Thursday, August 4, 2011
There's an old picture of me wearing a frilly dress dotted with pink roses, lacy socks up to my ankles and a straw hat fit snugly on my head. I wasn't posing for the school yearbook nor was it my 4th birthday. I was picking strawberries with my parents and their friends, in fact, you can see me squatting between the rows of berry bushes, the dry leaves crunching beneath my sandals, as I sucked on my red-stained fingers, clearly oblivious to the pay-first-then-eat policy on the farm.
I still eat fruit with wild abandon. In China, one of the best summer fruits are peaches, literally named water honey peaches in Chinese and they grow to the size of engorged baseballs. They need to be stored carefully, because one careless nudge will bruise them forever. The only proper way to eat honey peaches is with both hands and a big napkin. I ate two a day, refusing to share (selfish, I know), I revelled in its juiciness, even though its nectar-sweet syrup once splashed my new white shirt and the stain never went away.
I haven't seen those beauties since moving back to Canada and I miss them. Clingstone peaches however, are in season and thankfully, are not as delicate. Their yellow flesh is stronger and may withstand serious activities such as baking, which is always a good thing.
A few weeks ago, my friend Hayley invited me for a rooftop barbeque and it would just be plain rude if I declined. So I enlisted my other good friend for inspiration on baked peaches and that's when everything fell into place. I made peach clafouti, a French dessert with fruit baked in an egg-custard.
I've always wanted to make boozy fruit but the peaches I picked up at the store were still quite firm. I rolled up my sleeves and improvised. My sous chef sliced up the fruit, I simmered half of them with sugar and Grand Marnier, allowing the fruit to soften, then I made the custard, heating up milk and cream, adding it to eggs, flour, sugar, and lemon zest. I dumped all the fruit into a baking dish followed by the milky liquid--très simple.
It puffed up unevenly in the oven, giving it a rustic charm. The peach slices wrinkled in the oven, the custard turned a golden color, soaking up the peach juices. As it cools, the custard deflates a little; you can add some powdered sugar at the end to dress it up, or save some of that boozey syrup to drizzle on your plate.
Milos and I wrapped up the clafouti and brought it to Hayley's place. We sat on the patio watching the sun set behind a pink horizon, the scent of caramelized meat intoxicating us (or was it the orange sangria?), and then large portions of beef kebabs, roasted potato salad and cucumber and cherry tomato salad appeared on our dinner plates. We tucked in happily.
The time for The Best Part of Dinner took forever. All I wanted to do was to rip off the plastic covering the clafouti and dig in with my hands. But being the civilized lady that I am, I made new friends, sipped my sangria politely, giggled at appropriate moments and lapped up everything on my plate.
Finally, when the time finally came, I cut squares of peach clafouti and passed them around the table. Immediately, compliments flew here and there (I can’t help it, who doesn’t like hearing compliments?). I jumped back in my seat and took a bite for myself. It tasted like the lovechild between pancakes and puddings, fluffy clouds infused with peaches and cream.
It was a delicious end to the night. It took great restraint from helping myself to another slice, but I thought it was better to save some so I could have it for breakfast the next morning.
Adapted from Epicurious
Clafouti is traditionally made with sweet cherries, but play around and use different berries or stone fruit (think apricots, nectarines, plums). If you do use cherries, just pit them and toss into a cake pan. Stone fruits on the other hand, need to be cut up into smaller pieces.
Since my peaches weren't too sweet, I macerated the fruit in sugar and alcohol. Depending on how ripe your fruit is, you can skip this step and add it directly to the cake pan. Nigel Slater, I favorite food writer of mine, suggests replacing some of the flour with ground almonds, which I think is a grand idea, it will add a nutty flavor to the dish.
3 peaches, rinsed, sliced ¼ inch thick
2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier (or water)
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 cup of whole milk
¼ cup of heavy cream
½ cup of all-purpose flour
½ cup of sugar
¾ teaspoon of lemon zest
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon of sea salt
Powdered sugar, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 9 inch by 1 inch cake pan.
2. In a medium-sized saucepan, simmer half of the sliced peaches with Grand Marnier and sugar over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, until peaches are softened. Drain and reserve syrup. Toss all the peaches slices into pan.
3. Combine milk and cream in a small pot and allow to simmer over medium-heat. Set aside.
4. Combine eggs, flour, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and salt in a large bowl; whisk to blend. Gradually whisk in milk mixture, until custard is smooth. Pour slowly into cake pan, gently shaking pan to evenly distribute fruit.
5. Bake clafouti until custard is set and the top is golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. Allow to cool. Dust top with powdered sugar, eat warm or at room temperature. Recipe here!