Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gift giving dilemma? The answer is BAKING!

I recently joined a good friend in celebrating his birthday. It was not a 'significant' birthday, and just a lovely casual Sunday brunch at a cafe. In the days leading up to the birthday get-together, I pondered the question of what to give? I didn't want to turn up empty handed, of course. The intention is to show the person that you are happy for them, that you think they are special and the friendship you share is important to you, right? How can you communicate that in a gift?

Usually we try to buy something that the person will enjoy or find useful, but very often we end up getting whatever is easiest and honestly, not that much thought is involved.

I personally find men particularly difficult to buy gifts for. But in this instance, it occured to me in a moment of pure inspiration; this guy always loves my cakes. So why not just make him a cake?

And that is exactly what I did. Cooking something can really be the perfect gift. It not only conveys to the person how you feel about them, it shows that you think enough of them to do more than walk into a store and use your credit card. It is something that can be enjoyed and shared.

The recipe that I used in this case has been heavily influenced by my current obsession with French/Australian chef, Guillaume Brahimi. I think his recipes based on French classics are truely wonderful and I have been delighted with the results of every one that I have tried so far.

The recipe I chose was a French classic called 'Clafoutis', (pronounced kla-fou-ti). It is a kind of baked batter tart with fresh fruit; traditionally cherries, and a batter based on almond meal. The Guillaume recipe was for individual cherry clafoutis, and aired on SBS TV. You can find his awesome recipe here.

As usual, I am compelled to tweak and alter the recipes of others, even the mighty and fabulous Guillaume. I hope he can forgive me....

So here it is, my recipe, heavily inspired by the wonderous Guillaume recipe, of ....



Poached pears

6 corella (or other small) pears
750 mls red wine, (heavy red wine variety preferably)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste or 1 split & scraped vanilla bean
2 large peelings of orange zest
100 gm caster sugar

Peel pears, leaving stalks intact, and core from the base with a melon baller, or a small paring knife, leaving the pear whole.

Combine sugar, wine and spices/flavourings in wide saucepan. Stir to disolve sugar. Place pears in poaching fluid, on a medium heat. Pears will only be partially submerged so be sure to turn them over a couple of times during the poaching process to ensure all of the pear is coloured by the wine. When pears feel about half cooked, ie: softened but still some firmness (about 15 minutes) remove from fluid with slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Save poaching fluid for a later use in this recipe.

Gorgeous pears stained a rosy colour from the red wine.
120g almond meal
30g corn flour
200g caster sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
50ml cream
60g butter, melted
Line a 20 cm (8 inch) spring form cake tin with baking paper. Pre heat oven ot 180 degrees C.
In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and whisk to ensure they are evenly combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add eggs and yolks. Whisk to combine. Whisk in cream and melted butter.

The batter, mixed
Take cooled pears and, with a small paring knife, slice, starting about 1cm from the base of the stalk. Slice in a curve through to the base of the pear. continue with slices about 1-1.5 cm apart.
Curvey sliced pear
 When all the pears are sliced but still joined at the tops, take each pear and place into the lined tin, sitting on their bases with stalk pointing upwards. press down on each pear allowing the slices to fan out a little bit.
Pears arranged in their tin, ready for the batter.
 Pour the prepared batter around the pears ensuring it is evenly distributed amongst them. Give the tin a tap on your bench to allow air pocket to release.
Bake for 60-75 minutes. I begin checking on the clafoutis after 60 minutes by poking a wooden skewer into the center to see if it comes out clean. If it doesn't I recheck at 10 minute intervals to ensure the cake does not over cook and dry. When cooked in the middle, remove from oven and cool in its tin. May be served still warm with ice cream, cream and mulled wine reduction.

The finished product.
Mulled wine reduction
Strain poaching fluid through a fine sieve. Return to saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar, stir and simmer on a medium heat until fluid reduces by half, and had a glossy, dark, viscose appearence. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Serve with freshly baked clafoutis or pour into a clean sealable jar for future use on other desserts.
I have made this clafoutis several times with other variations but this incarnation is, so far, my favourite. If you can't be bothered to poach pears for this, you could use a softer fruit like berries or indeed the original cherries. Since we are coming into the summer, any of the ripe summer fruits would work beautifully. I use frozen berries when they are out of season as their quality is excellent and they really lend themselves to great results for baking. Any of the stone fruits coming into season would be wonderful in this dish, if you can stand not to eat them before you bake them of course!
My friend seemed to like his gift of clafoutis, and messaged me later to say that he had taken it into his work to share with his workmates the next day. Apparently some of them wanted the recipe, so if any of Petes' work colleagues are reading this, a big shout out to you! I would love you to tell me what you thought of the clafoutis as I didn't actually get the chance to sample any myself.
I love getting feedback on how my recipes have worked out for you or what you think of what I'm saying or cooking. All responses graciously received!

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