Monday, August 17, 2009

Easy French Classics

Well, if you don't know me by now, I'll let you in on a little secret....I love baking french pastries. I also love baking things with a history. I mean, isn't it cool to think, "wow, this recipe is so good, its lasted 1000 years!"? Sometimes I think about that when I'm drinking German or Belgian Trappist beer (the stuff that monks make) since I know they haven't tampered with the recipe they use to finance their lifestyle. As with all things, vintage just feels good.

So this summer, as the price of cherries fell from seriously? to affordable! I went ahead and bought several pounds...several times. When I just couldn't eat another fresh one for fear of skin damage, I decided it was time to explore my cookbooks for a good recipe. Of course the one on french cuisine led me right to a recipe I've never tried, but always wondered about- Cherry Clafoutis. I'm not sure its medieval or anything, but it sure is old. Its basically fruit covered with a sweet eggy batter, which makes a great custard.

This recipe is AWESOME for several reasons- it calls for fresh produce (don't even think about opening up a jar of maraschino), it calls for household ingredients, it calls for cherry brandy (which really enhances the flavors). Typical of many french desserts, most of the ingredients are just subsidiary for the one star ingredient- the fruit! When the french cook at home, it is all about simplicity. They love fruit and sometimes serve it alone/raw as a sweet end to a meal. It makes sense, then, that this dessert is no show-stopper aesthetically-speaking...but as you pour in the brandy, get ready for another story in your mouth...


Another classic I tried this summer? Canneles! They are medieval, actually. Like cute little corks, these custardy rum-punch treats will satisfy an afternoon lethargy like no other. They are made large and mini, but I just have the pans for miniatures, and anyway I like them small for the same reason I like Reese's in snack size- you get more of the outside, which is really the best part. Eat these on day one or two after baking, otherwise the moisture absorbs the sweet crustiness and they are too soft. BTW, the darkness of the crust does not mean burned, rather sweet crunch. The longer they stay in the oven, the more crunchy they get...its a texture thing.


- 1/2 liter (2 cups) milk
- 30 g (3 tablespoons) salted butter, diced
- 1 vanilla pod, split, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
- 100 g (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
- 180 g (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) sugar
- 3 eggs
- 80 ml (1/3 cup) good-quality rum

Yields about 20 medium canelés.

Combine the milk, butter and vanilla in a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer. In the meantime, combine the flour and sugar in a medium mixing-bowl. Break the eggs in another, smaller bowl, and beat gently. When the milk mixture starts to simmer, remove from heat, fish out the vanilla pod if using, and set it aside.

Pour the eggs all at once into the flour mixture (don't stir yet), pour in the milk mixture, and whisk until well combined and a little frothy. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod with the dull side of a knife blade, and return the seeds and pod to the mixture. Add the rum and whisk well. Let cool to room temperature on the counter, then cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.

The next day (or the day after that, or the day after that), preheat the oven to 250° C (480° F). Remove the batter from the fridge: it will have separated a bit, so whisk until well blended again. Pour into the prepared molds, filling them almost to the top. Put into the oven to bake for 20 minutes, then (without opening the oven door) lower the heat to 200° C (400° F) and bake for another 40 to 60 minutes (depending on your oven and how you like your canelés). The canelés are ready when the bottoms are a very dark brown, but not burnt. If you feel they are darkening too fast, cover the molds with a piece of parchment paper.

Unmold onto a cooling rack (wait for about ten minutes first if you're using silicon molds or they will collapse a little) and let cool completely before eating.

Good website to check out (if you read french) and if you don't.

The history of the canele is really interesting. Like many good things, it was first created by some bored religious people in Europe. Caneles were made by nuns in Bordeaux, and have now won status as the official cake of the city. I do love them, and for me, its significant that in 1985 (my birthyear) a committee finally came together to consecrate the cake. Kind of like champagne, the name 'canele' can only be applied if produced in Bordeaux. All other is imitation, and must be monikered, 'cannele bordelais', although that does not change the pronunciation. Ca m'est egal.

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