“We’ll always have Paris.”
“Where is this damn platform?” my mother shouted over her shoulder, out of breath.
Our train was about to leave Gare du Nord, a minute, maybe two at most.
We stood there, in a circle, three women, lost. Lost at the train station, but also lost in love with this city.
It had been an idea, a good one. Paris is always a good idea, they say.
A few days in the city of love, just my maman, my aunt and myself.
We booked a hotel, cheap as anything considering the location, with the old world charm you’ll only find in ageing European places.
I had a room to myself, on the topmost floor, the window overlooking the city.
At night the million city lights shone like bright diamonds, la Tour Eiffel enlightening the small chamber as much as the earliest rays of the morning sun.
I woke early the following day, unlike my usual self, and despite having read until the wee hours of the morning. Though both my travel companions were still sound asleep next door, so I looked for ways to occupy myself, in an attempt to quench my hunger for breakfast.
The shower was small and clad with floral tiles, a cheap plastic mirror hung over the sink. I tried blow-drying my hair, in an attempt of vanity, though gave up a few minutes later as the tiny room heated up, small drops of sweat forming on my forehead.
I decided to cool off at the open window, longing for a cigarette. I saw the roof scattered with yellow ends, so I lit one up and smoked in silence, observing the small Parisian apartments around me coming to life.
Seemingly hours later, we sat outside the small bakery around the corner, three bols of café au lait and croissants larger than our heads in front of us.
“Now – what are we in the mood for?”
The city of love is no easy feat to tackle. There is too much to be seen, too much to be done, too much to be eaten.
One could spend weeks there, simply sitting outside the same café, notebook in hand, studying the people hurrying past. Wandering all the small side streets of the Rue des Rosiers, right through the heart of the Marais, oh, my beloved Marais. Exploring the second hand shops, the vintage stores tucked into tiny corners, almost as if they didn’t want to be found, an attempt at keeping their ancient treasures hidden from the busy world.
I bought a vintage dress in such a hidden shop, a light blue one with a white cherry print, a generous steer away from my usual muted colors. I gave it away years later, when it no longer fit, for we visited Paris during a time I used cigarettes to tame my appetite and coffee to keep me going.
Though in Paris we ate, and we ate well.
At Chez Paul, where my mother ordered a whole fish with pleasure and I picked assortiment de chèvres chauds sur salade romaine, sharing two sampling plates of desserts between the three of us.
A meringue from an obscure bakery after sitting in the wrong metro for way too long, plump dates from a deli in the Marais who’s name I have long forgotten.
100% cocoa chocolate from À la Mère de Famille, a Middle Eastern feast at Chez Marianne, a giant salad at Marcel in Montmartre on our final day, right after visiting Café des 2 Moulins from our beloved movie Amélie.
We were late travelling back, rushing to get our luggage, confusing the metro, running with suitcases in hand.
At la gare, the platform for our train back home was obscurely numbered, nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be found.
I wished for it, I wished for the train to have sunk into the ground, never to be found again, stuck in beloved Paris for a lifetime.
What a dream.
This story is neither enriched with tales of clafoutis, nor that of cherries, lest you count the cherries on my new-old dress.
But it had to be told, told with passion, the same passion I poured into this clafoutis to make it just right.
Do not be fooled by this seemingly simplistic and rustic dessert, while it can be quickly whipped up in a blender I much prefer the more labour-intensive version, rich and deep, with a stormy character and the same understated elegance of a Parisian woman dressed in a ball gown and flats, curls unkempt.
You’ll whip eggs and sugar together, until pale and fluffy, a soft cloud to give stability to the baked custard later.
Folding in the smallest amount of flour, to ensure a dessert that’s equally light as it is sturdy, taking care not to knock out too much air.
Finally a mix of double cream, milk and alcohol, whisked until frothy, folded in just as carefully as the flour.
The ruby cherries, torn to be pitted, in the bottom of either a ceramic or copper dish, encased by the soft custard mix.
You have to find the sweet spot for the perfect time to serve this cherry clafoutis, for it can be neither eaten fresh out of the oven nor too cool.
It needs some time after baking, 15-20 minutes at most, to become slightly firmer, making it both easier to eat and prettier to serve.
You can eat it plain and simple or add a little creme fraiche on the side, I went rogue and made it a la mode – scooping a little vanilla ice cream over the warm flan.
For I adore the moody and bohemian spirit of Paris, and Paris is always a modish step out of place – it would be a crime not to honor its story with a little ice cream on your otherwise perfect cherry clafoutis.
Soundtrack to your sweet Saturday cherry clafoutis baking:
- 3/4 cup PLUS 2 tablespoons double cream
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp amaretto liquor
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup fine caster sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 lb sweet cherries, torn in half and pitted
- powdered sugar and vanilla ice cream, to serve (optional)
- Heat the oven to 360°F (180°C) and lightly grease a 7x11 ceramic or copper baking dish. Do not use aluminium, as it will make the eggs taste wrong.
- Whisk together the double cream, milk, vanilla extract and amaretto until foamy.
- Cream the eggs with the sugar and salt until pale and fluffy. The mass will increase in volume by about 3 times, so use a decently sized bowl.
- Sift the flour over the beaten egg mass and fold in gently. Pour in the milk mixture and fold in, too.
- Place the cherries in the prepared baking dish, then pour the batter over them. Bake for 30-35 minutes, allow to cool for about 15 minutes before dusting with icing sugar and serving with ice cream, if you like.