Cherry Thyme Clafoutis

by Maja Lukic


I am going to France! Not like tomorrow or next week or even next month, but certainly in a few months. And since I've been contemplating this fantastic European excursion, mapping Paris, making lists, I'm feeling Francophile inspiration everywhere. 

I decided to prepare a clafoutis, which is a sweet French cake with a soft pudding-like texture. It's similar to a baked pancake. For my first clafoutis, I thought I would start with a traditional cherry version and work up to more outrageous fruit from there. But for interest--and a delicate Provençal twist--I added fresh thyme. It's beautiful and it complements the fresh sweet cherries. (Of course if you're not feeling the herbal situation, leave it out). I've had an idea for a gluten-free/grain-free clafoutis in mind for months. Almond flour was a natural choice because almonds and cherries pair so well in any context. 

This can be a delicious and filling dessert but it's even better as breakfast with a strong espresso. You can serve it chilled or at room temperature. And if you'd like to add a creamy element of some sort, no objection here. 

I shot this recipe with both frozen black cherries and fresh sweet cherries. After several rounds of taste tests, I confess mixed feelings about using frozen cherries here. The visual difference between fresh (image above) and frozen fruit (image below) is palpable in the photographs but I can also vouch that the flavor of the fresh cherry clafoutis is nicer. I should add that the fresh thyme is more noticeable and lovely in the fresh cherry version. And it only takes a little extra effort to pit the cherries (a plain drinking straw works quite well to remove the pits if you don't have a cherry pitter).

To be fair, my only real issue with frozen cherries is that the cherries bleed blue juice into the pancake batter, which isn't egregious on its own but, combined with the soft texture of the clafoutis, the effect can be unappetizing. 

Although this post has French roots, the red, white & blue nature of this dessert coincides nicely with the upcoming holidays--4th of July here and Canada Day on July 1 for my friends up North. Have a wonderful long weekend and enjoy the holidays!

Cherry Thyme Clafoutis (gf)

Adapted from Saveur

Serves 8

5 eggs

1 1/4 cup almond milk

3/4 cup almond flour

3 tbsp maple syrup (or brown/sucanat/coconut sugar)

1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)

1 lemon, zest only

1 tsp fresh thyme

3 cups pitted fresh cherries (or frozen, see note)

sea salt

avocado oil (for baking)

powdered/confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. 

Blend the eggs, almond milk, maple syrup, seeds from 1/2 of a vanilla bean (or vanilla extract), and a pinch of sea salt in a blender (or whisk by hand). Blend (or whisk) the ingredients until smooth. Add the zest of 1 lemon and a teaspoon of fresh thyme. Add the almond flour and continue to blend/whisk until smooth and no lumps remain. Let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge (or overnight).   

Slide a cast iron skillet into the oven for a few minutes to warm up. Add enough avocado oil (or other high-heat cooking oil) to the bottom of the skillet to coat the bottom and sides. Pour half of the batter into the skillet and slide back into the oven for 3 to 4 minutes. Distribute the cherries evenly over the batter and pour the remaining batter over the cherries. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until puffy and golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. (It will deflate as it cools).

Cool for 10 minutes before serving. Dust with confectioners' sugar, slice into wedges, and serve. Store in the fridge for a day. 

Notes: The batter can be prepared up to one day in advance. Store in the fridge overnight. If using frozen cherries, defrost, drain, and blot dry with a paper towel. When baking, add half of the batter at a time so that the cherries don't sink to the bottom. If you don't have fresh thyme, omit (dried thyme is a poor substitute).

 


Gluten-Free Apple Banana Nut Muffins

by Maja Lukic


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Fall is officially here and it seems to have brought with it a succession of perfectly crisp, sunny days -- at least in New York. Even though I'm increasingly reaching for scarves and sweaters, I also know that this is the season of walks in the park under brightly colored leaves, morning yoga classes, almond milk lattes sprinkled with nutmeg, and quiet creative projects.

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The arrival of fall also marks the beginning of apple season at farmers market. Wooden crates of beautifully sweet and slightly tart apples are now everywhere and if you're an apple lover (and I am), this is an exciting development. Biting into them fresh is my preferred method of consumption but a freshly baked apple dessert or pastry is more than tolerable.

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I have to confess that I'm not the world's greatest baker. Baking is a very exact, very precise science, and I've always felt more at home with the improvisational, experimental nature of cooking. But I'm actually pretty adept at baking muffins -- a muffin savant. (One could argue that being only good at baking muffins is the very definition of an unskilled baker.). The only real muffin wisdom I've picked up over the years: always use oil instead of butter and do not overwork the batter.

All of this brings me to my current favorite muffin recipe. As someone who eats her fair share of gluten-free (GF) baked goods, I can say, without reservation, that these are the best GF muffins I have come across. (The muffins are also dairy free but not vegan due to the inclusion of eggs). Not only do they come out of the oven perfectly moist and soft, they remain so overnight and freeze/unfreeze well. They're fragrant, lightly spiced, and not too sweet. Mostly, they're a simple, delicious way to celebrate apple season.

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Gluten-Free Apple Banana Nut Muffins

Adapted from Food 52

Makes 12 muffins

2 1/4 cups almond flour (see Note)

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

3 bananas

2 organic apples, peeled

3/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

1/4 cup dried mangoes, chopped

2 tsp chia seeds

3 eggs

1/4 cup coconut palm sugar (or maple syrup)

1/8 cup coconut oil

1 tbsp organic raw apple cider vinegar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a bowl, whisk together the almond flour, baking soda, and salt. Roughly chop the walnuts and dried mangoes.

Peel and grate the apples using a coarse grater -- do not use a food processor -- and set aside while you prepare the wet ingredients.

Mash the bananas with a fork.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs to break them up and add the oil, apple cider vinegar, vanilla, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and the mashed bananas. Stir everything well. (You can also do this in a blender). 

Gently incorporate the almond flour, walnuts, dried mangoes, and chia seeds into the banana mixture. 

Squeeze out the excess juice from the shredded apples and stir the apples into the batter. Try not to overwork it. The batter should be fairly wet at this point but if it's too wet, add in another 1/4 cup of almond flour.Allow the batter to rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes to allow the chia seeds to absorb the liquid.

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Spoon the mixture evenly into the lined muffin pan, filling each liner to the top (they do not rise much).

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.

They will stay fresh wrapped in plastic on the counter for a few days. For long-term storage, wrap the muffins individually and store in a freezer bag for up to 1 month.

Notes:  Leftover almond flour should be stored in the freezer. If mangoes or walnuts are unavailable, feel free to make substitutions (get creative!). If you do not have coconut oil, substitute other neutral tasting oils (or even olive oil) but not butter. This is a very soft batter so the paper liners are necessary - try not to omit them. For a moist texture, the key is to not over bake the muffins - start checking them at the 17- or 18-minute mark and make sure that they do not dry out.

 

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