Maggie Beer is everywhere: on our television screens, our bookshelves, in our pantries and even in our freezers. She’s even keeping a friendly eye on our grandmas via the foundation she established to lift the quality of food served in aged care homes. It seems hard, now, to remember a time when she wasn’t a household name but when Maggie’s Table was published 15 years ago her star was still on the rise.
The Sydney-born, Barossa-dwelling self-taught cook and advocate for seasonality and regionality came to prominence via her award-winning Pheasant Farm restaurant, which closed in 1993. She moved further into the public eye with a couple of paperback cookbooks, much cherished by those of us aspiring to cook game birds; through newspaper cookery columns; she co-authored a bestselling Tuscan cookbook with her friend Stephanie Alexander; and with a rich, smooth pate that became the foundation for a food-production empire. Maggie’s Table, published in 2001 by Viking, was a hit: a handsome hardcover (since reissued in paperback) packed with user-friendly recipes and lush photography that made readers want to learn to love verjuice and decamp immediately to a picturesque South Australian farm.
With this recipe, we have taken Beer’s cherry clafoutis from Maggie’s Table and adapted it to work with one of her best-loved orchard fruits. Clafoutis—a French dessert of sweet batter and fruit—works with all kinds of fruits. Pears are among Beer’s favourites and make a superb ingredient in winter desserts. Having been harvested in autumn, they keep beautifully in cool storage and marry happily with ingredients such as chocolate, ginger and orange. The roasted pears in this dish can be used in desserts using any of these flavours, and we’d encourage you to do that. Beer is a big supporter of experimentation: as she wrote recently on her Facebook page, “Improvisation is key to everything I do, and while you may make some mistakes along the way it is the most wonderful way to cook for all the delicious surprises that pop up.”
- Heat the oven to 175C fan-forced. Select a shallow ovenproof dish that will hold the mixture in a shallow layer, approximately 18 centimetres x 28 centimetres should be fine. There will be 600 millilitres of mixture, so if in doubt, do a test with the equivalent amount of water. If the mixture is too deep the pears will sink and disappear. Grease the dish with a little butter.
- Place the sugar into the mixing bowl and blend 2 seconds/Turbo. Add the milk, cream, eggs, flour, baking powder and salt into the mixing bowl. Scrape in the tiny seeds from inside the spilt vanilla bean. Reserve the bean for later.
- Mix everything together 10 seconds/speed 6.
- Pour the mixture into the greased dish then arrange the roast pears on top. Arrange the reserved lemon zest strips on top and splay the vanilla bean in the centre.
- Bake the clafoutis in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes or until set in the centre; a skewer into the centre should come out clean. When the clafoutis comes out, spoon any leftover pear roasting juices over the top.
- Allow the clafoutis to cool a little before serving and serve warm with cream.
- Heat the oven to 180C fan-forced. Line a small roasting dish with baking paper.
- Peel long strips of zest from the lemon with a peeler, being careful not to take any bitter white pith; this will go on top of the clafoutis later. Squeeze the juice and set both aside separately.
- Slice the pears lengthways into 8 wedges each then remove the stalk and the core. The skin can stay on or come off, it’s up to you: I always leave it on.
- Place the pears into the roasting dish. Scatter with the butter and sugar and add the lemon juice.
- Roast the pears in oven, tossing every now and then, until they are softened and beginning to brown. This will take about 30 minutes depending on ripeness of the pears. There should be lovely juices in the dish at the end of cooking.
AND … the pears can be roasted well ahead of time and reheated when needed. Swap the lemon for an orange if you like. They are also excellent toppers for cakes and muffins; try them served warm with your winter porridge or just on their own with whipped cream.