Some might consider clafoutis (pronounced kla-foo-tee) just a lazy cook’s way to pie or cake, but its truly luscious comfort food complete with a French pedigree. Born in Limousin, in southern central France, a couple of centuries ago to showcase its fresh cherries. Very likely, the creation of a hurried & harried home cook with a glut of cherries to use up. Traditionally made with unpitted black or tart cherries. The pits supposedly added an almond flavor when baked.
The name clafoutis comes from the verb ‘clafir’, a rustic old word that means ‘to fill’ because after you arrange the fruit on a buttered baking dish, you fill the pan with eggy batter. It bakes into a light, custardy confection with a consistency somewhere between pudding, pancake and soufflé.
Clafoutis is a dessert you need in your life. It is neither difficult nor time consuming and it requires few ingredients.
The first time Brion & I ever tasted clafoutis was actually in France in 2001. Strangely enough, I’ve never got around to making it even though we had enjoyed it.
By using one simple batter recipe, you can make a variety of clafoutis by changing up the fruit and flavorings you use. Of course, there are some who would say that a clafoutis made with any fruit other than cherries would be properly called a ‘flaugnarde’, but what’s in a name when it comes to comfort food!
Place all batter ingredients into a blender. Blend until well combined.
Butter a large pie dish & sprinkle the 1 Tbsp sugar evenly over the butter. Pour the batter into the dish, then sprinkle the saskatoon berries evenly throughout the mixture. Sprinkle the ground almonds over the surface of the clafoutis & place in the oven.
Bake until the clafoutis is puffy & nicely browned on top, about 35-40 minutes. To check if its done, remove it from the oven & gently giggle the pan. It should shake softly, but not look overly liquid. You can also test with a knife tip to ensure its set.
Dust with powdered sugar if you wish & serve immediately.
Cream puffs start with choux pastry, a heady mixture of butter, milk, water, eggs & flour. When you combine these ingredients, they become so dense and sticky that it seems impossible they’ll come together as soft, puffy, light, tender. Heat is what initiates the expansion of the dense paste. Steam from the milk and water expands the pastry’s edges, puffing up its capacity until the oven heat provides just enough crispness and structure to hold the puffs’ boundaries. A cream puff expands so dramatically in the oven that it creates a cavern inside to hold any number of things—whipped cream, pastry cream, ice cream or savory fillings.
Cream puff pastry (or choux pastry) is the base for profiteroles (smaller puffs filled with ice cream), éclairs (elongated puffs filled with pastry cream and glazed), croquembouche (a tower of cream puffs held together and drizzled with caramel) and savory appetizer puffs called gougeres with cheese and herbs.
Craquelin (pronounced kra-ke-lan) is a thin biscuit layer that can be added over choux pastries before baking them. It is used to create a crackly appearance, crunchy texture and a buttery sweet taste as well as helping the choux pastry bake evenly to form hollow rounds. This topping reminded me of a similar cookie-like topping used on Mexican sweet bread called ‘conchas’. It certainly dresses up ordinary cream puffs.
Mandarin Orange Cream Puffs w/ Craquelin Topping
Mandarin Orange Pastry Cream
In a food processor, process sugar & butter pieces until it forms large crumbs. Add flour, salt & vanilla; process until a dough forms. Bring the dough together to form a disk.
Roll the dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper until 1/16-inch thickness. Place covered in the freezer for at least an hour then cut the dough into (18) 2-inch circles & keep circles in the freezer until ready to use.
In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar & cornstarch until it turns pale yellow. In a saucepan, combine milk & orange zest; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, slowly add the egg mixture a little at a time, whisking well until fully incorporated.
Return mixture to heat & keep whisking over medium heat until it thickens. Stir in orange juice. Transfer to a bowl & cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the surface of the pastry cream. When it comes to room temperature, refrigerate.
When cooled & you are ready to use the pastry cream, whisk with an electric mixer for 15-20 seconds to a smooth texture.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a saucepan, combine milk, water, butter & salt; bring to boiling. Add flour, all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook & stir until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat & add eggs & egg white, one at a time, beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition.
Place dough in a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe (18) 1 1/2-inch circles. Cover each with a frozen craquelin round circle.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden & firm. Transfer to a wire rack & allow to cool.
Carefully slice puffs. Fill a pastry bag with mandarin orange pastry cream & gently fill each puff. Place on serving platter & sprinkle with powdered sugar if you wish.
Browning, bruised and overlooked, you can’t help but feel bad for the half dozen persimmons nestled on the grocery shelf waiting to be selected. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is no end to the ways persimmons can be used.
