The Musette: cherry clafoutis

In full bloom

As we head big time into cherry season here, it seems only right and proper that I’ve prepared a French Classic using these fresh, succulent, juicy red cherries. However, bottled ones or frozen will do just as well. This is yet another recipe where every French woman declares that her grandmother’s recipe is simply the best.

Lots of plump juicy griottines

Traditionally this dessert is made with whole cherries but I prefer to remove the stones. Safer for everyone’s teeth!

Ingredients (serves six)

  • 350g (approx 12oz) sweet cherries, washed, stems removed and pitted
  • 150g (1 cup) caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp freshly finely grated lemon zest
  • 4 medium organic eggs, approx 40g (1½oz) in weight without the shell
  • 2 tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 50g (¾ cup) freshly ground almonds
  • 100g (1 cup) crème fraîche
  • 100ml (⅓ cup + 2 tbsp) milk, buttermilk or cream
  • ¼ tsp of fine sea salt
  • Icing (powdered) sugar for dusting

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan).

2. Butter the base and sides of a 20cm (8″) square baking dish or similar.

3. Place the cherries into the bottom of the dish. A lot of recipes call for the fruit to be added after the batter, but I prefer to keep the contents a surprise and not have them poking through the batter where they might catch and char. In addition, cherries often bleed their juices into the batter which I personally think makes the dish look less attractive.

4. Whisk the eggs, salt, lemon zest and sugar until light and fluffy.

5. Sift in the flour and gently fold into the egg mixture with the ground almonds.

6. Then gently stir in the milk and crème fraîche.

7. Pour the batter over the cherries, place the baking dish into a bain marie (water bath)  – I find this helps the dish cook more evenly – put it in the centre of the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown on top and set. The batter will rise up and then sink back down again.

8. Allow to cool for 15 minutes or so – it tastes better warm – before dusting with icing (powdered) sugar and serving with a big dollop of crème fraîche!

I like it best just warm

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the clafoutis in the oven, put the timer on for five minutes less than it should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. You can make clafoutis using pretty much any soft fruit or berries. I’ve made them with raspberries, pears, plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines. I tend to change around the flavourings to suit the fruit. For example if I use plums, I’ll infuse the milk with cinnamon and star anise and omit the lemon zest. It’s yet another recipe where you can let your imagination take over.

4. I’ve also make clafoutis with ground pistachios – they turn the batter a delicate jade green – and cherries but have found that when using hazelnuts or walnuts, the remaining bits of skin adhering to the nuts gives the batter an unfortunate muddy colour.

5. The dish can also be turned into a savoury one. Omit the sugar, fruit and lemon zest, substituting approx 100g (3½oz) cubes of feta cheese and a similar amount of cherry tomatoes and half that amount of pitted black olives. Or add 250g (9oz) of chopped roasted vegetables to the batter. A handful of complimentary chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, dill or a tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme wouldn’t go amiss.

The Musette: cassoulet

This recipe for lamb casserole with beans would have fed four hungry cyclists, but I only had two to feed. So, what to do with the leftovers? I made that French classic cassoulet. Now, there are a million and one recipes for this dish  – named after its cooking vessel – but my version leans towards the one from Toulouse which uses cold roast shoulder of lamb. In essence, the dish mixes cold roast meats and sausages with tomatoey cannellini or haricot beans and is topped with breadcrumbs.

If you don’t have any leftovers from previous recipes, see my handy hints section at the end for alternatives.

Ingredients (serves eight cyclists)

  • 500g (approx 1lb) of cold cooked shoulder of lamb
  • 500g (approx 1lb) of tomatoey cannellini or haricot beans
  • 500g (approx 1lb) of Toulouse sausage, or any other coarse-cut pure pork sausage
  • Tin containing four confit duck legs (or see handy hints section on how to confit duck legs)
  • 225g (8oz) home-made fresh breadcrumbs reduced to rubble, rather than fine dust (Do NOT use ones from a packet)
  • A large handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Method

1. Remove the confit duck legs from the tin scraping off as much as possible of the duck fat – save for roast potatoes. Brown the legs on a trivet in a roasting tray in a hot pre-heated oven at 220ºC/200ºC fan/gas mark 7 (425ºF/390ºF fan) for 20 minutes. Allow to cool before stripping meat from the bones. The skin is delicious but fatty, so I strip that off too but, to be honest, it does taste better if you leave it on the meat.

