Blackberries have put their spell on me lately. It started a few weeks ago while I was taking a walk on the Normandy shore, not far from the famous white cliffs of Etretât. A blackberry thicket seamed our path, thorny yet inviting. I would have loved to indulge on a handful or two, but that day it was too early for picking, so I contented myself with taking photos. Since that untimely encounter, blackberries have continued to pop up in my mind, taking the shape of tarts and soufflés, cakes and ice cream, and any late summer treat imaginable. At first I was pleased – who doesn´t like a sweet daydream every now and then -, even filled with anticipation for those blackberry days ahead. But then I started to feel slightly uncomfortable. There was a reproachful undertone accentuating this dessert parade, as if to say: “Look how amazing we are! How could you forgot about us last year? Make sure this won´t happen again!”
And those berries were right – for some reason last year´s blackberry season had come and gone without me. I didn´t have anything to declare in my defense. What now? I´m not a person who likes to live in disharmony, not even with fruit. All I could do was to make up for my unfaithfulness and find a way to apologize: “Look, ” I said, “I didn´t mean to show you the cold shoulder. I adore you, you know? I love your taste, I love your color, I also love all your tiny kernels. Not many people do. I don´t even mind too much all the stains you´ve left on so many of our shirts and dresses (though that one wasn´t 100% honest). Can we be friends again?” I´m not entirely sure, but I believe I could hear a faint murmur coming from somewhere, not totally refusing, but still somewhat indignant.
Then I kept looking for the prettiest blackberries I could find, and brought home a few flawless punnets a couple of days ago. The plan was to make not one, but two desserts impossible not to like, thus hopefully suitable for spreading and regaining blackberry love: a rustic blackberry and pear clafoutis, and a light-as-a-feather millefeuille, a` thousand layers` of puff pastry with blackberries and creamy vanilla mascarpone. Both turned out delicious, very easy to make, and most importantly make the blackberries stand out and shine. And while I can´t decide which of the two I prefer – perhaps the clafoutis for breakfast and the millefeuille for lunch? -, I am happy to report that until now, I haven´t heard those blackberry voices again.
Perhaps that´s a good sign.
Blackberry millefeuille (makes 6):
The classic millefeuille is of rectangular shape and made with strawberries and custard cream. I made smaller round ones, and a layered them with a simple mascarpone cream that goes wonderfully with the slight bittersweetness of the berries. Together with the crunchy sugar coated millefeuille it´s an irresistible combination!
2 pck. puff pastry à 230 g each
120 ml cream
75 g mascarpone
2 tbsp honey
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
about 250 g blackberries (count 7-8 per millefeuille)
Using a cookie cutter, cut 18 circles of about the size of a palm. Keep remaining pastry wrapped in cling film in the fridge for later use. Generously dust circles with confectioner´s sugar and bake on a parchment paper lined baking tray at 180°C for 10-12 minutes. If too puffed up, press with a small plate or the bottom of a cup to flatten. Leave to cool.
Whisk together the cream, mascarpone, vanilla seeds and honey. Use more honey or confectioner´s sugar to adjust sweetness if desired.
Spread 1 tbsp of cream on 6 of the puff pastry circles, add 3-4 berries, cover with a second circle. Again add cream and berries. Cover with a third circle, dust with a generous layer of icing sugar and serve immediately.
Pear & blackberry “clafougnarde”:
Clafoutis and flognarde both are flan like desserts from the Limousin region of France. For a clafoutis, cherries (or other small fruit) are baked in a pancake style batter, while apples or pears are used for a flognarde. I like to imagine clafoutis as the summer version of flognarde, and flognarde as the autumn version of clafoutis. During these days in between, when the seasons collide, you may find blackberries and pears happily mixing & mingling in a custardy pillow of what may be best named a “clafougnarde”.
50 g sugar
1 tsp honey
60 g flour
30 g salted butter (or unsalted if you prefer)
180 ml milk
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1 pinch fine salt
3-4 small ripe pears, quartered
125 g blackberries
4 tbsp slivered almonds
Melt butter. Beat eggs with sugar and salt. Add milk, honey, vanilla seeds, and flour. Add melted butter.
Grease a baking tin or oven proof casserole. Arrange peeled and quarterd pears, sprinkle with half the slivered almonds. Pour the batter. Add blackberries. Sprinkle with remaining almonds.
Bake for 30-35 min in the preheated oven at 180°C/350°F. Serve warm.