In this recipe, I used some Chinese five-spice to give the persimmons a spicy upgrade. With the unique flavor profile of this interesting spice, it often pulls double duty in savory and sweet dishes.
It seems that the exact origin of five-spice powder is unknown but there is some speculation that the blend was created in traditional Chinese medicine. A very unique spice blend that represents a wide range of flavors from sweet, salty and bitter to pungent and sour. Rumor has it that the Chinese were trying to create a ‘miracle powder’ that was representative of all the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Then again, its possible that a cook accidentally stumbled upon this particular combination of spices and realized its power to improve on a bland dish. In any case, it is very versatile and can be used not only in cooking but also adds a unique flavor to baked goods.
Many recipes for five-spice powder exist but there is no one traditional recipe. Often the ingredients and amounts can vary from region to region and are different depending on the household and individual tastes. The original blend contained star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel seed, cinnamon and cloves. A staple in Chinese cuisine but has also found its way into other international cuisines such as Vietnamese and Hawaiian food.
Spiced Persimmon Tarte Tatin
Preheat oven to 400 F. Lay puff pastry on a piece of parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap; chill until needed.
In a skillet, melt butter & sprinkle sugar evenly over it. Add peeled, sliced persimmons & sauté until liquid is bubbling & lightly golden. Reduce heat & continue cooking until persimmons are tender. If you wish, thicken any juices with the cornstarch. Remove from heat & divide evenly into 6 ramekin dishes. Sprinkle persimmons evenly with five-spice & salt.
Cut 6 rounds from chilled puff pastry larger than the tops of the ramekin dishes. Place a pastry round over each dish of persimmons tucking edges down inside.
Bake until pastry is golden & cooked through, 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool then run a knife around edge of ramekin dish. Carefully but quickly invert onto a serving plate.
Scones are the quintessential, must be baked at home and eaten immediately foodstuff. Good scones are all about lightness and texture …. crumbly but a little moist, slightly dense but not grainy, flaky but not powdery.
The secret to a good moist scone that is also light, is in the proportion of rising agent to flour. Use too much leaving and your scone will definitely rise but be overpowered by baking powder chemicals. It is also important to keep the mixing to an absolute minimum or the gluten in the flour gets overworked, which makes the dough elastic and consequently the baked scones hard.
Many recipes call for self-rising flour as a staple ingredient. Often times, we find ourselves passing these recipes by because we don’t have it on hand, or because we don’t use it enough to actually want to buy it. Luckily, self-rising flour is easy to make at home. It requires only three ingredients and can be used in both recipes that call for it as an ingredient, and as a substitute for regular flour in quick-rise recipes to cut down on separate leavening agents.
The glaze is definitely the ‘icing on the cake’ when it comes to these scones. Chambord Liqueur is created using all natural ingredients. Black and red raspberries are blended before being steeped in Cognac to achieve a highly concentrated base. The mixture is then extracted and a second infusion captures the remaining flavors from the berries. The final step marries the berry infusion with Cognac and extracts of Madagascan vanilla, Moroccan citrus peel, honey and hints of fragrant herbs.
The total combination of scone and glaze is absolutely awesome!
Mango Scones w/ Chambord Glaze
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, cardamom & lemon zest. With fingertips, cut in grated butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg & vanilla; add to flour mixture. Fold in JUST until incorporated then carefully fold in mangos.
Place dough on parchment paper lined baking sheet. With lightly floured hands, pat dough into an 8-inch circle. Score into 8 or 12 wedges.
Bake 20 minutes or until golden & test done. Cover lightly with foil if over browning before finished baking. Remove from oven to a cooling rack. cool slightly before glazing.
In a small dish, combine glaze ingredients & drizzle over cooled scones. Decorate with raspberries & mango if desired.
Self-rising flour contains baking powder in a proportion that is perfect for most sponge cakes, cupcakes and scones. Some recipes may ask for a little additional baking powder to be added, particularly if the cake is made with an all-in-one method as omitting the creaming stage in the cake making means less air is incorporated into the batter during the mixing stage. Other times a small amount of baking soda is added if the ingredients include cocoa powder, yogurt or buttermilk.
- For 1 cup of self-rising flour use: 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder & 1/4 tsp salt. Multiply the amount as needed to create a larger amount.
It’s become that time of year. Our warm summer nights have slowly given way to crisp air. Layers have started to enter our daily fashion. Food preparation starts to gravitate towards warmth and comfort food. Pears of all shapes and colors, are waiting for us to pull out our oven mitts and get cooking. And, like so many fruits, there is the right variety for every job.
