Clafouti is a country French baked pudding, versatile enough to serve for breakfast, brunch, tea or dinner, and suited to a wide variety of fruits. Figs, cherries and other stone fruits work well, and I've also made savory clafoutis with fresh corn and mushrooms. I think it's charming to cook and serve this from a cast-iron pan — especially mini pans that make individual servings — but you can use decorative porcelain pie pans, individual gratin dishes or any skillet providing it is not nonstick. Clafouti tastes and looks best served directly from the oven, while it's puffy and light. It can also be served at room temperature, but it will settle in the pan as it cools. Michael's notes: If you plan to serve individual clafoutis from mini pans, heat the pans in the oven until quite hot, about five minutes, then divide the cooked fruit among the pans, top with the batter and bake. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the pans. To make a cherry clafouti, use 1 1/4 cups pitted cherries. Substitute 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest for the cinnamon and Grand Marnier for the grappa.
Make the batter: Sift the flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon and salt into a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, egg yolk, and milk until well blended. Add about 1/3of the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk to form a paste, then gradually incorporate the remaining egg mixture. Whisk until well blended.
Cook the figs: With the tip of a knife, scrape the vanilla bean seeds from the pod into an ovenproof 10-inch cast iron or stainless steel skillet. Add the pod and the butter and cook over moderately high heat until the butter turns nut brown. Add the figs and cook, stirring often, for about 1 minute to soften them. Remove the vanilla bean pod and discard. Sprinkle the figs with the granulated sugar, reduce the heat to moderately low, and cook until the the sugar has melted and is coating the figs in a light syrup. Add the grappa or other brandy, swirl the pan briefly, then spread the fruit evenly in the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat. Working quickly, pour the batter through a sieve evenly over the fruit. Bake until the edges of the clafouti are puffed and browned and the center is set, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven.
Put some confectioners' sugar in a sieve and generously dust the surface of the clafouti. Serve warm directly from the pan with a dollop of creme fraiche.
(c) NapaStyle, Inc., July 2001 by M. Chiarello, D. Shalleck