it worth it. It doesn't stick (in fact it's super easy to remove a slice of clafoutis when cooled and set) and makes for a nice caramelized crust.

Take your fruits and place one slice at a time in a circular pattern. You could strain them in a bowl first to collect the juice but I just gently shake each slice from it's liquid as I lay it in the dish. When done and satisfied, sprinkle sugar over the fruits. I rarely measure but I'll guess 3tbsp.

In a bowl, whisk your flour, rest of the sugar and a pinch of salt. Next is the milk. Sometimes I go all milk (or mix with cream) but if I have a nice sweet syrup from the fruit I'm using, I'll use that instead (it's usually between 1/4 to 1/2 cup) and I top that with milk to make 1 1/4 cup. It's okay if you end up with a bit more (I once went as far as 1 1/2 cup). Hope I'm not confusing but when I cook or bake I just do that. It's like alchemy with food! I play with things, take notes and hope for the best. :)

Gently pour that batter over your fruits in the dish. I usually pour it slowly in a big wide circle till everything is covered. Some will move, it's okay. Some will float, it's okay too. Carefully bring this to your hot oven (without spilling or creating a tidal wave of batter) and close the door. Exhale. Set the timer for 40 minutes and move on.

After 40 minutes, you can open the door and take a peak or you can rely on your nose. I usually wait for the aromas of vanilla and pancake to waft through the rest of the house. Then I take a look. Sometimes I leave it for an extra 5-10 minutes to give it more colour. Sometimes that sneak peek costs me to see the glorious golden mound to deflate but such is the life of a clafoutis. Remove from the oven, smell, smile and sprinkle sugar on top if you wish. I often don't bother.

Now walk away. This is not a dessert that gets eaten hot or too warm.

You want this to cool and set. About 30-40 minutes. If you cut this too early (we've all been guilty), it won't hold as well. It also needs to rest so that the flavours between the poached fruits and sweet vanilla batter get to mingle and mellow. Please try to wait but I'll understand if you can't. A light dusting of icing sugar can make it pretty (if no sugar was sprinkled on top when hot). some serve this with cream or ice cream... Honestly, I never tried.

Just grab a spoon and scoop right out of the dish with a loved one. Or act civilized, slice and serve.

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