Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Plum Clafoutis

There are two things I almost never say no to: making dessert and eating dessert.  And there was a point last week when I desperately needed to do both.  I was stressed, tired, and having a craving for something sweet.  I also had some beautiful plums from the farmer's market that were perhaps a little too ripe on the counter that I needed to do something with.

Of course, I had to bake something.

But I was busy.  I had no time to make a cake or complicated dessert that involved multiple steps and a lot of time creaming butter or adding ingredients one at a time.  I needed to make something simple.  Something that would satisfy me.  Something that would allow the flavor of my beautiful plums to shine.  And something that would be just as delicious straight from the oven as it would be after some time on the counter or in the fridge.

It was clear what I needed to make: clafoutis.

Clafoutis is an eggy, creamy, smooth almost-custard, not-quite-flan, traditional French dessert.  It's the kind of thing grandmothers make for their grandchildren, the kind of thing you can serve at a dinner party to guests, and the kind of go-to recipe you want for cold or rainy days when you want your kitchen to smell like heaven.  It is a breeze to make and it satisfies a sweet tooth without being too much (even if you decide to go for that second piece when you really know you shouldn't).  I've been having a love affair with clafoutis.

It's a breeze to make, it requires no special ingredients, and the recipe is easily tweaked to fit personal preferences.  Really, there is no reason not to make clafoutis.  Even if you're a new baker, you shouldn't be intimidated; this recipe is very forgiving if you make mistakes!

I happen to like my clafoutis with a fairly high cream-to-milk ratio, but don't let this throw you off.  If you don't have much cream on hand, you can still make clafoutis!  I just happen to keep heavy cream in my fridge for my coffee in the morning (this may sound unhealthy, but I like the richness it provides).  But for those who don't want to buy heavy cream or who are more health conscious, you can see my note below in the recipe.
And I personally love the aroma of rum in my baked goods and I adore how the flavor melds with baked fruit and vanilla, but if you don't have rum handy, you can easily replace it with another liquor (something with an appropriate flavor, such as brandy) or you can leave it out entirely.  If you don't like cinnamon, you can omit it.  I actually forgot to add vanilla once, and the flavor of the rum and plums was so wonderful, you couldn't even tell something was missing.

This plum clafoutis is delicious served warm or cold.  I can actually never resist digging into it as soon as it comes out of the oven, golden, puffed up, and pipping hot.  A slightly burned tongued is a small price to pay for the instant gratification of the silky, creamy, slightly tart but simultaneously sweet taste of a clafoutis that has just finished baking.  And when this clafoutis cools, its nuances are somehow revealed and you can better appreciate the subtle notes, the beautiful way the rum melds with the vanilla to complement the earthier, muted jam tones of the plum.  With its simple elegance, this clafoutis is not just any dessert, and it satisfies a craving much deeper than just a desire for something sweet.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What I've been eating

With my study schedule here at medical school, I haven't had time to cook much lately.  Because I knew earlier in the year that these days would come, I stocked up my freezer with plenty of food for days when cooking wouldn't be an option.  I have spicy butternut squash soup, basil and pine nut pesto, some crusty French bread, and goat curry from home (one of my absolute favorite cold weather foods).  But sometimes I don't even have the time to put together a warm meal; either I didn't think ahead to defrost the food I want to eat, or I have no rice or pasta in the fridge to eat and I'm too hungry to take the time to cook some.  In those moments, I am incredibly grateful for the abundance of fresh fruit I have access to.

Every Tuesday where I live there is a farmer's market.  Not only are they a source of great fresh everyday produce, like garlic, potatoes, basil (rooted!), onions, and zucchini, but they also carry some amazing out-of-ordinary products  at incredibly affordable prices, such as organic California Brown Turkey figs, local Concord grapes, Flavor Heart pluots, and gorgeous Georgia Muscadine grapes.  I had never actually tasted fresh Concord grapes before living next to this market, but the vendors are incredibly friendly about answering questions and allowing customers to sample.  Once I tasted one, I was hooked.  I've been buying them every single week since then.  The Muscadine grapes were also a discovery.  They look like small plums or very large grapes, and they burst with a flavor that is akin to lychee and Muscat grapes.  As for the pluots, if you haven't heard of them yet, they are hybrids that combine the best qualities of an apricot with those of a plum.  The Flavor Heart variety is one of my favorites, partially because it really does have a distinctive heart shape to it, and because its deep purple skin contrasts so beautifully with its pale golden flesh.

With such beautiful produce, it isn't hard to throw together a simple meal in little or no time.  Being so fresh, these fruits need no coaxing to shine in all their glory; they are delicious as they are.  I eat the figs with clover honey and plain yogurt as an afternoon snack.

The rooted basil I bought two or three weeks ago from the market is now thriving on my window sill.  I take some of its leaves and roughly chop them and mix them with a beautiful yellow heirloom tomato I bought to make a simple salad, dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and grapeseed oil.

For a quick lunch today, I washed a bunch of organic roquette (arugula).  I became addicted to this spicy green while I was in Paris this summer, and now that I've found it at the markets here, I indulge myself by buying some almost every week.  It goes well with chicken, fish, pork, bread and butter... honestly, I can't think of many savory things it wouldn't accompany well.  But since today was farmer's market day, I had an abundance of fruit, and so I made a salad with with the Concord grapes, local end-of-season peaches, and Flavor Heart pluots.  A little balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and black pepper and my lunch was served.

I haven't just been on a raw foot diet though.  As beautiful as the produce is, I am at heart a baker, and I couldn't resist the call to make something sweet with the plums I had on hand.  Because I didn't have the time to make an elaborate cake or tart, I went with a classic: clafoutis.  I won't be sharing the recipe here yet because I want to take the time to dedicate a real post to it, but here is a teaser of what is to come.  It may seem a little bit homely, but trust me, this plum clafoutis is the perfect thing for a night in, curled up on the couch with a book.  (Unfortunately for me, that book is a USMLE Step 1 Question Bank)