Lychee Rum Clafoutis

Cherries, of course, are the fruits used in the most classical French preparation of clafoutis. As recently as 2 weeks ago, black cherries were in abundance all over my local markets. I bought them for eating whole, for making black cherry iced tea, but not for baking. Now it's too late, and the only cherries left are rotten-looking and expensive.

Yesterday at the grocery store I grabbed some lychees, which still seem to be semi-abundant.  Not best looking lychees ever, but good enough for Beijing. Lychees hold their shape very well when baked, so I just soaked them in rum and made tropics-influenced clafoutis with a coconut milk custard. They took longer to bake than I thought, because the deepness of my ramekins. But they did make my kitchen, and entire apartment for that matter, smell like lychees. Really, there is no need for scented candles or home fragrance sprays when you live with a baker.

I thought my mini clafoutis turned out rather well, with nicely caramelized tops and mellow coconut and lychee flavors as anchors. However, J didn't particularly like them, commenting only that they were "interesting." To spare any hurt feelings (on my part), I will just attribute his lack of enthusiasm to our different tastes in desserts, him leaning more towards the bitingly sweet concoctions, the chocolate-supremacy school of thought.

___________________________________

Other desserts with fruit:

Rambutan Fruit Salad Coconut Lime Rice Pudding

___________________________________

Lychee Rum Clafoutis

Makes 6 or so, if you use small ramekins

2 1/2 pounds lychees, peeled and pitted 2 tablespoons light rum 2 eggs, beaten 1 cup coconut milk 1 tsp vanilla 2/3 cup sugar 1/2 cup rice flour 1 tsp cornstarch 1 pinch salt 1 tablespoon butter for greasing ramekins Coconut flakes for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour rum over lychees and leave to soak while you prepare your custard.

In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, coconut milk, and vanilla. Mix well. Add sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt. Mix until well combined. (Don't worry about a few lumps of flour here and there. They will not be noticeable after baking.)

Divide lychees into well-greased ramekins. Pour batter until 1 or 2 centimeters from the top. Pop into oven, and cook for 45 to 50 minutes, until top becomes golden-brownish. Remove from the oven, and cool for at least 10 minutes before eating. Sprinkle top of coconut flakes, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Birthday Pudding

I can't celebrate today without also paying tribute to someone else who shares the same birthday. The late M.F.K. Fisher, arguably the best American food writer of the 20th century, would have turned 100 today. If you haven't read anything by her already, do it, starting with The Gastronomical Me. Her enthusiasm for food and eloquence with words have no parallel.

The last book of hers I finished was A Stew or a Story, a collection of short magazine pieces. In one essay about picnics, her al fresco dessert suggestion was a chilled chocolate mousse. I liked the recipe for two reasons: 1) No heavy cream, which is hard to find within walking distance, and 2) Because the recipe was written before the ubiquity of electric mixers, it assumes that you will mix and whip everything by hand.

I hadn't whipped egg whites in far too long, so my forearm got a workout getting the whites to soft peak. The old-fashioned simplicity of the recipe did seemed nice, I thought. I just melted the chocolate, stirred in the egg yolks and rum and vanilla, and folded in the egg whites. The puddings were all set to pop into the fridge to chill for 12 hours.

Then I had a panic attack. I realized Mary Frances lived in an age of farm-fresh eggs that were probably okay to consume raw, whereas I live in an era of salmonella scares and recent avian flu outbreaks. In that moment I recalled an essay in A Stew or a Story, in which Fisher wrote of serving oyster-stuffed turkey to her family on Christmas and giving everyone massive food poisoning. "It was a perfect prescription for murder, mass murder..." I didn't want to die on my birthday, so paranoia won.

After a bit of Googling, I came across an old New York Times article that suggested baking, then chilling the chocolate pudding. "The results, a kind of sponge pudding," says Florence Fabricant, "comes surprisingly close to the traditional recipe with raw eggs." Sold.

The pudding also takes less time to chill. A few hours later, after a trip to IKEA for household supplies and Swedish foodstuffs, I served the pudding. It did turn out spongy, almost brownie-like in texture, but still delicious. (If you want a runnier pudding, you could bake it for 5 to 10 minutes less.) Ice cream took the place of the "very strong coffee" accompaniment called for in the recipe.  What can I say...ice cream seemed more festive, more fitting for celebrating the centennial birthday of a great writer.

