Friday, July 3, 2009

Cloning Clafouti

I'm reading David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris, (yes Noriko, I hijacked your copy from Mom's), and every page transports me back to the tree-lined, cobblestone streets, where Brandon and I wandered two summers ago, during what I've come to think of as our second honeymoon.

Lebovitz, a blogger and former San Francisco pastry chef, described the beauty of Paris as being "magnified in the darkness", and it reminded me of our last night in that marvelous city, when we glided along the Seine past a glittering Eiffel Tower. Light from the tower illuminated the hazy drizzle that had begun to fall, making it look like delicate snow flurries, and it was as if all of Paris was glowing.

I was still reminiscing when I spotted fresh, organic figs at the Farmers' Market and immediately decided to make clafouti, a classic French dessert similar to a cobbler and traditionally made with cherries.

On our last night in Paris, after what can only be described as the perfect dinner at Bistrot Les Sans Culottes on Rue de Lappe in the Bastille neighborhood, I ordered the only dessert on the menu I'd never heard of. I was feeling adventurous and reasoned I could have creme brulee or a sorbet assortment anywhere. The only thing I did know about the dish I'd ordered was that it had figues, or figs, according to my handy-dandy, little French dictionary.

My dessert was served in a warm, shallow bowl. Pieces of a quartered fig were arranged like a flower and covered with something that was a cross between a custard and a cake, then dusted with powdered sugar and topped with an oval quenelle of peach sorbet.

It was the best dessert I'd ever had - and I didn't even know what it was!

"I want to lick my plate," I told Brandon.

Back at home, I searched in vain for some kind of French dessert recipe with figs. Months later while leafing through a French cookbook, I stumbled upon something that sounded familiar - pear clafouti.

That is how I found my favorite French dessert and discovered Ina Garten - all while standing in line at Costco.

I've made pear clafouti several times since then, to rave reviews, but never with figs. Driving home from the Farmers' Market I realized I'd also bought organic peaches for Emi's babyfood, and I decided to "borrow" a few to make my own sorbet. It was the perfect dish to bring to my in-laws' when we visited in a couple of days.

I started on the sorbet as soon as we got back from the market. I chose to puree uncooked peaches, but I think next time I might try baking them first because I think it will bring out their sweetness more and intensify the peach flavor. (Later, I read online that a tablespoon of peach liqueur also adds more flavor and smooths out the sorbet so it's more creamy than icy.) Since I'm not working, I couldn't run out and buy an ice cream maker. Instead, I searched online and found an easy technique that worked pretty well (see recipe below).

My in-laws live a couple hours away, so we planned to visit for three days. It would be our first overnight trip with Emi, and it took me most of Monday to organize and pack everything we'd need. I almost forgot to make the clafouti until I happened to notice the bag of figs sitting in my refrigerator later that evening. Luckily, Ina's clafouti recipe is super easy. I used about six figs, which I quartered and arranged on their sides in a floral pattern.

Ina's recipe makes more batter than I need for my shallow Emile Henry tart dish, so I decided to make two small clafoutis using a couple of creme brulee dishes. I gave one to my parents when we dropped off the "granddog", and kept the other one for quality control.

In other words - I ate it.

The figs were sweet and bright, perfectly complementing the brandy in the custard, while the tartness of the peach sorbet balanced the rich dessert.

It was just like Paris, only better because this time I could lick the plate!

Peach Sorbet
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 lbs. to 2 lbs. fresh, ripe peaches
1/2 cup lemon juice

Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar with 1 cup of water in a saucepan and stirring over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool.

Peel the peaches and cut in half, removing the pits. Place the peach pieces in a food processor or blender and add lemon juice before pureeing.

Combine with the cooled simple syrup. If you have an ice cream maker, follow the manufacturer's instructions for freezing. If your kitchen is lacking this pricey gadget like mine is, than pour the puree into a container such as a metal bowl and freeze for one hour. Remove from the freezer and beat using an electric mixer before returning it to the freezer. Repeat every hour, 3 or 4 times.


  1. Oops...Emi dropped peas on the dust jacket, but don't worry. Most of it came off.