2. Meanwhile boil the sausages in some hot water to eliminate any excess fat for around 10 minutes and then place them in the oven with the duck legs, also for around 20 minutes. Leave to cool and cut into bite-sized chunks.

3. Shred the cold lamb and add with the cold duck meat and sausage to the cold bean mixture. Stir carefully to evenly distribute the meats throughout. If, horror of horrors, you find you don’t have enough bean mixture, don’t panic, just add an extra can of beans (drained and rinsed) and another tin of diced tomatoes. Pile the mixture either into one large or a number of casserole dishes.

4. Sprinkle the breadcrumb and chopped parsley mixture on top. You can add a little of the duck fat to the breadcrumbs if you dare, then put the casserole dish(es) into the slow oven at 150ºC/130ºC fan/gas mark 2 (300ºF/270ºF fan) for an hour or so to turn golden brown on top. Serve with a crisp green salad, baguette and, maybe, a glass of red wine.

5. I find this makes enough for eight servings. So I have two sets of three servings wrapped in cling-film in the freezer to feed any unexpected visitors.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you don’t have any cold lamb leftovers, you can substitute cold roast pork or even ham. Just remember to cut off any excess fat.

2. You can of course prepare the beans from scratch. I often do this in bulk as follows:

  • 900g (2lb) haricot or cannellini beans soaked overnight in plenty of cold water and then drained
  • 450g (1lb) salt pork (as pictured above in additional ingredients) or even pigs’ trotters!
  • 3 small onions peeled, each stuck with a clove
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 3 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • White of one fat leek, roughly chopped
  • 1 bouquet garni of fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, bay leaf and rosemary) or 1 dried bouquet, plus a handful of fresh parsley stalks

Put the pre-soaked beans into a large saucepan with just enough water to cover, bring to the boil, cover with a lid, remove from the heat and leave for 40 minutes or so. This helps make them much more digestible. Drain the beans, cover them again with the same amount of cold water. Meanwhile bring the salt pork or trotters to the boil in plenty of water and drain immediately. Add these to the beans along with the other ingredients. Bring to the boil, skim, then cover and cook for two hours.

When cool, remove and discard the vegetables and the bouquet garni. Take out the salt pork or the trotters, allow to cool, cut into bite-sized chunks and (see above) add to the other meats. Drain the beans and take out half of them. To the remainder add 2 x 400g (2 x 14oz) tins of chopped tomatoes and 1 tbsp of tomato paste, heat gently through for 30 minutes and allow to cool.

3. The beans in a true cassoulet are not too tomatoey, so feel free to reduce the quantity of tomatoes and eliminate the paste entirely if you prefer.

4. If you don’t have tinned confit duck you could substitute roast duck legs or again you can prepare them from scratch, as follows:

  • 4 duck legs
  • 500g (1lb) of sea salt
  • Pepper
  • 225g (8oz) duck or goose fat
  • 1 clove of garlic (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • Sprig of fresh thyme (optional)
  • 250ml (1 cup) of white wine

Shake a layer of salt onto a plate, pepper the duck legs then place them on the layer of salt with the garlic and herbs. Cover with the rest of the salt, cover the plate with clingfilm (plastic wrap) and refrigerate for 36 hours. Remove the duck from the salt mixture, brush off any excess and place them in a casserole dish with the duck or goose fat, the glass of white wine and one of water. Cover with a layer of crumpled, damp greaseproof paper and a lid. Cook gently in a slow oven at 150ºC/130ºC fan/gas mark 2 (300ºF/250ºF fan) for three hours. Take out of the oven and leave to cool in the fat.

5. Feel free to play around with the proportions and mix of meats to beans to make the dish go further.

6. If the cassoulet looks as if it’s drying out, you can add a little water, add a second crust and return to the oven to brown. It won’t spoil – trust me.