______________________________________

Chilled Chocolate Pudding for the Modern Age Adapted from A Stew or a Story by M.F.K. Fisher

Serves 3 to 4

4 egg whites 5 ounces (about 150 grams) dark chocolate 4 egg yolks 1 tablespoon dark rum, or 1 1/2 tablespoons light rum 1 teaspoon vanilla extract A pinch of salt

Preheat oven t0 300 degrees F / 150 degrees Celsius.

Whip egg whites to soft peak.  (Bonus points for doing this with your hands!) Set aside.

Over a broiler or pot of boiling water, melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Remove from heat, and stir in egg yolks, rum, vanilla, and salt. Fold in the whipped egg whites.

Pour the mixture into ramekins or cups. (If you plan on unmolding these before eating, first grease the insides of the containers with butter.) Bake for 20 minutes, until tops feel firm. Remove from the oven, let cool, and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. (This is good warm or at room temperature.) When ready to serve, top with wafer crumbles and ice cream.

 

Rose Tea Rice Pudding, a Persian-Chinese Concoction

A few months ago I wrote about my obsession with rose tea, also called rosebud tea. Not to be confused with rose hip, or the those things your boyfriend is supposed to give you for Valentine's Day, rose tea uses the buds from a rose bush. 玫瑰茶 (meigui cha) is usually blended with black tea or other herbal teas, but I think it's great on its own.

Since I moved to Beijing, I would drink rose bud tea in cafés but never bought any to steep at home. Maybe it was a subconscious move to associate it with the pleasant dim cafés of Beijing's university district - the clatter of Mandarin-English exchanges, the walls of books and French New Wave posters - rather than my bleak florescent-lit apartment. Or maybe it was just pure laziness.

Earlier this week Jacob and I went to Maliandau, also known as Beijing's "Tea Street." This is where restaurants and shops come to source their tea wholesale, and where tea obsessives buy their leaves and gadgets in bulk. We went around and bought a bunch of gifts for his family and, of course, ourselves. I couldn't resist the rose tea, sitting in a big bin and whispering my name. Now that I have it at home, I can't stop thinking of desserts I can make with it.

Persian rice pudding is usually made with rose water. But since rose water seems to be nonexistent in Beijing, tea seems like a good substitute. (You can also get rose bud tea outside of China; yay globalization.)* The rice pudding I made today is a more pared down version, the Middle East by way of China. No clarified butter, jasmine rice instead of basmati. I also used soy milk instead of regular milk, for personal and practical reasons: I don't really like the taste of bovine milk, and soy milk actually gives you more room for error. If you accidentally overheat the liquid, there's no nasty film on top.

Go sparingly on sugar, so the fragrance of the rose tea comes through. New Yorkers may know Rice to Riches down in Soho, that ultra-mod shop specializing in rice pudding. I went there once and couldn't finish half a portion of the small size; the sugar and cream were overwhelming. This is meant to be the exact opposite of a Rice to Riches pudding.

*If you don't live in China, here are two online tea specialty shops that sell rose bud tea.

Silk Road Tea Imperial Tea Court

________________________________________

Rose Tea Rice Pudding

Serves 2

1/2 cup jasmine rice 1 1/2 cups water for rice, plus extra 1/3 cup rose tea 1 cup hot water for the rose tea 1 1/2 cups soy milk 3/4 cup sugar (to start. Add more if necessary) 6 saffron threads 1/4 teaspoon cardamom 1 tablespoon golden raisins, chopped

Rinse rice in a fine mesh sieve under cold water. Transfer to a small to medium sized pot filled with water, and bring to boil. Lower the heat to very low and simmer, stirring regularly, for 30 minutes. Add more water if necessary, if rice begins to look too lumpy.

Meanwhile, in a small dish or cup, soak saffron in a tablespoon of water. Set aside.

Steep 2 tablespoons of rose tea (flowerets?) in 2/3 cup hot water. Set side.

After the rice as been simmering for 30 minutes, at soy milk and sugar. Stir to dissolve. Add more sugar if needed, but keep in mind that too much sugar may overwhelm the subtleness of the rose tea. Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Strain rose tea and add about 3/4 to the rice (reserve some for drizzling over pudding). Stir in saffron liquid and cardamom. Cook for another 2 minutes, then remove from heat.

The rice pudding can be served warm or at room temperature. (The longer it stands, the thicker it gets; to thin, add more soy milk.) Top with golden raisins, drizzle a bit more rose tea over the top, and serve.