Here, sweet cinnamon bread meets juicy pears and the savory bite of Gruyere cheese. You want a pear variety that will hold its shape and won’t exude too much moisture as the bread pudding bakes, such as Anjou.
The nutty flavor of Gruyere compliments the pears and the cinnamon bread base. Its all bathed in a milk and egg mixture and left to sit in the fridge overnight. The next morning, simply bake and enjoy with the addition of something salty like you guessed it …. bacon!!
In 2015, ‘The Taste of a Memory’, a memorabilia/cookbook I wrote as a tribute to my wonderful parents, was published. It contained a compilation of stories, articles, recipes and reflections that evoke an intimate memory, a special time period and fond emotion brought about by the aroma and taste of food. Writing them down not only put them in print but allowed me to take a mental journey back to a gentler time.
This bread pudding recipe comes out of the low calorie section of that book. Who says bread pudding can’t be diet food !!
Pear & Gruyere Bread Pudding
Cinnamon Swirl Bread
In a small bowl, whisk together yeast, 1 tsp sugar & lukewarm water. Set aside until mixture begins to form a frothy foam, about 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, dry milk powder & salt. Add yeast mixture, melted butter, vanilla, raisins (if using) & beaten egg. Combine until dough comes together in a ball & no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise until nearly doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. In a small dish combine 1/4 cup sugar with 1 Tbsp cinnamon.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough into a 9 x 24-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with egg wash mixture & sprinkle with cinnamon /sugar mixture. Starting with a short end, roll the dough into a tight log & place seam-side down into greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
Allow to rise, covered, for 40-60 minutes until loaf has crested 1/2-inch over the rim of the pan. Preheat oven to 350 F. while the bread is rising. Brush the loaf with egg wash & bake for 45-60 minutes, until golden. Cool the loaf in pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
In a large bowl, combine pears, butter & 1 Tbsp sugar; toss gently. Butter a 9 x 9-inch glass baking dish & arrange half of the bread in it. Spoon pear mixture evenly over bread & top with shredded cheese. Arrange remaining bread over cheese.
In a bowl, whisk together remaining 5 Tbsp sugar, milk, egg substitute & cinnamon. Pour milk mixture over bread pudding, pressing down lightly to submerge. Cover & chill 8 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Uncover, sprinkle with 1 Tbsp sugar evenly over pudding. Bake for 55 minutes or until golden & set. Allow to rest 10 minutes before serving.
- If you are making the cinnamon swirl bread, it helps to do this the day before making the bread pudding.
- Alternately you could make your life easier & just purchase the cinnamon loaf at a good bakery.
Though they come in all shapes and sizes, dumplings are a near-universal culinary constant as almost every culture has one. So naturally, dumpling recipes are incredibly versatile, coming with a wide array of fillings, wrappers, shapes and sizes. Eaten as an appetizer, dessert, side dish or for the main meal, they might just be the ultimate comfort food.
Chicken and shrimp go together surprisingly well, and this dish is no exception. In March of this year (2021), I posted a blog about Russian Pelmeni. Since then, Brion & I have had ‘pelmeni’ numerous times in which I’ve experimented with various fillings. In case you’re not familiar with these dumplings, traditional Russian pelmeni consist of a filling wrapped in thin, unleavened dough. The word “pelmeni” describes the ear-shaped appearance of these dumplings.
When I made them for the March blog, I used a different technique for preparing them. Instead of making them into the traditional ear shape, I rolled the dough out into a large rectangle. I then spread the raw meat filling over it very thinly and rolled it up in a jelly roll fashion. After slicing the roll into 2-inch pieces, they were steam cooked in broth in a skillet. It’s a quick and easy take on authentic pelmeni.
Since Brion & I eat a lot of chicken and shrimp, I could see no reason to ‘develop’ a new version with an almost oriental twist on it.
Shrimp & Chicken Pelmeni
Broth for Steaming Pelmeni
Broth for Steaming Pelmeni
In a bowl, combine all dough ingredients & knead until a smooth dough ball forms, about 10 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap & set aside to rest until your filling is prepared.
Chop mushrooms & mince garlic. In a skillet, heat butter & add garlic. When aromatic & light golden, add mushrooms & a light sprinkle of salt. Cook for about 2 minutes, until fragrant, soft & roughly a third of the original volume. Set aside in a bowl to cool.
