I am not good with desserts. There, I’ve said it. They are my least favourite thing to make when I cook for family or friends. I have at times asked well-meaning guests(the kind who insists on bringing something) to bring pudding, but I don’t do that anymore. That has sometimes turned out a little disastrous: a supermarket bought black forest cake once, with faux cream: or plastic cream, as my mom used to say. The guest did not know that I was somewhat of a food snob. She does now! Even in restaurants I hardly order a dessert. Today my husband and I had the high tea menu at the Westcliff Hotel in Johannesburg, and the array of sweets for after the rather mediocre(for the expense) buffet were impressive, but could not tempt me beyond a taste of a very good pecan pie and a dark chocolate ganache square with a bit of marzipan on top. Deeply delicious, but not something I will try my hand at.
My favourite thing to make if I must, is pears poached in red or white wine, served with cream, or mascarpone with blue cheese turned through it. And when berries are in season, a big bowl of them steeped in castor sugar with star anise tucked in between, served with shop bought vanilla ice cream. I have made tiramisu in the past. Once. I went through a sorbet phase, hand churning sorbet: mango and strawberry and lemon. Ah, and pannacotta a couple of times, speckled with vanilla seeds just like they are made in the expensive restaurants of my imagination, or the beautifully captured photographs in well-known chefs’ cookbooks. For family get-togethers I used to make my dad’s favourite. I want to cry when I remember that I will never make another one for him. He died in 2011. Much longer ago, I was a deft hand turning pudding:crepes Suzette at the table. Oh yes, and more recently I managed a fairly successful apricot tarte tatin: an aside to a foodie guest: “VERY tart!!”
So, despite the above, I generally do not like making desserts nor am I particularly good at it. But I am planning a dinner party soon, for a couple whom I have not cooked for before, and as I idly wondered out loud about the menu, my beloved suggested, for pudding, that I make clafoutis. The last time I had clafoutis was at a dinner party where the very capable hostess presented a perfectly cooked one, hot out of the oven, with a flourish and flush of pride. My husband, then fiancée, so loved it that he had been asking since then(not every day of course but more than three times!) if I would make clafoutis. I guess it is as good a suggestion as can be: cherries are available right now, and the process is really simple, though it is also easy to overcook it. My recently acquired kitchen timer will come in handy! That is if I can hear the rather short ring at the end of the ticking time. It is an old-fashioned, non digital, lime green plastic egg, sitting on the central cooking station, the green echoed by low green enamel station lamp style lights overhead and a green painted bookshelf holding all my cookbooks tucked in a corner in my kitchen. I often listen to music in the lounge or type away on my laptop as food is cooking away, so that I sometimes don’t hear it. And so far, when I scorch something, I get teased. I hope never(again) to get scolded by an irate husband over that: I have had two of those. Irate husbands, I mean. I get irritated myself though when I burn something, thus the timer.
But back to desserts, in particular, clafoutis. I have a couple of recipes in books on that green shelf with variations on the theme, but I turned to the Les Halles cookbook for a simple but definitive version. And as I am planning a very retro French menu, starting with vichyssoise, a main course of whole fillet of beef with bearnaise sauce or a red wine sauce for which I will make demi-glace and freeze it a week before, as per instruction of Mr Bourdain and other French inspired cooks worth their proverbial Maldon. Green beans and sweet carrots to accompany I think. And clafoutis.
Or, if my courage: my guests most certainly have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world(they travel), and in their homes(the wife, a cousin of my new husband, cooks); fails, I will resort to poached pears in red wine. French enough, easy enough: almost impossible to overcook!