Friday, June 10, 2011
Granted, this is not a bread. It's not even a cake, exactly. It's more like a clafoutis, except it's made with prunes soaked in Armagnac, rather than with cherries. It's the national dessert of Brittany, where I just spent a vacation, and it was so good I wanted to try making it myself. (I have also wanted to try making crepes, the other famous food of Brittany, but am more intimidated by that).
Brittany's butter is world-famous, according to the Butter Council of Brittany. It's lightly salted, whereas most French butter is unsalted. At my local grocery store, there was no Beurre de Bretagne, but there was Normandy butter. Unsalted. I settled for that. I hope that Brittany and Normandy aren't arch-rivals, like Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Let me say a word in favor of the much-maligned prune. Even as a child, I understood that there was something faintly ridiculous about a prune. Only grandparents ate prunes, which were always called "stewed prunes." I understood that they did it for some vaguely shameful health reason, and I knew that I would never get so old that I'd order stewed prunes at a restaurant. So maligned are they that prune manufacturers have taken to marketing them as "dried plums," because plums aren't tainted fruit, as prunes are. Cherries aren't tainted either, so clafoutis is considered acceptable. But (non-stewed) prunes are delightful. Really, they are! Eating them won't make you old. (I was old before I ate them). In this recipe, they're cooked in water until the liquid has nearly boiled away.
Then you pour on some Armagnac (or other brandy). I used Calvados, again opting for a product from Brittany's neighbor to the north. You light a match to the brandy, which flames up quite dramatically, but harmlessly. It's very difficult to get a picture of a flame; if you look very closely at the above picture, though, you can see a hint of a flame. (Contrary to common wisdom, it appears that flaming or boiling down alcohol will not remove all the alcohol from the food, so this is a dish that should probably not be served to someone who avoids alcohol).
The custard/cake, however, is so wholesome that anyone, even a baby, could eat it: it's just eggs, butter, flour, milk, sugar, and a little vanilla. I used a recipe from epicurious.com, but there are many similar recipes available on the internet and in books. I followed the recipe exactly except that I omitted the raisins, so the dessert could be an unsullied ode to prunes.
It came out of the oven looking poofier than a quiche and less poofy than a Dutch baby pancake. Perhaps some day I'll compare recipes and see if I can figure out what the poofiness factor consists of.
My dinner guests loved this--they asked for the recipe and declared that they too were now admirers of prunes. I served it with slightly sweetened whipped cream, which was lovely, but not essential: it would still be good on its own, unadorned but classic.
Posted by Marie at 3:41 PM