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).

 


Cherry Hemp Smoothie

by Maja Lukic


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My mornings are typically reserved for green smoothies but with the cooler weather -- and pie season and flu season -- already here, I've been craving sweeter and more substantial snacks throughout the day. The standard afternoon dose of an apple (as much as I love them) seems woefully inadequate in these times of aggressive pumpkin and sugar consumption. 

In the interest of satisfying my cravings while remaining reasonably healthy, I developed this smoothie: a cherry/apple/pear/hemp concoction that sort of reminds me of a cherry dessert. To be perfectly honest, it tastes nothing like cherry cobbler and it would be completely absurd for me to claim that it does. Nor would I dare suggest that you abstain from pies and other tantalizing desserts during the upcoming holidays. All I can say is that this is a very sweet and delicious little drink to savor now, early in the month, before the onslaught of poultry and pumpkin spice. 

 

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The best thing about this recipe is that it makes use of seasonal, dried, and frozen fruit, which is a completely respectable combination in the colder months. Frozen organic cherries are my favorite item in the frozen food aisle and I always have some in the freezer. It's a great and ridiculously overlooked product. And the hemp seeds are a solid addition to basically anything. I really like them in smoothies because I avoid synthetic protein powders and hemp is a great natural source of plant protein. (By the way, if you find yourself with an abundance of hemp seeds, put them to use in a salad or chocolate bars).

Hope you like it -- happy snacking. 

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Cherry Hemp Smoothie

Serves approx. 2

1 large organic apple (or 2 small), peeled, cored, and chopped

1 large organic pear, peeled, cored, and chopped

2 organic celery stalks, chopped

1 lb. bag frozen organic cherries  

1 frozen banana, chopped

3 tbsp raw shelled hemp seeds, plus more for topping

1 tbsp ground flax seeds

juice of 1 lemon

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

water or coconut water, as needed

unsweetened dried cherries, for topping

In a large blender, blend apple, pear, celery, and lemon juice with enough water to roughly combine the ingredients. Add the hemp seeds, cinnamon, vanilla, frozen cherries, and frozen banana. Blend until fully incorporated, adding water as needed.  

Evenly distribute the smoothie between two 16 oz. jars or glasses (you may have some leftover) and top each smoothie with a teaspoon of hemp seeds and a small handful of dried cherries. Serve. 

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a day. 

Note: Take the cherries out of the freezer about 20-30 minutes before you prepare the smoothie and allow them to slightly defrost on the counter. Peeling the apples and pears is optional -- I usually don't. 

 

Music this week? I've been toggling back and forth between the new Arcade Fire album and vintage Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed but I will leave you with the latter. 


Chocolate Cherry & Coconut Breakfast Bars

by Maja Lukic


If you know me at all, you know that I have a serious chocolate addiction--hoarding, at all times, a stash of Alter Eco bars, Vosges truffles, and other impulsive purchases in kitchen cupboards and office desk drawers. There is no shame in eating real chocolate and taking a great deal of pleasure in it. But I'm also not above working chocolate into a relatively healthy recipe and then slapping a raw-organic-vegan-gluten-free-soy-free label on it.

The best thing about these chocolate bars (other than the chocolate) is that they're chilled. I store them in the freezer and eat them semi frozen on hot lazy summer mornings. The bars come out of the freezer cold, creamy, chewy, super sweet and sour from the cherries, and crunchy from the almonds and coconut. It's a pretty spectacular mix.

The other thing I love about these bars is that they are reminiscent of a dessert I loved to eat as a child. When I was growing up, my mom often made little chocolate cakes called "Čupavci," which are rectangular pieces of yellow sponge cake dipped in melted dark chocolate and then rolled in finely shredded coconut. It's essentially an Eastern European version of the Australian Lamington and it's absolutely fantastic. This is not that, of course, but it does recall some of those old, familiar flavors.

One additional point: this is a recipe that relies heavily on so-called Superfoods, whatever that term means to you. It's not necessarily a word I like to throw around because it's vague and poorly defined and I don't necessarily believe that eating healthy requires investing in fancy powders and obscure dried fruit and seeds. But the fact is that most of these ingredients are marketed as such and are actually pretty good for you. Putting aside my pure love of anything chocolate, cacao powder is incredibly high in antioxidants, iron and calcium. Hemp is an excellent, easily digestible, plant-based, complete protein that contains all essential amino acids. Mulberries are a great source of resveratrol, an antioxidant compound. These bars will never take the place of real chocolate in my heart but they're a decent healthy alternative.

Chocolate Cherry & Coconut Breakfast Bars (v/gf)

Makes 8 bars

Adapted from Superfood Kitchen

1 1/2 cups organic Medjool dates, pitted (about 15-16)

1/4 cup organic raw cashews

1/4 cup organic raw almonds

1/4 cup organic cacao powder

6 tbsp organic hulled hemp seeds

1/3 cup organic dried mulberries

2 tsp maca powder (optional)

1 tsp chia seeds (optional)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2-4 tbsp water, as needed

2 tbsp sliced almonds

2 tbsp unsweetened desiccated coconut, plus additional coconut for rolling

1/3 cup organic unsweetened dried cherries

sea salt

In a food processor, pulse the dates, cashews and almonds together to roughly chop them. Add in cacao, hemp seeds, vanilla, mulberries, maca powder (if using), chia seeds (if using), and a pinch of sea salt, and process everything together until a mass starts to form. With the motor running, slowly add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough starts to come together. It should stick together easily so that your bars are not too crumbly but you do not want it to be too wet either. If it does feel too wet, add in some more hemp or chia seeds.

When you have a nice sticky dough, add in the coconut, sliced almonds, and dried cherries and pulse several times until just coarsely chopped so that the bars have a nice crunchy texture.

Place a large double layer of plastic wrap on a flat surface. I find it easiest to layer the plastic wrap on a baking sheet. Roll the dough out on the plastic and gather into a solid mass in the center. Use the sides of the plastic to wrap over the dough as tightly as possible, pressing and shaping the mass into a compact 1-inch thick rectangle. Place the entire thing into the freezer for about 30 minutes. (This is where the baking sheet comes in handy – just pop the entire thing into the freezer). When it’s solid, remove the plastic wrap and cut into 8 bars with a sharp knife.

Roll each bar in coconut and serve. For long-term storage, wrap each each bar individually and keep in the freezer. They should be fine in the freezer for a few weeks. I wish I could tell you they’ll stay fresh for longer than that but I actually do not know – I never manage to keep them around that long.