Apple and prune flaugnarde
I would normally just go ahead and name this dish apple and prune clafoutis. But it’s not. It has exactly the same custard mix as a clafoutis and it is poured over fruit and baked. But it’s not a clafoutis.
A clafoutis comes from the Limousin region of France and is a custard poured over black cherries and baked. The word clafotís comes from the Occitan dialect, from the verb clafir, which means to fill. So really, it’s about filling the batter with cherries, and the term clafoutis actually applies only to a dish made with black cherries.
This dish’s proper name is an apple and prune flaugnarde.
A flaugnarde is a native dish of the Limousin, Périgord and Auvergne regions of France. It is the name given to any other mix of fruit and nuts baked in the same custard mix as a clafoutis. Its name derives from the Occitan fleunhe, which translates as soft or downy.
Which brings me to another dilemma surrounding this simple little dish. I’m never sure whether it belongs in my custard family or my batter family of recipes. Do I consider it a baked custard that has been lightly thickened and stabilised by flour, or do I consider it a batter and think of it as a sort of French dessert version of a Yorkshire pudding studded with fruit? The French have a slightly different dilemma: whether the dessert should be considered a flan or a cake. The Académie française believes it should be classified as a flan, but the Limousin believe it should be a cake. That’s a debate for another day...
The most important part of this recipe is finding the perfect pan. I love using my two-handled copper serving dishes that are about five centimetres deep and 22 centimetres across. Of course you don’t have to match these dimensions, but one secret to getting a good clafoutis is to fill the pan to the right depth – almost full – allowing the batter to puff up and then shrink back somewhat. A cast-iron pan with a handle that can go in the oven is also a perfect vessel. Before you start, check the volume of your chosen pan. The best way to do this is to fill it with water and measure the volume. Working by volume you can make a large clafoutis, a medium clafoutis or a tiny little treat to eat by yourself.
The ratio for a classic clafoutis is that for every egg you need one tablespoon of sugar, one tablespoon of flour and 160 millilitres of combined milk and cream. To fill my one-litre copper pan I use four eggs.
But before you think about making this, I would like to quote a couple of my favourite writers on food, Niki Segnit and Richard Olney.
Niki says in her incredibly entertaining Lateral Cooking, “… I’ve always found clafoutis either rubbery or stodgy, with a deadening effect on the freshness of the fruit. Given the same ingredients, I’d opt for a delicate crêpe served with a compote”.
In Olney’s French-menu cookbooks he cautions those about to embark on cooking his flaugnarde: “Those accustomed to leavened pastries may, at first contact, find the custardy texture and the somewhat leathery skin bizarre. Its simple honesty rarely fails to seduce.”
So whether a clafoutis or a flaugnarde, whether a batter or a baked custard, or whether a cake or a flan, it appears it is not something for everyone. As someone who is not fond of baked custards, I do fall under the seduction of this recipe, much to my surprise.
Apple and prune flaugnarde
– 8 prunes
– 3 tbsp Armagnac
– 3 cooking apples
– ½ cup sugar
– ¼ cup water
– 50g butter
– 4 eggs
– 60g castor sugar, plus extra for dusting
– 30g plain flour
– 30g cornflour
– 320ml milk
– 320ml thickened cream
– pouring cream, to serve
Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Soak the prunes in two tablespoons of Armagnac.
Peel, core and quarter the apples, then cut in half and lay on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Make a caramel by boiling the sugar and water together. When the caramel is golden, carefully add the butter and stir to melt. Pour the caramel over the apples and bake in the oven until just cooked. The time will depend a little on the ripeness of the apple, but about the 12-minute mark turn the apple pieces over.
With a whisk, beat the eggs, sugar, flour and cornflour until thick and foamy. Gradually add the milk, cream and remaining Armagnac and whisk until well blended. This mixture can be made several hours ahead of time and refrigerated until you are ready to cook it.
Butter the sides and base of your chosen pan and dust with extra sugar (I use raw sugar for extra crunch). Cut the prunes in quarters, mix with the apples and scatter evenly across the bottom of the pan, then carefully pour the batter over the fruit.
Bake for 45 minutes or until puffy, golden and done in the centre (if you give it a little shake there should be no wobble). If making smaller ones, they will take less time to cook.
Remove and allow to cool slightly, then serve with cream.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 3, 2019 as "Flan club". Subscribe here.