Image: Steffi Koh
The heat might be beastly, but this is really the best time of the year for fruit. Every week, it seems, some delicious thing is in season, tempting me in the supermarket.
So far, I have had mangoes from Myanmar; lychees from Taiwan; papayas from Israel, apricots from Turkey; and cherries, plums and strawberries from the United States.
There are compelling reasons for eating fruit right now. They are at their peak, so they are fragrant, sweet and juicy.
For a couple of weeks, I could not resist those lychees. Eaten straight from the fridge, they gave sweet relief from the heat, although of course I was told by well-meaning folk not to go overboard. The fruit is “heaty”, as the Chinese say, and overindulgence is bound to make my throat sore.
Fortunately, there is no problem with stone fruit such as apricots, peaches, plums and cherries.
When they are in season, the price drops, which is another good reason to eat them. A stone-fruit habit like mine can deplete the bank account at an alarming rate.
So this is the time when I scan the supermarkets and swoop in when the price drops.
It is easiest to eat all this wonderful fruit as is, but sometimes, I get the urge to use them for dessert or to make jam.
A couple of my friends have been buying up cherries to soak in cognac so that long after the season is over, they can whip them out and serve them with ice cream.
There are other options too. Stone fruit are good for desserts such as crumbles, cobblers, slumps and pandowdies, in which the fruit is topped with batter or something crumbly and then baked.
Looking at the piles of cherries now available, I think immediately of clafoutis (Kla-foo-ti), a dessert from the Limousin region in central France.
Cherries are the traditional choice, but there are versions using apricots, plums, blackberries and blueberries too. Essentially, the fruit is topped with a pancake-like batter, baked and then served warm rather than hot.
There are versions of the dessert that look and taste like cake, but what I prefer is the traditional custard-like texture. Although it is best eaten on the day it is made, I had some cold and it was just as good, if not a little better.
The most difficult part of the recipe is pitting the cherries. Traditional recipes call for the pits to be left in, as they impart an almond-like flavour to the dessert. If that is important to you, add half a teaspoon of almond extract to the batter.
However, I find spitting out cherry stones during dessert a little inelegant, so I take the trouble to pit the fruit. You will be glad you did too, when Auntie So-And-So makes it through dessert without cracking her dentures.
Image: Steffi Koh
Removing the cherry stones is easy if you have a pitter (above), available in the kitchenware section of department stores. But if you do not have one, there is a pretty easy way to do it using a chopstick.
Image: Steffi Koh
Gently push the thicker end of it through the cherry to dislodge the pit (above). It takes a little longer than using a pitter, but most people have chopsticks at home and this method gets the job done with minimum fuss. Do it in the sink to prevent cherry juice from getting onto the kitchen walls.
Then, macerate them in sugar and cognac. If you have kirsch or cherry brandy on hand, use that. If you have time, let the fruit sit for two hours instead of one. The clafoutis will have a deeper, more boozy flavour.
This recipe calls for buttering and sugaring the inside of the baking dish. I skipped the sugaring part in my earlier experiments and then decided to do it on a whim. It is worth the trouble because the sugar on the sides helps the batter “climb” up the dish.
Sifting the flour also works wonders, resulting in a silkier batter.
It can be made by hand by whisking the wet and dry ingredients together, but it takes elbow grease to get a smooth batter. A couple of clafoutis in, I decided to whiz the batter up in a food processor and found it worked very well.
The clafoutis bakes for about 30 minutes, and is ready when lightly brown around the circumference. Some people sprinkle powdered sugar on the pale dessert, but I dispense with that.
Out from the oven, the dessert is slightly puffed up and the temptation is to eat it right away. However, it benefits from a cool down, say for 30 minutes or so.
Then, all that is needed is some cold thickened cream. If you are in a devil-may-care mood, use double cream.
My next mission is to find some good peaches to eat as is. If I can get some overripe or less pretty ones at a good price, it will be time to make peach cobbler.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: CHERRY CLAFOUTIS
Image: Steffi Koh
For the cherries
500g red cherries
2 Tbs caster sugar
2-3 Tbs cognac or kirsch
For the baking dish
10-15g softened unsalted butter
1-2 Tbs caster sugar
For the batter
75g plain flour
3 Tbs caster sugar
Pinch of salt
2 60g eggs
250ml full-fat milk
20g melted unsalted butter
Powdered sugar (optional)
1. Pick the stems off the cherries, rinse the fruit under running water and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Pit the cherries. If you do not have a cherry pitter, press the thicker end of a chopstick through the cherry gently, dislodging the pit.
3. Place pitted cherries in a glass bowl, add the sugar and cognac, stir with a spoon and let macerate for about an hour.
4. After about 40 minutes, preheat the oven to 180 deg C. Butter a baking dish that will hold the cherries more or less in one layer. I used an oval baking dish that measures 25cm at its longest and 17cm at its broadest. Sprinkle sugar in the dish and move the baking dish to coat the insides with sugar. Do this over the sink.
5. Sift the flour, sugar and salt and add to a blender or food processor. Crack the eggs into the milk, add the melted butter and stir together with a fork. Add it to the blender or processor and process until you get a smooth batter. Or make the batter by hand: add the wet ingredients to the dry ones slowly, whisking constantly to get a smooth batter.
6. Spoon the cherries and juices into the baking dish. Pour the batter over. Bake for 30 minutes or until the clafoutis is lightly browned around the perimeter of the dish and has puffed up. Remove from the oven, let cool for at least 30 minutes. The clafoutis will deflate a little.
Sift powdered sugar over the clafoutis if you like and serve with thickened cream.
Serves four to six
This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on July 20, 2014. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.