What Planet is my Clafoutis From?

Like so many moments of culinary inspiration, this plum clafoutis is nothing like what I was thinking of prior to actually wandering into the kitchen to make dinner.

I was going to make pancake dome pancakes.

Pancake domes are features on Venus. They are so named because they look like pancakes:

Actually, they are volcanoes.

It would be trivial to make a batch of ordinary pancakes, point out the uncanny resemblance, and call it a day; it would also be cheating. Pancake dome pancakes should erupt. This, from Stofan et al. 2000 1, is roughly the mechanism I wanted:


Moreover, I wanted to do this with ingredients I had on hand that needed to be used up. This led me to think of using kale leaves to encourage the formation of a central vent, with some kind of watery homemade applesauce concoction as the lava. Except I wasn't sure about getting the applesauce to boil and erupt before the bottom of the pancake burned - maybe it would help if I used vodka and/or egg and/or baking soda and vinegar in the applesauce? With more kale on the bottom?

The longer I thought about it, the more delicious the pancake dome pancakes became - and by "delicious" I mean "horrifying".

Thankfully, when I was walking home, I passed through an alley where someone's plum tree was overhanging the fence, with a pile of sad, unwanted plums beneath it. Pancake dome pancakes might be a disaster, but hey! Free plums!

So, clafoutis. While it is not a pancake dome, it is still of geological interest. Clafoutis geological history can be divided into four eras: Assemblian, Bakeat375ian, Deflatian, and Servian. Kitchen dynamicists are still debating which processes brought the plums into the pan during the Assemblian, but by the beginning of the Bakeat375ian, we know that the plum halves were arranged neatly and surrounded by a pan-wide ocean of unbaked custard.2

By the Late Bakeat375ian, there had been active plum juice volcanism at the edges of the pan for at least 5 +/- 3 minutes. The runny, slightly sugary juice did not form an edifice in the pan, but rather, dripped out of the pan and pooled on the bottom of my oven3. The original custard ocean had undergone dehydration reactions, and the resulting steam had puffed up the clafoutis surface above mean pan level (ampl). The Bakeat375ian lasted approximately 60 minutes.

By the end of the Deflatian, the center of the clafoutis was about 2 cm below mean pan level, while the edges were still at approximately pan level. A system of faults developed to accomodate the strain:


Clafoutis from the Servian Era has been destroyed by plate tectonics geo-digestive processes. The only data we have is from the end-Deflatian snapshot mission, shown above.

So, while it's not a pancake dome pancake, I can think of a few different possible planetary analogs to clafoutis:

  1. Mercury, which has contracted as it's cooled, so much that the surface has developed funky wrinkles:


  2. Pancake domes - look closely and you will see that they also have cracks and faults in their surface. In this perspective rendering from laser topography, you can also see that like my clafoutis, the sides are higher than the middle:


  3. Mars, where you can see the collapsed top of some lava tubes:


Which do you think fits best?


1 Ellen R. Stofan, Steven W. Anderson, David A. Crown, and Jeffrey J. Plaut, 2000. Emplacement and composition of steep-sided domes on Venus, Journal of Geophysical Research 105 (E11) 26757-26771.

2 3 eggs, 2/3 c. flour, 1 1/3 c. milk, 2 t. vanilla, classic dessert spices and a pinch of salt in a homogeneous mixture.

3 Analysis of organic biomarkers left on the bottom of the oven indicates that a small amount of granulated refined cane sugar was present with the plums.

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I don't know, but I'd love to be a candidate for further experiments if you happen to enter a Leftoverian era. Or is it too late for that?

Waaaaay too late for a Leftoverian. Clafouti leftovers are highly unstable; you might be able to slow down the decay with some kind of dieting atmosphere, but that's not present in this apartment.

Try cherry next - push the envelope.

the dessert looks yummy on my iPhone!

By eric hartford (not verified) on 27 Sep 2008 #permalink

Does the displacement of the plums suggest a convective custardosphere during the bakean, or did they start slightly crooked?

Also, I object to the units implied by the number 375.

I think the plum disturbance had more to do with the End Assemblean event than with custard convection.

Sadly, we'll never know whether algal blooms would've colonized the primordial terrain. Slimy cabbage-shaped stromatolites would've just topped things off!

Damn. Here I am trying to come up with cool food science posts every two weeks and I'm getting my butt kicked by a Yorkshire pudding with fruit in it.

Awesome work, Maria...

I love you. That may seem like a non sequitur, but it's not. This post is the essence of what I love about you. It's original, intellectually stimulating, funny, imaginative, and involves a delightful sensuous experience, something you seem to be brilliant at arranging for yourself, in one form or another. So, smooch.