The fruity fron­tier

Our colum­nist’s search for the per­fect clafoutis recipe comes by way of Tran­syl­va­nia – a golden beauty stud­ded with green­gage plums as vel­vety as they are ver­dant

The Guardian - Cook - - King Of Puddings - Jeremy Lee Jeremy Lee is the chef­pro­pri­etor of Quo Vadis restau­rant in London; @jere­myleeqv

Plums are the trib­bles of the fruit world, so abun­dant are they. How could one ever for­get the scene in Star Trek when Cap­tain Kirk al­most smiled – “Cute!” – as the USS En­ter­prise was over­run by these fuzzy lit­tle things. (I am not too sure he did, but in this in­stance one might have for­given him.)

De­light­ful in ev­ery way, plums have the ex­tra­or­di­nary abil­ity to ap­pear in such vast amounts that it is over­whelm­ing.

I find that a rea­son­ably straight­for­ward way to chart a course through the sea of plums is to choose a green one. That said, there is only one green plum in rel­a­tively plen­ti­ful sup­ply – the green­gage – which seems bril­liantly to re­sist com­mer­cial dis­as­ter. Not wish­ing to be un­kind, the more com­mer­cial va­ri­eties of plums have an un­canny knack of never ripen­ing, re­main­ing firm, im­pos­si­ble to stone and, well, jam very badly.

The pud­ding this week is a green­gage clafoutis, a clas­sic dessert that adores any good va­ri­ety of plum. Should fruit avail­abil­ity prove trou­ble­some, fear not: a prune is also ex­cel­lent here, as is a pear, per­haps poached, or lightly caramelised, even.

This seem­ingly sim­ple recipe baf­fled me for many years, as I end­lessly ended up with a leaden duf­fer of a pud, so much so that I quite gave up on it. It was at a lunch in Tran­syl­va­nia, quite lit­er­ally, that my ad­mi­ra­tion for clafoutis was re­stored might­ily. I had been flown to Cluj and driven to Turda on the Tran­syl­va­nian plains, a his­tor­i­cal re­gion in Ro­ma­nia renowned for its beauty. The mar­ket in Turda had ta­bles piled high with some of the finest, fresh­est pro­duce I have ever seen for sale in a mar­ket.

One day, we jour­neyed for sev­eral hours to an an­cient vil­lage called Copsa Mare. There we ate very well at the Copsa Mare Guest­house. A good lunch was con­cluded with a beau­ti­ful pud­ding that was as close to be­ing a clafoutis as can be – made with rhubarb.

How was this pud­ding made, I asked? The recipe kindly of­fered was from Si­mona Secju, the cook who had made it. As with recipes close to the heart of the cook, I could not cap­ture the magic of this lovely pud­ding.

It is so of­ten time and place that de­fines a recipe.

But not long af­ter I had re­turned home from this Carpathian ad­ven­ture, I pulled a copy of Mas­ter­ing The Art of French Cook­ing – by those good women Ju­lia Child, Louisette Berthold and Si­mone Beck – from the shelf, to see whether the clafoutis recipe in their book might in­deed be a dis­tant cousin to what I had en­joyed at lunch in Tran­syl­va­nia.

The re­sult was ex­cel­lent! I smiled to my­self that, like the Wizard of Oz story, it took a trip to Tran­syl­va­nia to make me find a recipe I had had all along; to make a pud­ding that made – at last – for happy mem­o­ries.

Plum clafoutis Serves 6-8

250ml milk

80g caster sugar, re­serve 30g for sprin­kling at the end

3 eggs

1 vanilla pod

A pinch of salt

65g plain flour

500g green­gages, mirabelles, or any firm dark plum like a Vic­to­ria (or best prunes, or even a poached pear), halved and stones re­moved

1 Heat the oven to 170C/335F/gas 3½. Lightly but­ter a cast-iron fry­ing pan or an earth­en­ware dish near enough 25cm in di­am­e­ter.

2 Put the milk, 50g caster sugar, eggs, vanilla pod, a pinch of salt and the flour, in the or­der listed, in a liq­uidiser. Cover and blend for 1 minute.

3 Pour the bat­ter into the bak­ing dish un­til it reaches a depth of 2cm. Put the dish over a mod­er­ate heat for

1-2 min­utes, un­til a film of bat­ter has set in the bot­tom of the dish.

4 Re­move the dish from the heat. Dot the plum halves all over the bat­ter, then sprin­kle the re­main­ing 30g of sugar over the top. Pour in the rest of the bat­ter and smooth with the back of a spoon.

5 Put in the mid­dle of the oven and bake for about an hour. The clafoutis is done when puffed and browned, and a knife or skewer plunged into its cen­tre comes out clean. Best served warm, and re­quires only a lit­tle cream to ac­com­pany.

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