Chocolate clafoutis, chocolate clafoutis, chocolate...pear clafoutis. Chocolate pear clafoutis, Chocolate Pear Clafoutis! Each time I thought about this month's Sugar High Friday (a marvelous online event conceived by Jennifer at Domestic Goddess and kindly hosted this month, in its one-year anniversary edition, by Kelli at Lovescool), I felt as if I had developed an idée fixe. The words "chocolate clafoutis" and after a day or two, "chocolate pear clafoutis" became a repetetive mantra. I couldn't work, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat -- well, that's a lie. But I did want to create this imagined sweet...perfectly ripe autumn pears in a rich, oozing heart of chocolate darkness. None of the recipes I found, however, satisfied me. My search turned up a recipe, widely published online, for Chocolate Clafoutis with Caramelized Oranges. This was courtesy of the brash, slapdash Jamie -- and even though I'm not fond of celebrity chefs, I might have used his proportions as a place to start. But he uses a whole cup of flour, in what should essentially be a light batter pudding, not a cake. What would this do to the chocolate flavor, to the delicate pears? I found other recipes, but realized that I didn't want simply a chocolate custard either. I wanted chocolate intensity. You might understand how I feel about chocolate, especially dark chocolate, if you were to visit me at the moment of this writing. On my bedside table, I have two chocolate bars, one 70% with cocoa nibs, the other 60% with macadamias and cranberries. Alongside the bars stands a ribbon-tied bag of chocolate coffee beans. Close by is a little clear plastic box of Lake Champlain chocolate leaves and a long box of Normandy butter biscuits enrobed in dark chocolate. And no, I didn't lay in special supplies for this evening. That's just what I happened to see when I looked over at the table.
While waiting for inspiration to strike in terms of devising a chocolate batter, I decided to focus on the fruit. Pears it would be. Ripely, gushingly in season; they have been so good this year. Pears...pears and chocolate; it is a combination I've loved ever since my first taste of my mother's Poire Belle Helene, made with canned pears, good vanilla ice-cream, and homemade bittersweet chocolate sauce.
I found some very lovable Bartletts at the Greenmarket, trucked down to the city from an upstate farm. The farmers had done their part, so I did mine. The pears were nurtured gently in a brown paper bag until they yielded, like shy but willing virgins, to the slightest pressure at their stem ends (so to speak). They were delicious, as William Carlos Williams liked to say of plums. I wanted to give their subtle flavor just a little bit of heightening -- the tiniest little kick. I wanted nothing that would mask them, but something that would make them more themselves.
Somehow, I found myself in a liquor store, paying an only just bearable sum of money for a bottle that contained such beauty, I could hardly bring myself to open it. And indeed, opening it proved quite difficult. G was pressed into service, and the deed was done. The sight of this drinkable objet d'art consistently provoked the obvious question, "But how do they get the pear into the bottle?" Some of us know these things, because we stay up late at night reading obscure tracts about eaux-de-vie. For others, however, it remains a mystery. Whatever you may know or not know about its making, the liquid itself is delectably perfumed and quite potent.
Once I'd gathered my fruit and spirits, the chocolate part suddenly became clear to me. I remembered a certain warm baked chocolate pudding. Nigella Lawson (I prefer to think of her as an excellent home cook who has achieved fame, rather than as a celebrity chef) published a recipe for Gooey Chocolate Puddings in her first book, How To Eat. It's one that we've made and loved fairly often. I began to dream of it with disks of extra dark chocolate bubbling under the surface, and pears -- pears soaked in Poire William eau-de-vie. This would be the batter for my chocolate pear dessert , even if it wasn't a true clafoutis. Even when I'd decided, I still flirted with the idea of a chocolate mascarpone cream, baked with pears. I considered a custardy variation, with heavy cream and egg yolks for a perfect silken wobble. And I may still try those too, soon, while there are still glorious pears to be had.
But in making and eating this recipe, I found this much at least to be true: if you love dark, dark chocolate, tempered with the musk of ripe pears, this is your dessert. You can call it chocolate pear clafoutis if you wish. If not, I'll leave you to put words to the obsession yourself.
Chocolate Pear Clafoutis
2 small/medium just-ripe Bartlett pears
2 Tbsp. Poire William (pear eau-de-vie)
5 oz. best-quality dark chocolate (70% or more cocoa solids; I used 85%)
4 oz. unsalted butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla
4 Tbsp. flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs
good pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 400F. Butter and flour 8 1-cup ramekins. Quarter, core and slice pears into small chunks. Toss them with poire eau-de-vie and allow them to macerate while you’re preparing the rest of the dessert. Melt chocolate and butter together; stir in vanilla. Beat flour, sugar and eggs together lightly but thoroughly; add a pinch of salt. Drain the pear slices, reserving the eau-de-vie. Stir the reserved eau-de-vie into the melted chocolate, then whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg/flour/sugar batter. Divide the pear chunks among the ramekins; top with equal portions of chocolate batter. Slide three chocolate discs just under the surface of the batter at approximately equal intervals in each ramekin.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the edges are set and the tops are lightly cracked but still a tiny bit soft in the center. Watch carefully at this point – it’s very easy to overbake these, and you want a soft, slightly molten chocolate center. Serve right away. Freshly whipped heavy cream, slightly sweetened and flavored with a bit of the Poire William would be a lovely accompaniment. Good vanilla ice-cream works just as well though – the contrast of hot dessert and cold ice-cream is always a winner.