I found myself reading a restaurant review when I stumbled upon a description for a dessert I’d never heard of. At this point, I’ve been around the block a few times, so when I find something unfamiliar, I get a little giddy, and jump right into research. This classic French dessert is a simple baked custard with the addition of fruit, which is traditionally cherries with the pits left intact. A fun note about that: the pits are left in due to a reaction as they heat up, which causes them to release an almond-like flavor. It’s not uncommon to find recipes that have you remove the pits from the cherries first, just to make things easier on your guests, and to avoid the need for a spit bucket on the table.
All of that said, I didn’t opt for the classic cherry version; instead I happened to find myself staring at the blackberry bushes outside, hoping they were at peak ripeness. I find blackberries to have a narrow window of perfection, where they’re amazingly sweet and full of flavor. Outside of this range, they’re either too sour or just bland, which is usually what I find when they’re store bought. Luck happened to be on my side as they were perfect, just at my point of need. After a thorny campaign fraught with spider traps and berry stained hands, I managed to pluck a sizable harvest. Thinking about where I wanted the dish to go, I remembered how much I love the flavor of cooked stone fruit, and felt that nectarines would pair well with the blackberries while also adding a wonderful contrasting color.
Not content with sticking too closely to a classic, I was wondering how I could impart some additional flavor to such a simple recipe, when I began to think about the sugar. Was there a way I could get some caramel notes, but without having to liquefy it? After a little research, I found that you can toast the sugar in a low heat oven to produce those caramel flavors while taming some of the sweetness, all while retaining it’s sugary form. The process does take a little time, but with the small effort of stirring things around to avoid hot spots, you’re left with a versatile ingredient with subtle caramel-y flavors. The process does release some moisture out of the sugar, which leads to clumping, but you can give it a few pulses in a food processor to break it down into find grains after cooling.
I knew I wanted something to contrast with the warm fruity dessert, but that would meld with the various flavors. Buttermilk came to mind because I love its tangy, sour nature, but I also wanted it to be more than just a white scoop atop my clafoutis. Once again, I found myself staring at blackberries, and mused to myself, “Blackberry Buttermilk Ice Cream… how good does that sound?” I realized I wanted a swirl-kind of effect, and wasn’t sure if just crushing them was good enough, so I roasted them off to release some of their liquid and get them softened up. I was left with a delicious pie filling flavor, which I knew was going to pair well with the buttermilk. So, I let my berry mixture cool down while I spun the ice cream, and folded the berries in once the ice cream took shape. Then it was off to the freezer for hardening… but not until I skimmed a bowl of soft serve off for my impatient self (the benefits of doing the labor yourself).
A buttered baking dish, some fruit thrown in the bottom, a simple batter over the top, and a hot oven… and you’re off to good eating. I tried to add a little extra complexity at the end of the day with the toasted sugar and addition of almond extract (guess I was still chasing that classic flavor), but those are pretty unnecessary. The batter contains nothing but the pantry/dairy essentials, and is a thin batter which is simple enough to work with. It rises up like a souffle or dutch baby while baking, and will deflate upon cooling out of the oven.
Clafoutis is as elegant as it is simple. It’s a dessert meant to be enjoyed on a warm lazy summer’s eve, preferably with friends over. I like to serve mine in individual serving dishes to make a guest feel that much more special, but you can certainly make a larger dish and serve out slices. The dessert is meant to be enjoyed warm, with the browned top and edges leading into a creamy flan-like interior, and the sweetness of roasted fruit blending beautifully into each bite. The addition of ice cream gives it a wonderful contrast in temperature, reminiscent of the warm apple pie à la mode experience, while the sour tang of the buttermilk lends nicely to balancing everything out. It may have a fancy sounding name, but its simple and rustic nature should have this dessert finding its way onto your table when you find fruit looking just perfectly ripe.
|6||Each||Egg Yolk||Yolks Only|
Preheat a sous vide bath to 185F. Combine eggs and sugar into a bowl and whisk till pale yellow. Now add cream and salt to your egg mix and whisk to combine. Pour ice cream mix into a Ziploc Freezer bag, and place into the sous vide bath using the displacement method. Cook for 1hr, agitating the bag occasionally. If you don’t have access to an immersion circulator, cook the base with the traditional French custard method.
Once base is cooked, strain mix through a sieve into a bowl set in an ice bath. Whisk in chilled buttermilk and vanilla extract to fully incorporate. Chill base in the refrigerator for a few hours.
Preheat oven to 350F. Place blackberries on a baking pan, sprinkle sugar atop berries, and roll around to distribute. Roast berries off for 20min, or until softened and juices begin to run. Place berries into container and crush into a rough puree. Cool & reserve.
Spin ice cream base in your maker to manufacture specs. Fold berry puree into spun ice cream. Transfer into a container and freeze until firm for a few hours.
|½||Cup||Half & Half|
Whisk together half & half, milk, eggs, extract and sugar until smooth. Incorporate melted butter and flour into mixture, and whisk till you get a smooth batter.
|1||Each||Nectarine||Pitted & Sliced|
Preheat oven to 350F. Fully grease the interior of a baking dish with cold butter. Add blackberries and nectarine slices to greased pan. Pour batter into pan almost up over the fruit. Bake off till custard is set and golden brown on top, 30-50min.
Allow to cool for a few minutes. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream tableside, and enjoy.