Hanoi, January 6, 2024: This harrowing date always sees me going into the kitchen to make comfort food. I first saw this “apple/pear clafouti-like thing” (his words) on Bill Law’s Facebook page. Bill’s a fellow South Carolinian who now lives in Nérac, a commune in the Lot-et-Garonne department of Southwestern France, midway between Toulouse and Bordeaux. I’ve made it several times, and never the same way twice.
I changed it up again today. Living where I do, I often make do with what is available. I also like to toy around with recipes. Bill’s recipe calls for making this clafouti-like thing in a cast iron pan or an 8″square baking pan. I like it to be mostly thin layers of apples, so I used this marvelous forged steel pan that Fran McCullough, who edited my first two cookbooks, had made for me. It’s 10″ wide and heats more quickly and more evenly than cast iron. I also added an extra apple, using four regular sized apples. Here in Hanoi, I usually buy apples from New Zealand (and I avoid produce from China because of the use of chemicals there), but today I saw these Granny Smiths from France and bought them instead. They weigh about 200 grams each (7 oz). In lieu of the 2 teaspoons of vanilla that Bill suggests, I tossed the apple slices in a tablespoon of bourbon instead. And, thinking of my mother’s waste-not/want-not approach to cooking, I placed the apple peels in a pyrex measuring cup with the milk and butter and zapped it in the microwave to melt the butter (and to extract as much apple flavor as possible from the peels). I also used cake flour because that’s what I had (and the less cakey this dish is, the better). Friends brought me fresh TRUE cinnamon from Sri Lanka, so I used that and no other spices.
Today’s method was as follows:
4 average apples (see above)
1 tablespoon bourbon
3 ounces whole milk
I ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour of your choice (the softer the flour, the more delicate the crumb)
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon or spices of your choice (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup brown or other flavorful sugar (Bill uses maple sugar)
2 large eggs
powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
Heat your oven to 400degrees F and butter an 8″, 9″, or 10″ baking pan. (See above.) The wider the pan, the thinner the slices will be.
Peel the apples (or not, if you prefer). Save the peels if you indeed peel them. Slice the apples thinly from top to bottom, using a mandoline or a sharp knife, turning the apple 90 degrees as you the reach the core. The slices should be about 1/16″ thick — thin but not too thin. Toss the slices with the bourbon. Place the peels in a microwable container with the milk and butter, cover, and cook on low just until the butter melts.
In a largish bowl, whisk the flour, salt, spices (if using), baking powder, and sugar until well blended and there are no lumps.
Strain the melted butter/milk mixture into a small bowl and beat well with the eggs.
Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredietns and beat well with the whisk until the batter is smooth and thin.
Add the apples to the bowl and fold it all together. Bill is right when he recommends using your hands, being sure that each slice is coated in batter. There should be more apples than batter. (Indeed, it was at this point that I added the fourth apple. I had begun with three.)
Dump the apple batter into the pan and shake it around so that the apples and batter are evenly distributed.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until it’s golden brown (A knife inserted into the center should come out clean). Set the pan on a rack to cool for 20 minutes. Both Bill and I like it at room temp. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.