The start of summer is a special kind of time. No matter what the weather is like, when the month of June comes to a close, a certain atmosphere starts to permeate our minds, our bodies, our houses, our streets, our cities. Everyone is elated. Everything seems possible.
I think it's a sense of freedom that stems from when we were still little kids and the 1st of July meant that there'd be no school for 2 whole months. No classes or homework; just camps and playing outside and staying up late and taking trips to the zoo, the pool, the amusement park. We were confronted with an emptiness of time that felt so impossibly vast and liberating that it has settled into our lives as belonging solely to those early days of summer.
The atmosphere is invigorating and addictive and even as adults, we lose ourselves in the promise of free time. The restraint we usually exercise over our social lives - saying no to another drink because we have to get up early the next morning, choosing to stay at home because we need some rest - is thrown overboard and we indulge. We say 'yes' to the barbecues, the parties, the afternoons in the park, the music festivals, the neighborhood picnics, the long bike rides and the icy cold drinks, all in the name of summer and the sense that we are temporarily free. I feel like life never moves faster than during those first couple of weeks of July.
And then there's the beautiful bounty of produce that early summer yields. All the green legumes and blushing tomatoes. All the colorful berries and soft-skinned stone fruit. I, at least, indulge in them just like I indulge in summer activities and get-togethers. I eat peaches over the sink, juices dripping down my chins and arms, I snack on strawberries, blueberries and cherry tomatoes whenever I can, and I do a little happy dance when I find broad beans in our CSA box. I dream of all the juicy, colorful recipes that I've bookmarked throughout the year and wonder which one I'll try next. But I also dream of my mother's clafoutis. The simple, creamy dessert that she would put together on a whim, filled with whatever stone fruit was on hand, and that we saw cooling on the counter just moments before we, our feet either wet or sandy, were urged out of the kitchen and out to the patio table. When I start to lose myself in the haze of early summer, this is the dessert I crave. Simple. Down-to-earth. Versatile.
• Clafoutis is versatile in many respects. You can use many different types of fruit, play with the milk/cream ratios (see below) and you can eat it both for breakfast and dessert.
• For this recipe, I chose to infuse a classic apricot clafoutis with vanilla bean and saffron. It's difficult to tell exactly how much saffron you need, though. Start with a good pinch and grind it into the sugar, along with the seeds from 1 vanilla bean. The sugar should smell of both vanilla and saffron. If the vanilla obviously overpowers, add a little more saffron.
• I use a fair amount of heavy cream in this recipe. If you want a slightly lighter version, try using 250 ml of milk and 200 ml of cream rather than the other way around.
• While I usually grease cake tins and baking dishes with cooking spray, a clafoutis really asks for a thick layer of real butter. There's no butter in the recipe itself, so this is the only way to get some of that delicious buttery flavor in the dish.
Apricot Saffron Clafoutis
for a 30 cm/12 inch round baking dish (or equivalent)
180 gr granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
a good pinch of saffron threads
90 gr all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
4 large eggs
250 ml heavy cream
200 ml whole milk
500 gr apricots, halved and pitted
unsalted butter, for the baking dish
1. Generously grease a 30 cm/12 inch baking dish (or equivalent) with butter. Preheat oven to 200˚C/400˚F.
2. In a small bowl or, preferably, a mortar, combine sugar, seeds from the vanilla bean and saffron threads. Grind with a pestle until the spices have dispersed, the sugar has a soft yellow undertone and it smells of vanilla and saffron. In another small bowl, whisk together flour and salt.
3. In a medium bowl, lightly whisk the eggs. Add the saffron sugar and whisk until fully combined and slightly paler in appearance. Add the flour, followed by heavy cream and milk, and whisk until smooth and combined. Set aside.
4. Arrange apricot halves in the buttered baking dish with the cut sides facing upwards. Pour custard mixture over the apricots. Your baking dish should be no more than 3/4 full.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden and puffed and a skewer inserted in the center comes out fairly clean. Place on a wire rack to cool. The clafoutis will deflate a bit as it cools and the custard might release from the fruit. This is totally okay.
Clafoutis can be eaten just slightly warm or completely cooled. It can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days.