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IN THE KITCHEN

Summer Fruits : Easier Than Pie

June 29, 1995|RUSS PARSONS | TIMES DEPUTY FOOD EDITOR

The first time I saw a picture of clafoutis , I knew I had to make one. This was years ago in the cookbook "Paul Bocuse Cooks at Home," and the dish was gorgeous, something like a cross between a pancake and a custard, puffed and brown and homey and dotted with melting cherries.

I ran out and bought the cherries, came home, whipped up the batter and stuck the clafoutis in the oven. What came out was extremely un-special--much more a pancake than a custard, and a pretty tough little pancake at that.

"Oh, well," I thought and filed it away under "lessons learned."

Then a couple of months ago, eating dinner with my daughter in a little French restaurant in New York, clafoutis showed up on the menu. Still curious, I tried again and it was nothing like the one I'd made. This clafoutis was tender, almost custardy. It was perfect with cherries and I could easily see how it could be adapted to fit any soft summer fruit.

I decided it was time for another try. I pulled out the Bocuse book and tried again. Same result.

This time, though, I was determined to get it right. So I gathered a stack of French cookbooks and went to work. The first one was my trusty blue-jacketed "Larousse Gastronomique" (the 1961 edition, not the newer one). Larousse describes clafouti (spelling it without the "s") as "a homely preparation in Limousin, this is a kind of fruit pastry or thick fruit pancake, made usually with black cherries." Not exactly enticing, and neither was the recipe that followed. Again, the clafoutis was much too stiff and cake-like, though not as dried out as Bocuse's.

*

Julia Child's recipe from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking"--using only a third the flour and more than twice the liquid of Bocuse's recipe--turned out to be much closer to what I had in mind. And I'd had such good country food from Lulu Peyraud and Richard Olney's "Lulu's Table" that I tried their version, even though, since she's a Provencal cook, her recipe should be somewhat suspect. In fact, it turned out to be much the same as Child's, though quite a bit sweeter ( 1/2 cup of sugar to Child's 1/3 cup).

Just on a whim, I checked out Joel Robuchon and Patricia Wells' "Simply French," another cookbook that has been a never-fail source of great recipes. You don't go to a three-star chef for maman food, and predictably, Robuchon's recipe is very much of a reinterpretation--a custard in a pastry crust, with fragments of cookie dough on top.

But Wells included her own recipe for a clafoutis --one made with pears and star anise, of all things--and I thought that just in the interest of thoroughness, I should try it too. Surprisingly, the batter--made with equal parts cream and milk--turned out to be much more like what I had in mind than the other, milk-based, recipes.

So, armed with the fruits of my research and apricots and plums from the market, I set to work inventing my own. After several trials, what I ended up with was something made with Wells' combination of milk and cream, but with more flour (to make it just a little more cake-like) and much less sugar.

*

The truly wonderful thing about this recipe is its adaptability. Clafoutis , it turns out, is just about the perfect way to present summer's soft fruits. Tweak the seasoning just a little bit, and this recipe can be made with cherries (substitute cherry liqueur or vanilla for the almond extract), peaches or nectarines (combine with raspberries instead of almonds) or plums (a little ground clove, or maybe dust the top with cinnamon sugar?).

Not only that, but you can't imagine anything easier. Essentially, this is a very eggy pancake batter that you simply pour over sliced fruit. Mix the batter in a food processor or blender (I found the blender did a better job of dispersing the flour), let it stand for 10 minutes or so, pour it over the fruit and then stick the whole thing in the oven.

At this time of year, dessert in my house usually revolves around cobblers and crisps--homey all-American fruit desserts that you can put together pretty quickly. Let's just say that this summer, I'm a fool for my clafoutis .

APRICOT-ALMOND CLAFOUTIS

Sugar

3 eggs

3/4 cup whipping cream

3/4 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup flour

8 apricots, about, cut in half and pitted

1/3 cup slivered almonds

*

* In blender or food processor, blend 1/4 cup sugar, eggs, cream, milk and almond extract until smooth. Sift flour over mixture and pulse just to mix. Set batter aside to stand 10 minutes.

* Arrange apricots, cut-side down, in heavily buttered and sugared 9-inch glass pie plate. When batter has rested, pour batter over apricots. Sprinkle with almonds and another 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar.

* Bake at 400 degrees until puffed and brown, about 45 minutes. Serve immediately.

*

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Each of 6 servings contains about:

290 calories; 59 mg sodium; 142 mg cholesterol; 17 grams fat; 30 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.69 gram fiber.

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