There is the French way of doing things. And then, there is the Gascon way.
When I write from my kitchen desk, I am usually writing in the Gascon tense. Cooking is no exception.
So what exactly does it mean when you see something that says ‘Gascon’ ? Well, aside from the obvious regional specialties produced in the Gascon region of Southwest France like armagnac and foie gras, it means things are a little more rustic, have a little more depth of flavor, are a little more… more.
Nowhere in Gascony have I ever see an good example of “less is more”. Take the classic French clafoutis. (Hint: pronounce it correctly) Even if you can’t get the flat-accented pronunciation right, just make it once with this recipe and you’ll be hooked. Now, try it in the Gascon style. This means substituting some nutty cornflour for regular wheat flour, using prunes instead of fresh cherries, and of course, dosing it with a bit of ‘le secret’. Cornmeal is used in Gascony as much as in Tuscany- millas is polenta and a millasou is a custardy dessert made with finely ground cornmeal or cornflour*. (* to my English readers- farine de mais in France is milled corn flour, not corn starch or Maizena)
This week with my Summer School students we made the best millasou ever. I tweaked a classic clafoutis recipe that I have made over the years, one I learned from La Belle Gasconne’s Marie-Claude Gracia, and eh voila! we made the perfect textured, delicately flavored but punchy armagnac-scented Gascon-style Millasou aux Pruneaux.
Millasou aux Pruneaux- a few helpful hints to making a great Clafoutis
On pans and measuring:
The most important part of this recipe is find the perfect pan. You can see in the first photograph above, I used a ‘vintage’ terracotta gratin pan about 5 centimeters deep and 22 cm across. It doesn’t matter which pan you use, but one secret to getting a good clafoutis or millasous is to fill the pan to the right depth. In this case, almost full, allowing that the batter will puff and then shrink back some.
The best way to measure how big your pan is to fill it with water and measure the volume. I work in liters and grams because that’s what we do here in the Old World. Once you know that a liter of water weighs 1000 grams, life because that much easier! Measure how much batter your pan will hold, then you can make your recipe accordingly. This is just common sense and working by volume by ratio (hello, Michael Ruhlman!), you can make a large-for-a-crowd clafoutis, a medium-just-family clafoutis or a wee-bebe-one to eat by yourself.
This week, we made two pans (one to keep, one to give away) using 8 eggs because that was what we had- 8 eggs. Add the volume of the eggs (about 60 grs) + the amount of milk/cream (160 ml per egg) + the flour (about 15 grams or one tablespoon per egg)+ the sugar (about 15 grams or 1 tablespoon) = that adds up to 240 gr per egg. So a 4 egg clafoutis makes about a liter of batter 240 x 4= 960 ml- nearly 1000 grams or a liter . My 5 cm deep gratin dish held the batter and prunes perfectly.
The ratio for this classic clafoutis is for every egg: 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, 160 ml milk/cream. So to fill my 1 liter volume gratin pan I used 4 eggs.
Millasous a la Belle Gasconne
- 4 eggs , whole fresh and farm raised
- 4 Tablespoons or 60 gr. sugar
- 2 Tablespoons or 30 grams white wheat flour
- 2 Tablespoons or 30 grams corn flour
- 640 ml rich milk ( I used half whole milk adn half cream.)
- 1 Tablespoon Le Secret (crepe flavoring made from armagnac, rum, vanilla and orange flower water. Wing it!)
- 12-18 whole soft prunes (rehydrate if necessary by steaming) (we leave the pits in)
With a whisk, beat eggs, sugar, and flour together until thick and foamy. Use your muscles and do this by hand!
Gradually add in milk and flavoring. Then whisk until well blended.
Butter the bottom and sides of the pan, then dust with sugar.
Place prunes evenly across the bottom of pan and then pour in the batter over and around the prunes.
Place in a medium hot oven at 180′ Celsius/360′ Farenheit for 45 minutes or until puffy, golden and done in the center.
Remove, let cool slightly and devour with friends as we did at the end of lunch and a good class with all!