Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Quiet Night with Cherry Cake

When you find yourself at the cool end of a warm day, finished with work and settling onto your couch with a good movie and great company nearby, it is most certainly an occasion that calls for cake.

This fact is only further supported when you have the first of summer's cherries in your fridge, pink, red, and ruby...just waiting for some sugar.

I can personally attest to the fact that on a typical night it often requires great feats of strength to put down the chinese food take-out menu and make yourself something for dinner. Cake? On a weeknight? Who has the time?

Clatfoutis is your answer. Sounds French and fancy, yes. And well, French it is. But fancy? Not this cake. A classic dessert francais, typically baked with cherries though almost any fruit can be substituted, Clafoutis is almost like a custard, but golden brown on top and in this case packed with sweet and tart, brilliant, shiny cherries.

Like couch potatoes Russ and I spent Monday night wielded chopsticks, pitting cherries on the sofa, squirting pink juice on our arms and faces, thankful that our coffee table is already stained and that our carpet is dark...

During the first year of my time spent studying pastry, I took a class with one particularly snappy chef who was known to bring a tear to more than one sweet pastry-chef-in-the-making. Broad shouldered and angry eyebrowed, she never failed to make me chuckle on the days when she would scream, thick with the accent of rural Pennsylvania, "Class! Today we are going to attempt to make clah-FOO-die!"

No matter how you want to pronounce it, who can be angry when you are baking with a bowlful of these?

So. Why now is this dessert the answer? Flour and sugar stirred together, eggs and milk whisked in to combine, in less than a full sentence you are almost ready to put the cake in the oven. You don't even need to cut the cherries. And, in this particular recipe, like many others, there isn't a pat of butter to be found...so if you feel so inclined, pretend its not even dessert.

For this recipe I used muffin tins rather than the traditional round cake pan or skillet, creating mini clafoutis perfect for seconds. Or thirds. Or fourths...

(I just ran to the fridge and ate another one.)

On top of work and bills and meetings and errands, sometimes all it takes is a little cake to bring some well deserved quiet.

I will admit that baking the cake in the smaller muffin rounds created a darker edge than I'd have liked; make sure you keep an eye on the little guys so the outside doesn't burn! With this recipe they will souffle in the oven and sink a bit once they come out. It's okay. Taste one, you'll see.

If you aren't a cherry fan use sliced strawberries, peaches, blueberries or plums. All you need is a few minutes in your kitchen, a calm evening and an appetite for cake. Pick out a good movie, preheat the oven, and treat yourself to a little piece and quiet.

Cherry Clafoutis
adapted from The King Arthur Flour Company's Baking Companion

3/4 C flour
2/3 C sugar
3 eggs
1 1/4 C whole milk
1 1/4 t vanilla
2-3 cups pitted cherries, whole

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease two muffin trays and set aside.
2. In a bowl whisk together flour and sugar.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until light and foamy.
4. Add milk and vanilla to eggs and whisk to combine.
5. Add egg mixture to flour in three additions, whisking to make sure there are no lumps!
6. Place 4 cherries into the cups of the greased muffin tray.
7. Fill 1/2 of each muffin cup with batter.
8. Bake for 25-30 minutes. A tester should come out of the cakes clean and the tops should just be turning slightly golden.

*An alternative to the muffin tins, as suggested by the cookbook authors, this recipe can be baked in a 9" cake pan for 40-45 min.

approx. 20 miniature clah-FOO-dies!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

An Hour Away

Did we leave off somewhere with jam?

I almost can't remember, its been a set of those kind of weeks. Picking at leftovers in the fridge, ordering out...I hate to leave you for so long without a good snack. I really do. I had grand plans of coming back with a bang, a recipe for a gooey cake, or a magnificent new way to cook asparagus.

What I ended up with was a simple salad of spinach and tomatoes, and a decision that before ingenious chocolate cake needed to come a plain, simple get away. To clear the mind. And maybe to find a good eat somewhere out there too...

Only an hour away. The air was salty with a hint of sunscreen. On a quiet, slightly chilly Sunday, Fire Island was almost barren except for a handful of brave little girls in pink bathing suits, pockets of sandy horseshoe crab skeletons, a few stray runners and yes, also a good number of naked beach goers fishing, sleeping, tossing a frisbee and whatever else their chilly little behinds desired.

Strolling by all kinds, we wandered into the beach bum town of Kismet, complete with a village of uniquely individual houses with clever names carved into wood signs, no cars, one sweet shop and a hoppin' fish shack overlooking the pier. Starving and ready to eat anything, I had my first run in with clams on the half shell.

It went well.

Paired with iced tea, like the best part of chowder the firm little bites of seafood exploded with the flavors of a gourmet's take on seawater. I could have eaten at least a dozen more.

From empty clam shells we moved to soft shell crab sandwiches, served on crispy white bread toast just as it ought to be on the deck of a seafood pub blasting tunes from a neon jukebox inside. We got carried away with seriously fried onion rings and a big plate of fries...before I got to taking a picture of my sandwich for you I had eaten all of it.

So I took a picture of a pretty lighthouse instead.

I know, I know. Where's the toast? A lighthouse is no soft shell crab. But in their own way, they both leave you with a smile and sometimes, like going from Brooklyn to beach, something different is nice.

Feeling full and happy we started on the road home. I quickly fell asleep, into a coma of seafood and sandy toes, relaxed, slightly rosy from the sun and with a head full of wind swept, suncreeny crazy hair I never intended to share a picture of with anyone. (You'd thank me if you'd seen it.)

And now I'm back. There are strawberries at the market that are like nothing else. Tomatoes are popping up and sugar snap peas right beside. I've washed the sand from my feet and can just remember the salty taste of those clams...the hour away was needed and nice.

But it is good to be home. Better when there are strawberries around. And maybe it's time for that ingenious cake...