When my friend Allana Elovson's children were growing up, they always asked their mom to make fruit bake. I tasted Allana's popular fruit bake recently, and I asked her for the recipe. It was indeed the perfect finale for her summertime dinner: delicious, light-textured and very easy to make.
Allana told me she adapted her dessert long ago from a recipe in an old issue of Gourmet magazine and it instantly became a family favorite. To make it, she blends a bit of butter with sugar, an egg, a little flour and vanilla. She spoons the batter over sliced summer fruit and bakes it.
It seems to me that this dessert might have originated in France. Although France is famous for its complex desserts, simple sweets like this abound in the country's fruit-growing regions.
Central France is the land of clafoutis, a warm dessert of batter-baked cherries that has become well known among dessert connoisseurs in the West. The batter might be thick and buttery, or thinned to the consistency of crepe batter with the addition of milk or creme fraiche. Traditionally, the pits are left in the cherries - not just because it's much easier: French cooks feel they add flavor to the custard. The cherries from the original French formula lost their pits on the way to the US, where cooks and diners much prefer pitted cherries in their food.
My friend Linda Zimmerman, author of Puddings, Custards and Flans, makes her clafoutis from peeled, sliced peaches mixed with pitted cherries and flavors the batter with both vanilla and kirsch (clear cherry brandy); she serves the clafoutis warm with creme fraiche.
The region of Brittany in western France is known for a custard dessert called "far breton," which is generally made with prunes or raisins, but sometimes with sliced fresh apples. The batter might be flavored with vanilla sugar or rum and usually contains milk. In the province of Burgundy, people make flamusse from butter-sauteed apples baked in batter. Tartouillat, another Burgundian custard-baked fruit dessert, might be made with cherries or sliced pears and is sprinkled with kirsch at serving time.
Amelie Bar, author of Toutes Les Bases et Les Recettes De La Bonne Cuisine, calls her fruit bake a flan. When she makes it with apricots, cherries, peaches or plums, she flavors the batter with vanilla sugar. With apples and pears, she likes the added accent of grated lemon zest.
Allana is creative with the flavorings. The night she made the dessert for us she added fresh ginger and its flavor was terrific with the nectarines she used. Occasionally, she adds chopped nuts.
One of the reasons I love Allana's dessert is that the fruit is the star, with only a small proportion of batter. She serves her fruit bake the way Americans love warm desserts - topped with a scoop of premium vanilla ice cream.
ALLANA'S SUMMER FRUIT BAKE
Allana Elovson calls her dessert a "stupendous, extremely easy three-step summer dessert" in which "the batter spreads in baking and forms a marvelous crispy golden crust." She notes that you can make it with any stone fruit or combination thereof, or, once summer is gone, with thinly sliced apples. You can double the recipe to make two fruit bakes or one larger one.
Allana told me she has been making her fruit bake for more than 30 years.
Makes 4 or 5 servings
Preheat oven to 190ºC. Place cut fruit in a shallow 3- to 4-cup baking dish.
Sprinkle fruit with a little sugar.
Sift flour with baking powder and salt.
In a bowl, use a fork or beater to blend butter, 2/3 cup sugar, egg and vanilla, blending them well. Add the flour mixture and stir it in.
Spoon large spoonfuls of the batter on top of fruit. It is not necessary to cover fruit completely. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a firm crust has formed. Serve slightly warm.
NOTE: You can sprinkle the fruit with grated ginger or finely chopped nuts or other flavorings you like.
Milk makes the batter in this dessert bake to a tender custard instead of a crisp crust.
You can flavor the batter with rum, brandy or peach liqueur instead of vanilla or kirsch.
Serve it warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with powdered sugar. I also like it topped with creme fraiche, sour cream or vanilla or peach ice cream. If you'd like to prepare the clafoutis with plums, add an extra spoonful or two of sugar.
Makes about 4 servings
Preheat oven to 190ºC. Put the sliced fruit in a buttered shallow 4-cup baking dish.
Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the sugar and mix. Make a well in the center of the mixture. Pour 1/2 cup of the milk into the center of the well. Gradually whisk the flour mixture into the milk until the batter is smooth. Add the remaining milk, whisking gently.
Add the eggs one at a time, whisking gently after each addition, just until the batter is smooth. Whisk in egg yolk. If using vanilla (but not kirsch), add it now.
Pour the batter evenly over the fruit. If using kirsch, spoon it on top. Bake for 35 minutes, or until topping is puffed and lightly browned. Don't worry if it does not brown evenly. Let cool; batter will sink slightly.
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and, in Hebrew, of Sefer Haugot and Sefer Hakinuhim in her series Mivhar Matkonei Tzarfat (Sirkis Publishing).