I’ve been intending to write about Paul Hollywood’s clafoutis Monique all week. What is clafoutis, you ask? French cheese? Butt rash? Venereal disease? This sentence, taken straight from the Wikipedia entry on clafoutis, doesn’t help: “Clafoutis apparently spread throughout France during the 19th century” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clafoutis). Um . . . what?
It is, from what I can gather, a difficult-to-categorize French dessert, difficult NOT because it’s a fungus masquerading as a food. It is a dessert! Some people refer to it as a type of flan. Other people refer to it a cross between a custard (hence, the comparison to flan), pancake, and cake or cobbler. I did not research clafoutis at all before making it, so I had no idea what it was supposed to be or look like. I just knew that, if I made it with blueberries, I could use my favorite frozen wild blueberries (easy) and that my husband and mother would probably both enjoy it. I actually thought, based on the picture in How to Bake, that it was a type of cobbler.
If I’m being honest, I also decided to make clafoutis on Sunday because I wanted to make a second bake while I was working on the Victoria sandwich cake to save myself baking time and effort during the week. Obviously, since it’s now Friday, I’m excellent at time management, and doing a double bake on Sunday really helped. #blogging #crushingit
So, of course, most of the bakes I am doing for this baking challenge are British, and one of the reasons I enjoy making them is that, as an English major for around 10,000 years (give or take), my life was practically SOAKED in British literature, history, and culture. British literature was the pool, and I was the six-year-old kid who had been tossed into it by the YMCA instructors. (Wait . . . was that just me?) I don’t know if someone who isn’t British could think of a more British baked good than the Victoria sponge or sandwich cake, except for, maybe, pork pies. Thus, when I was making the Victoria sponge, I felt very British and kept flashing back to my college days and trying to use British words I’d read in Elizabeth George novels.
“I’m feeling a bit knackered,” I thought to myself. “I was feeling daft and confuddled by the instructions for this sponge, but sponge, jam, whipped cream, sponge, and Bob’s your uncle—the Victoria sandwich cake!”
HOWEVER, when I was making the clafoutis, the only thing that kept coming to mind was the French novella we had to read in our high school French II class, La Tulipe Noire.
Why is this French dessert included in an otherwise very British cookcook, you may ask? It’s a recipe given to Mr. Hollywood by his wife’s godmother, who lives in France. So there you go.
The cookbook recipe calls for cherries, which is the traditional fruit used in a clafoutis, but I used blueberries, as I mentioned previously, because I didn’t feel like working with a fruit I’ve never baked with before. I’ve used canned cherries in water for pies, but I’ve never used fresh cherries for anything. I like the flavor of cherries, but I don’t like to EAT cherries. The texture freaks me out. It’s like eating tiny, ripe red baby heads that pop.
Here’s what I learned about clafoutis, however—when one doesn’t use cherries, it’s technically called a (get ready) flaugnarde. Oh, that’s much better. That doesn’t sound at all like a European venereal disease.
Just so you know, a flaugnarde is “a baked French dessert with fruit arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flaugnarde). (I’m providing the definitions for the test later, SO SHAPE UP.)
The pictures for the process of making my clafoutis/flaugnarde are not, how you say, enthralling, but we will have to soldier on like the stoical Brits we are pretending to be.
The lovely little frozen wild blueberries that I like to use in pies when good fresh blueberries aren't available (which is most of the time at our grocery store):
I always rinse frozen berries really well because, if I don't, the frost on them makes whatever I'm baking too wet.
The directions call for mixing the batter ingredients (flour, milk, and egg yolks) in one bowl and whisking the egg whites to a stiff peak in another bowl. This caused me a wee bit of aggro because I hadn't read ahead and because I'd mixed the batter in the mixer but then needed the mixer to whisk the eggs (because I sure as hell wasn't going to do that by hand--I did not have three hours to spare). So, I had to transfer the batter to another container and then wash the mixing bowl, which is, I'm SURE, why it took the egg whites 20 minutes to stiffen. I must have left a droplet or two of water in the bowl. Dear god . . . it took forever. I could have grown long fingernails faster.
Once the egg whites are stiff, they are supposed to be folded into the batter. I find folding very perplexing. The components never seem to get totally mixed unless I do a little covert gentle mixing along with the folding. Now you know my secret, and I can never do it again without feeling a little bit of shame.
Then, you're supposed to pour a little bit of the batter in the baking dish to cover the bottom and then add the fruit on top of the small amount of batter.
Then (you guessed it!), the rest of the batter is poured on top of the fruit.
Now, here is what I didn't understand--why didn't I end up with the picturesque little holes all over the top of the mixture, as seen in the recipe picture? I assumed at this point that maybe they'd develop while the mixture baked.
I was incorrect.
But she's pretty, anyway, ain't she?
I think that the holes would have appeared naturally had a used a bigger fruit. The tiny wild blueberries just weren't big enough to poke through the batter on top. I used more than enough blueberries in total for the dish, but each berry was simply very small, like an itsy, bitsy, teeny, tiny blue baby head.
I was very curious to see what it looked like inside because the cookbook only included the one picture. And, of course, I'd done no research. At my mom's house, we finally cracked it open.
Interesting, yes? I had no idea, because I hadn't looked it up, yet, that the bottom of the dessert was supposed to be that pale, spongy, egg-whitey-looking substance you see in the bottom picture (above), so I was a little perturbed by it initially. However, now that I know it's supposed to be flan-y, it makes sense.
Terry loved it because he loves everything except butterbeans, and my mom and my moms' neighbors ate it, too, with whipped cream on top (left over from the Victoria sponge). I'd consider it a disease-free success!