A few years ago, when I told Jay we were having cherry clafoutis for dessert he chided me for cooking the precious fruits which make such a teasingly brief (and expensive) appearance every spring. Why squander them, rather than enjoying them fresh? But when he took his first bite of the juicy, brandy-infused cherries surrounded by custardy batter, he fully understood. ‘The way to make cherries even better,’ he philosophized, helping himself to seconds, ‘is to soak them in booze and bake them.’
Words of a wise man. Or at least a sated one.
Since then, I have made it a mission to expose people to the wonders of clafoutis. I’ve baked clafoutis with peaches, berries, figs, poached rhubarb, and roasted apples, and have made ginormous pans of it at music camps several summers in a row. Peoples’ eyes widen in anticipatory wonder when they take their first bite of the puffed custard and warm, oozing fruit. Eyes roll heavenwards, lips are smacked, and ‘Clafoutis!’ is often joyously exclaimed. (Though I suspect some peoplejust like to say‘clafoutis.’)
Cherries and apricots make a particularly lovely combination, the cherries retaining a sweet crispness and the perfumed apricots softening into luscious pockets. This is a versatile dessert and can showcase almost any seasonal fruit. Stone fruit and berries can be swapped in as the are; pears and apples should be briefly sauteed in butter; quince and rhubarb can be roasted or poached; prunes, dried apricots or cherries can be soaked in more brandy or armagnac. I once saw a recipe for pumpkin cranberry clafoutis, and am curious as to what a chocolate clafoutis might be like, with cocoa in the batter and chunks of chocolate (or fresh cherries, pears or raspberries) replacing the fruit. You could go crazy and steep the dairy with cardamom pods or coins of fresh ginger, use honey or maple syrup in place of the sugar, or add a splash of almond extract or noyaux liquor to the batter.
Clafoutis is best eaten within several hours of being baked, but it can be stored in the fridge and reheats beautifully. Warm, it is puffed and light, like a fallen souffle. Cooled the texture is more dense and custardy, more closely resembling a slightly chewy bread pudding or baked pancake (dutch baby). In fact, it makes a fantastic breakfast, topped with creamy yogurt and some extra fresh fruit, and would be an unique addition to any brunch.
This dessert comes together quickly and easily, requiring only a whisk and a bowl. If you lack a cherry pitter, or have a hand modeling gig coming up, take comfort in the fact that it is traditional to leave the cherry pits in to flavor the dessert with their bitter almondy essence. (Just be sure to warn your guests.)
I asked Jay if he was tired of clafoutis yet, this being my third trial this month. He replied stalwartly, gazing into the middle distance, ‘I will never tire of clafoutis.’
Stoked on stone fruit:
Makes one 10″ clafoutis, about 8 servings
Feel free to swap in any fruit you like for the cherries and apricots: peaches, berries, figs, roasted apples or rhubarb are some favorites. The batter can be made a day or two ahead if you like, and stored in the fridge. A bit of yogurt, creme fraiche or unsweetened whipped cream makes a nice accompaniment. I’ve found that cake flour makes the most delicate, creamy clafoutis; all-purpose can be used in a pinch, but the result won’t be quite as silky.
1/4 cup sliced almonds
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar (plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling over the top)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or the seeds from 1 vanilla bean)
2/3 cup cake flour
1 cup half and half
generous 1/2 pound apricots, quartered
generous 1/2 pound cherries, pitted
1 tablespoon brandy or kirsh
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Spread the almonds on a small baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, 4 minutes or so. Remove and set aside. Increase the oven to 400º.
Brush a 10″ solid-bottom tart, pie or cake pan or skillet with a bit of the melted butter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Sift the flour over and whisk until very smooth. Gradually whisk in the half and half. The consistency will be that of a thick crepe batter.
Combine the fruit and brandy in a medium bowl, tossing several times.
Lay the fruit evenly in the bottom of the buttered pan. Whisk any leftover juices and the rest of the melted butter into the batter. Pour the batter over the fruit. Scatter the almonds over the top and sprinkle with the 1 tablespoon sugar. (Alternately, bake the clafoutis for 10 minutes first, then add the almonds and sugar and continue baking. This makes a slightly prettier dessert.)
Bake the clafoutis until puffed and golden and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, 40 – 50 minutes. Remove and let cool at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to several days; reheat if you like.