humble beginnings

I am visiting my parents back in Ontario for a week and have an opportunity to reflect on my culinary roots and how I was influenced to develop into the fearless person I am today.

We certainly did not grow up in a gourmet world, often surrounded by comfort food and efficient dishes to feed a family of six: Shepherd’s pie, moose stews, meat pies, pots of steamy soup, chicken hearts and gizzards followed by loads of apple or jellied desserts.

One dessert that rings true to comfort food is the aptly named Impossible Pie.  You combine seven ingredients (in no particular order), pour into a pie plate and bake.  The result is a delightful pie crowned with golden flaked coconut, an eggy custard centre above a thin crust that seems to have made itself.

Ingredients:

– 1 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup flour
– 4 eggs
– 2 cups milk
– 1/4 cup butter, melted
– 2 tsp. vanilla
– 1 cup coconut

Directions:

Beat all ingredients until fully combined.  Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.  Allow to come to room temperature and serve.

I believed the Impossible pie was something unique and delightfully ‘unrefined’ as no one else had ever made or had it other than our family.  In my fearless exploring of culinary dishes, I stumbled upon a standard and traditional French custard dessert – the clafouti, described as a baked dessert where fruit (typically black cherries) are covered with a thick flan-like batter, dusted with powdered sugar and served lukewarm.

It seems the clafouti, and the non-cherry flaugnarde version, are elevated versions of our humble Impossible pie.  Who knew one of my favourite comfort dessert was based on a classic French delight?  Here is my go-to clafouti recipe:

Ingredients:

– 1 lb. fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted, or frozen pitted cherries, thawed, drained
– 1 cup whole milk
– 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
– 4 large eggs
– 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 3/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
– 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
– Powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Butter cake pan or ramekins. Arrange cherries in a single layer in pan.

2. Combine milk and cream in a small saucepan; bring just to a simmer over medium heat. Set aside. Combine eggs, flour, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl; whisk to blend. Gradually whisk in hot milk mixture; whisk until custard is smooth. Pour custard evenly over cherries in pan. If necessary, gently shake pan to allow custard to settle.

3. Bake clafouti until custard is set and top is golden brown, about 30 minutes for ramekins and 45-55 minutes for cake pan. Let cool 3 minutes, then run a knife around pan sides to loosen clafouti (if using a cake pan). Dust top with powdered sugar; cut into wedges and serve.

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