Chop shrimp into pieces the size of large peas. Add to the mushrooms with the chicken, green onion, water chestnuts & ginger. Combine with a fork.
Stir together salt & white pepper, sugar, soy sauce & water. Pour over the filling; stir to mix & firm up. Cover & set aside to rest for 30 minutes.
Once dough has rested, transfer to a floured surface. Roll out the dough into a large, THIN rectangle. Spread filling over the dough, leaving a 1/4-inch at the far side of the dough.
Tightly roll dough up, starting from the wider side, forming a log. Put seam side down to seal the edges. Seal ends of the dough as well. Using a very sharp knife, cut the dough log into 2-inch sections.
In a large skillet that will accommodate all pelmeni, heat oil & cook onion until translucent. Add garlic & continue cooking until fragrant. Add grated carrot; cook about 1-2 minutes more.
Place pelmeni rolls on top of veggies, add vegetable broth, salt & pepper. Cover with a lid & simmer for 30 minutes on a low heat. Check pelmeni from time to time, to make sure there is still some broth in the skillet. Add more broth if it evaporates too fast. Garnish with extra sliced green onions if desired. Serve.
- A nice condiment for these dumplings would be a sweet chili sauce.
Cheese, generally speaking, is not a tough sell. Even so, it is hard sometimes to convince someone to stray from the usual cheesy standbys and try something new. Comte is a creamy, nutty tasting French cheese that absolutely deserves to be checked out.
A fairly firm cheese that can be sliced, cubed or grated. Besides being versatile for uses in both sweet and savory cooking, Comte has a good shelf life. If you buy a wedge and it doesn’t get entirely used up, it can sit in the fridge for a week or three and it will be fine.
Cheese and dessert pairings are almost better than cheese and wine pairings. If you have the right cheese and dessert, the contrasting flavors complement each other so well you’ll never eat one without the other again. Your probably quite familiar with apple pie and cheddar cheese. The nutty, earthy flavor of the Comte cheese in these little pie bites definitely kicks that ‘sweet-savory’ appeal up a notch.
Comte Apple Pie Bites
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, sugar & salt. Cube butter & cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until butter is about pea size & mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add cold water, 1 Tbsp at a time, mixing with a fork ONLY until dough starts to pull together. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface & shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic & chill for an hour.
Place the chopped apples, cinnamon, sugar & lemon juice into a skillet over medium high heat. Cook, stirring often, until all the liquid has completely evaporated & the apples have softened, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat & place in a small bowl; add flour. Stir to combine. Cool completely before using. If apples are too wet, drain away any excess liquid.
Prepare egg wash. Remove pastry from fridge & roll out to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 4-inch cookie cutter, cut into 18 rounds.
On each round place a heaping teaspoon of apple filling & sprinkle with a bit of Comte cheese. Fold in half & seal with a fork or alternately use a perogy cutter to cut , fold & seal.
Place the mini turnovers on a parchment lined baking sheet & keep in the fridge or freezer while you continue to make the rest of the pastries.
Brush egg was all over the pastry crusts. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of coarse sugar. Bake for about 14 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
Remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining cheese & place pastries on a wire rack to cool.
Recently we purchased a bag of apples that turned out to be a bit too mealy to eat fresh. Making them into applesauce seemed like the best solution to the problem. One thing for sure, there’s no shortage of ways to make use it it, from an oatmeal stir-in to a pork meat accompaniment.
Baking with applesauce to replace some or all of the fat adds fiber and reduces calories in cakes, muffins and breads. Because of its water content, it will also help keep baked goods moist and fresh longer. Applesauce acts like the fat because it keeps the flour protein from mixing completely with the wet ingredients and forming a rubbery texture. I’ve noticed that sometimes you need to lengthen your baking time a bit when using applesauce.
Over the years there have been countless recipes for various pudding cakes. While baking, the cake portion rises to the top and a creamy pudding-like sauce forms on the bottom. This fall version does not disappoint.
Carrot Pudding Cake
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9 x 9-inch baking dish with baking spray.
Using a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar & spices.
In a medium bowl, whisk together applesauce, milk, melted butter, vanilla & grated carrots. Gradually whisk the wet ingredients into dry ingredients; scrape batter into baking dish.
In a small bowl, whisk together white & brown sugar & either chopped walnuts or whole pepita seeds. Sprinkle over batter. Carefully pour the hot water over the top.
Bake for 45-55 minutes or until middle is set. After removing from oven, allow to cool for 10 before serving with ice cream or whipped cream.