Delectable Damson Clafoutis
I was visiting friends in Kells last weekend and found myself up a ladder picking damsons – probably not the cleverest of ideas having broken my ankle earlier in the summer but definitely worth the risk. If you know of any damson trees, now is the time to go and pick the fruit. If you don’t, head off to a farmer’s market or a good fruit and veg shop in the next couple of weeks before the damson season ends.
Damsons are like plums, a little smaller, perhaps not as sweet but often more alluring with their dark skins overlaid with a dusky bloom. They tend to ripen all at once so it’s best to pick a pile and have some ideas for immediate consumption. You can also use them for jams, freeze for a great fruit sauce or add to winter crumbles. Cook and sweeten damsons in a little sugar syrup and you have an intensely flavoured compote which can be served with yoghurt, over ice cream or with a lemon or passionfruit mousse.
I opted to use my damsons for a clafoutis which is made by mixing the fruit with a slightly thickened crepe batter. It’s a traditional dish from the farm country in southern central France – a set custard-like dessert, studded with oozing fruit which allows the pluminess of the damsons to shine through. I often remove the pits from the damsons because I love the way that the juice then bleeds into the batter, providing startling colour. Leave them whole if you wish and have a little bowl on the side for the stones.
Though cherries are the classic addition, I also love apricots or prunes in a clafoutis. The prunes benefit from being soaked for a few hours or overnight in a sugar syrup with a good dash of brandy or Armagnac. But at this time of year, if I can get my leg up a ladder, I will always opt for damsons.
I favour half milk and half cream in the batter but the clafoutis may also be made with milk only (500ml milk instead of the cream). Damsons will vary enormously in sweetness depending on the variety. If they taste lip puckeringly bitter, then add another 40g sugar to the batter. Very bitter damsons are probably better halved while the sweeter varieties can be left whole. You will need 600g damsons if you are using them whole.
250ml full fat milk
100g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
3 large eggs
350g pitted damsons
Knob of butter, to grease the baking dish
Whipped cream for serving
Oven temp : Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan, 400°F, Gas 6.
Equipment: pottery or pyrex baking dish or quiche mould about 26cm in diameter (the exact size is not important)
Grease the inside of the baking dish. Place milk and cream in a saucepan along with the sugar. Split the vanilla bean in half, scrape out the little black seeds from the centre and add the seeds to the milk and cream. (Reserve the remaining vanilla pod for another use). Heat the milk and cream until the sugar has dissolved and bring just up to the boil. In a medium bowl, whisk one whole egg along with the flour until blended. Whisk the remaining two eggs into the flour.
Pour the hot milk/cream mixture over the eggs, whisking as you go. Pour the batter into the baking dish. Scatter the halved damsons over the top. Bake in the oven until the custard is set in the centre and golden on the edges, about 30-35 minutes.
Serve with a bowl of whipped cream while still warm.
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