I baked something today.
Ordinarily, this would be quite an ordinary statement. Something unremarkable, hardly worth remarking on. After all, I’ve been baking all my life. And after going gluten-free — aside from the first, three-month mourning period — I’ve baked more in the last three years than most of the years before it. There’s something satisfying about scooping flours into a measuring cup, cutting butter into small squares, inhaling a whiff of vanilla flavoring before adding it to dough. When I am anxious or wandering, all I need to do is bake, and I am home.
However, with a newborn in the house, there’s not much baking going on. Sure, I could bake up a storm in the mornings, when the Chef holds our daughter, and looks down into her eyes and smiles. However, I’m far more likely to want to sit beside him, and coo along with him, or at least take photographs of these papa/daughter days. This, I tell myself, is why the kitchen is such a mess. Because I’m entranced by the sight of my darling-hearted husband holding our daughter in his arms.
Well, that and I’d rather sip my coffee slowly while cringing at political blogs as he puts her down for a nap. To sit, unencumbered (other than with unnerving campaign news) while the Chef takes care of the baby? A sigh of relief, a soft silence, a little space alone. And then my arms start to miss her, and I pick her up again. The dishes? They can wait.
And when I’m home, alone with the baby, during the rest of the day, baking seems out of the question. Holding her in my arms and standing in front of a hot oven? No, thanks. Or putting a batch of cookies into bake, and having to let them burn because she is crying fervently for mystifying reasons? (I know. I could just let her cry, but I’m no good at that. I’d rather sit with her, and soothe her. Cookies for myself feel pretty selfish in that moment.) I think I’ll skip that scenario.
However, as Little Bean has grown more predicable, and content, I have felt that urge to bake return to my hands. She coos on her playmat, staring at black-and-white faces, making conversation, for at least 45 minutes. She’s fine. And in fact, she seems to like some space. And I would like to bake again.
Having a baby means that my former identity has been obliterated, for awhile. My life will never be the same. I welcome it. I adore this daily practice of love in action. But really, it is time to start baking again.
So I’ve been perusing my baking books, looking for a recipe to adapt with gluten-free flours. Warm crinkly ginger cookies? Thick cinnamon rolls with a nub of vanilla buttercream frosting? Angel food cake? Or zucchini bread to use up all the baseball-bat-sized squashes squatting in our garden?
And then it came to me. Clafoutis.
I grow a little obsessed with words sometimes. The sounds of them rebound around my mind, in an endless tape loop, until I write them down. Prestidigitation. Corby Kummer. Mellifluous. Fandango. Please don’t say an unusual-sounding name with a certain euphony to me, unless you want me to walk around repeating it all day long. (And please tell me I’m not the only one who does this sometimes.)
Well, for days, I have been repeating the word “clafloutis” in my head. It reminds me of that silly song from “The Sound of Music.” [oh my goodness, as someone pointed out in the comments, I must be tired. This song is from The Music Man. However, I do enjoy the image of this being in the Sound of Music, instead.] Do you know the one? “Shipoopi! Shipoopi! Shipoppi!” The big dance number, grandiose and nonsensical to the plot of the film, full of exuberance and sung out loud. When we were kids, my brother and I giggled about this song, because, of course, it contained the word poop. That alone made me sing it in my head for years.
And so, I’ve been singing clafoutis to the tune of Shipoopi. Can you blame me?
Also, the towering Italian plum tree in the far corner of our backyard has bending branches heavy with fruit. Every time I take a stroll with Little Bean, I reach up for one of the egg-shaped fruits, dusty with pale purple, which burnish to a dark shine with the touch of my fingertips. These plums are golden-green inside, slightly tangy tart, and much more sassy than typical fat plums. Last year, we missed them all, since we were headed for our honeymoon in Italy. This year, Italy feels very far away. But at least there are plums.
This afternoon, my parents came to see Little Bean. I could be coy and say they came to see me, and they will say that too. But really, it was all for the baby. They perch on the couch and hand her back and forth between each other, marveling at her tiny toes and waiting for her giggle. (She did giggle the other day, for the first time, in the middle of a check-up EEG. What kind of kid laughs for the first time with 42 electrodes attached to her head?) I remain so utterly grateful that they are entranced. Their presence gives me the chance to slip into the kitchen and do something decadent.
And so, today, I made a clafoutis. With a name like that, I assumed it would be difficult, sophisticated. Instead, this recipe calls for nothing more than mixing ingredients in a blender, and coming up with something like a thick pancake batter. That, I can do.
By the time my parents had to leave, the clafoutis rang out from the oven, golden brown and bubbly. I put the baby in her swing and bent my legs to pick up the pie pan. (It doesn’t weigh nearly as much as the baby, of course. My body remembers how to pick up Little Bean and transfers the knowledge to everything else.) I wanted a bite, but it was too hot. Besides, the baby called out for food first.
It’s funny that clafoutis is a French dessert. It feels and tastes so British instead. Clafoutis reminds me of the lovely burnt sugar taste of sticky toffee pudding, without the stickiness, and plush custard texture of each pappy spoonful. This is comfort food, the kind that a nanny with sturdy shoes would serve for elevenses. Ignore the name — this is food for the people.
You really should make some too.
It took all my reserve to save the rest of the clafoutis for tonight, so I could feed the Chef after work. I might just make another one for breakfast tomorrow morning. Cherries, figs, perhaps even peaches that would melt into softness underneath the crust — almost every fruit would work for clafoutis.
And me? I’m just happy to be baking again. I’m going to start tackling baked goods I haven’t made yet, gluten-free. I need projects to push me into the kitchen. If you have suggestions of something you’d like to see on this site, let me know.
I’d like to tackle puff pastry and graham crackers and great chocolate cake in the months to come. By the time Little Bean is eating sweets (years from now), I want to be baking her the foods she will associate with her childhood.
This child won’t feel deprived without the gluten. Not with a mama who bakes.
Gluten-Free Clafoutis, adapted from Julia Child
When I wonder what to make, I skip back to Julia Child. How much would I have loved to have met her? I thought, for a few moments, about forcing myself back to cooking by making all her recipes, one by one. But someone else has already done that, and I just don’t have the time.
But her clafoutis recipe? Eminently do-able. Truly. All you need is a blender, a pie pan, a hot oven, and some fruit you love, right now. You can’t go wrong.
Here, I used sweet rice and amaranth for the flours. The sweet rice is inconspicuous, finely textured. And the amaranth is slightly nutty, a little sweet, and perfect for baked goods. However, you could probably use any gluten-free flours you like. Experiment to find your favorite ones.
Oh darn. That means more clafoutis for you.
3 cups Italian plums, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
1/4 cup amaranth flour
1/3 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Toss the chopped plums with the honey and let them marinate for a bit. Set aside.
Throw the milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and two flours into a blender and puree them up until the batter resembles a slightly thick pancake batter.
Pour a thin layer of batter onto the bottom of deep-dish pie pan. Put it in the oven and let it bake until the layer has set.
Spoon in the honeyed fruit, evenly, over the bottom layer. Sprinkle on the remaining sugar. Pour in the remaining batter.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the top is lovely and crusty.
Serve warm or room temperature.