Candied leaves are a beautiful way to take your cooking with herbs to the next level. They are very easy to make – simply dip in egg white and then sugar – but look impressive, as if they have been touched by the frosty fingers of the Snow Queen. Sage, with its downy softness, lends itself particularly well to the process, but you could also use the same technique with mint, lemon balm, or young lemon verbena leaves. You will need to prepare them a day or two in advance, so bear that in mind.
This classic clafoutis combines succulent roast apricots with verdant pistachio, adding a double hit of aromatic sage to temper the sweetness with its slightly resinous fragrance. It is a perfect pudding for high summer, perhaps with a drizzle of double cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream to gild the lily. You could also use peaches or plums in place of apricots, and consider adding a few blackberries or raspberries to the batter too if you happen to have any lying around. The tart fruit paired with the pillowy softness of the custard is really quite something. Unorthodox though it may be, I sometimes eat the leftovers of this for breakfast.
For the candied sage
18 sage leaves
1 egg white
5 tablespoons caster sugar
For the clafoutis
150ml whole milk
150ml double cream
15 sage leaves
butter, for greasing
600g apricots, halved (or quartered if large) and stoned
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons plain flour
100g caster sugar
75g shelled pistachio nuts
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
Chickpea, Blood Orange Insrucrtions
Make the candied sage leaves the day before you want to serve the clafoutis. Put the egg white in a small bowl or cup and sprinkle the caster sugar over a plate. Have a sheet of baking parchment nearby. Dip each sage leaf in egg white to coat thoroughly, then dredge it in the sugar, ensuring it is completely covered on both sides. Lay it gently on the sheet of baking parchment and repeat with the remaining leaves. Leave the leaves on a worktop or oven rack to dry out for at least 24 hours. They should become crisp and sparkling.
The next day, about 2 hours before you want to serve the clafoutis, put the milk and cream in a small saucepan. Roughly crush the 15 uncandid sage leaves (not the ones you just covered in sugar!) in your hand then add them to the pan. Bring the mixture to just below the boil, then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, grease a baking dish of about 28–30cm in diameter and at least 4cm deep with butter. Place the apricot halves, cut sides up, in the dish in a single layer.
Once the milk and cream mixture has infused, preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.
Strain the milk mixture through a fine sieve into a jug or bowl to remove the sage (you can discard this sage now). To the mixture in the jug, add the lemon zest, eggs, flour, and caster sugar and whisk well using a hand whisk or electric hand whisk until smooth. (A few small lumps are fine, but aim for it to be as smooth as you can get it.)
If you have a food processor, blitz the pistachios to a fine powder. Otherwise, chop as finely as you can. Whisk them into the milk and egg mixture.
Pour the mixture over and around the apricots in the baking dish – it may cover a few, which is fine. Sprinkle the demerara sugar evenly over the dish.
Put the dish in the oven and bake for about 35–45 minutes, or until the custard is evenly set with a slight wobble. It should be golden and puffed up around the fruit. Leave to cool for about 15 minutes before scattering with the candied sage leaves. Serve immediately.