The Tale of a Dog and a Pudding
The winter is cold here in France! I know I know, anyone from say, Siberia, would be telling me to shut right up now but it’s all relative! I am forcing myself to go out everyday and I am being rewarded for my efforts with pretty morning walks in white light. The snow has been falling and the mornings are crisp but then everything disappears again by late afternoon. The low sun is making everything shimmer silver. The evening light on the other hand has a golden tint. It’s like a little teaser of what is to come later on in the year.
Credit to my daughter, Lily for these last two pics. She’s only 13 but has a great eye. I think I’ll have to set her up with her own Instagram account!
This time of year is all about being nice to ourselves. Warm toes are a gift, a glass of red wine hugs the soul, and food is a heat source. We are turning to the soups and stews of winter for nourishment. We are also turning to cheese based dishes for comfort and layering ourselves up from the inside. Some of us need that less than others but when in France do as you shouldn’t! I like to try to cook seasonally here as much as I can and there is one little treat that goes with any season- you can choose from a variety of fruit to make it. Now I am certainly no cookery writer but I’d like to use this little corner of the world to share recipes that are used on an everyday basis here. What does the French Mamie (Granny) cook? Simple things with good ingredients- that’s what. On Monday the 2nd of February here in France, everyone was eating crêpes. It was La Chandeleur (Fête des chandelles – day of the candles). Pancake Tuesday (Mardi gras here) is also coming up soon. So, I would like to share a batter-based recipe in keeping with the traditions of the month. The humble Clafoutis is one of my favourite sweet things to indulge in. It’s simple, takes no time, and you nearly always have the ingredients to hand. However before I share the delight I’d like to tell you where I heard the word Clafoutis for the very first time!
As a child, every summer I was sent on my holidays to stay with my uncle and aunt who had a farm in the west of Ireland. I can’t tell you how much I used to look forward to going. There was always something going on everyday. Dry stone walls to fix, animals to be fed, chickens to be brought for rides on the BMX (no joke- there was one that we called Henrietta and she just loved it! Bit of a dare-devil that one). My aunt was a saint. She had six children of her own and would take two or three of us at a time for a few weeks every summer. Watching her, I really learned the value of making something from what you’ve got. My cousins were closer in age to me than my own siblings and we would have fun, fight, and then have fun again all day long. We had so much freedom! While we were expected to help out with some of the simple chores, I remember watching with fascination some of the bigger jobs. When the mighty bull would arrive to give of himself so selflessly! When the seemingly endless ploughing went on. And the herding! I thought it was a veritable communion when animals would respond to my uncle. He always had the help of a good dog and I think my love of dogs stems from the time spent on the farm.
There was one dog that stands out. Not for her intelligence certainly, although she was a beauty, but she stood out for her name. Yes the dog was called Clafoutis. It’s very far from eating clafoutis that I was raised. I had never heard of the word before and had no idea what it meant. I just thought it was the silliest name for a dog that I ever heard. Clafoutis is pronounced very softly by the French. Cla-foo-tee. But I’m pretty sure we didn’t linger over the word or worry too much about the delicacy of it. More often than not it was roared at the dog in a strong west of Ireland accent. Ah she was beautiful, but alas her days as a successful working dog were limited! I have a feeling she was given away to a less demanding home. She had come to my uncle by way of a Frenchman who lived in the area- hence the name. We, of course, never made the connection. We just thought it was ridiculous!
Roll on twenty years or more, to when my past and present collided. No idea how the conversation started, but mon homme mentioned the yummy, batter based dessert in passing, and I fell around the place laughing. He didn’t see what was so funny, but all I could see in my mind was an image of my dear uncle (since passed on) chasing around a well groomed dog who had no intention of working! I never in my wildest imaginings would have connected the word with a pudding. It still makes me giggle (maybe that’s really why I like making it!).
To make a Clafoutis you need:
Your base fruit – apples in autumn and winter, cherries in summer (do stone them!), and I’ve even made clafoutis with plums (halved and stoned) – the beautifully coloured quetsch variety that seem to drop from the sky here.
- 75 g (approx 1/3 of a cup) caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 90 g plain flour (sieved if possible)
- 150 ml milk
- 30 g butter (melted)
- 1 or 2 drops of vanilla essence (or else replace some of the caster sugar with vanilla sugar)
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Butter a baking tin, roughly 20cm in diameter and then dust the inside with some caster suger (this gives a nice caramelised coat to the finished pudding). Prepare your fruit (enough to fill the tin to about two thirds).
Beat the sugar and the eggs together with a whisk (or pop them in a mixer). You don’t need to worry about it being too fluffy.
Then whisk in your flour, followed by the milk. Add your vanilla essence at this point too.
Leave the batter to sit (don’t worry if it looks quite liquidy) while you prepare your fruit.
I used apples – so peel, core, and slice your apples (thin slices if you can), and then layer the apples in your tin.
Melt the butter and add it to the batter. Give it a nice whisk and then pour the batter over the fruit.
Pop it in the oven and bake for around 35 minutes. Best served warm (although cold is fine, but it’s not great to reheat it in my humble opinion, so you’ll just have to eat it all!)
Cherry on the cake!
If using apples or pears sprinkle some ground almonds over the fruit before you pour the batter. It gives a nice textured golden layer to the pudding.
You could also add almond slivers and a spoon of cognac over the top before you pop it in the oven.
Your Clafoutis should come out of the oven a warm caramel colour, nicely browned along the top. I guess the dog was quite aptly named really!
Have a lovely weekend!