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Limousin (lee-moo-ZAN) is a region in south-central France. A rural area known for its farming and oak forests, it is one of the least populated sections of France. Its principal city is Limoges, (lee-mozh), located on the Vienne River.
Limousin was once part of the Roman empire. At that time Limoges was known as Augustoritum in honor of the emperor Augustus. During the Middle Ages, control of the Limousin territory was a source of contention between England and France. Indeed, during the Hundred Years War, (1337-1453), Limoges was the site of a massacre orchestrated by the “Black Prince,” a.k.a., Edward of Woodstock cum son of King Edward III of England. According to one well known chronicler at the time, 3,000 civilians of Limoges were slain. On a more genteel note, Limoges is also renowned for its exquisite porcelain and accounts for approximately half of the European production.
Gastronomically speaking, Limousin is famous for its cattle, cognac barrels, and the dessert that entitles this article. Limousin cattle, readily distinguished by their chestnut red coloring, produce a lean meat that is highly prized in France. The forests of Limousin yield a highly distinctive form of oak which is fabricated into barrels for the nearby Cognac region. Cognac is France’s premier brandy and relies on oak barrels for its requisite aging.
So with the exception of one lacuna, we have the makings of a complete Limousin dinner. We have superlative red meat served on elegant porcelain. We’re blessed with one of the best brandies in the world to wash it down with. We’ve even got some lurid history to keep the dinner conversation titillating. All that’s left is dessert. With no further ado allow me to introduce you to clafoutis.
A clafoutis (kla-foo-TEE), or clafouti (anglicized spelling), is a classic dessert from Limousin. The name comes from the Occitan word clafir, meaning to fill. Occitan is a romance language and local dialect of the Limousin region, (as well as sections of Italy and Spain). Traditionally made with cherries, a clafoutis is basically a batter that is poured over fruit in a buttered baking dish and baked. It is usually served warm and dusted with powdered sugar. Purists assert that the cherries should be unpitted; arguing that the stones enhance the dish’s flavor. But who would enjoy biting into a rich dessert laden with pits? So ixnay on that tradition.
The temporal origin of the clafoutis is uncertain but we do know its popularity increased and spread in the 19th century. Chefs from other regions of France and even other countries began concocting their own versions. The chief venue for diversion from the basic template was the fruit employed. Pears, apples, plums, blackberries, blueberries, and even mangos have been called upon to herald in the transformations. However, out of respect to the purists, and pedantic as it may seem, a clafoutis made with anything other than cherries is technically not a clafoutis. It is then called a flaugnarde.
And don’t you dare refer to a clafoutis as a flan as the L’Académie francaise, (The French Academy) solecistically did at one point. The French Academy is the hoity-toity authority on all matters regarding the French language. When they categorized the clafoutis as a “fruit flan” the Limousins were outraged. The Academy acquiesced and altered their lexical faux pas to “a cake with fruit.”
Below is my recipe for a Pink Pear Clafouti. It comes out pink because I add grenadine to the batter. The grenadine also adds a delightful but not cloyingly sweet flavor. As stated, because of the pears it is technically not a clafoutis but a flaugnarde. Sorry Limousin but if your own governing body can take lexicological liberties, so can I. I’m calling it a clafouti. Have a glass of cognac and lighten up.
• Vegetable spray, as needed
• 2 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
• 4 oz. grenadine
• 4 oz. milk
• 3 tablespoons melted, (but not hot), butter
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 3 eggs, beaten
• ½ cup flour
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• Powdered sugar, as needed
Pre heat your oven to 375 degrees.
Generously spray the bottom and sides of an 8-inch by 8-inch baking dish with the vegetable spray.
Layer the pear slices on the bottom of the dish.
In a large bowl whisk the grenadine, milk, butter, sugar and eggs.
Whisk in the flour and salt.
Pour the batter over the pears.
Place the dish in the oven and bake 35-40 minutes, or until the batter is solidified.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.
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