cherry clafoutiPosted: July 5, 2011
I may be posting this a bit late considering that cherries have completed their (all too brief) season here in the northeast. But I thought perhaps they would still be around in other parts of the country, and in any event if cherries are gone for this year, you should plan to try this recipe when they are around again next year. Cherry clafouti (or clafoutis) is classic French peasant cooking. It’s quite simple and easy to make, a lovely dessert of cherries with a sort of pancake batter poured around them, baked in the oven till it becomes a custard. Traditionally, you leave the pits in, as they contribute a subtle almond flavor to the custard (this is because, like almonds, the pits of stone fruit contain the chemical benzaldehyde, which is responsible for almondy flavor). I’m certainly not one to buck a culinary tradition that is in keeping with my own laziness, so I did not pit the cherries when I made this. Now, for some unimaginable reason or other, Mark objected to me spitting out the pits onto the plate we were sharing when we first tried the finished dessert (and, to be honest, I found his caveman-like method of clawing them out with his bare hands rather distasteful myself). So if you plan to serve this for finicky guests, maybe you should pit the cherries before baking. If your guests have a sense of adventure, however, then by all means leave the pits in. Centuries of French cooks and Larousse Gastronomique support you (also it takes less effort).
This also seems an appropriate moment for a little awareness-raising about cherries. In yet another useful tidbit from Harold McGee, I learned what horrible horrible creations maraschino cherries are. When I was a small child, my family used to go to a local Chinese restaurant quite frequently. I would always order this drink called a “Shirley Temple” (I think it was just Sprite with grenadine and a few cherries). I liked the maraschino cherries so much that my parents would ask for a small bowl of them on the side, and the waiters/waitresses would always comply, maybe because I was cute then or something. Anyhow, as it turns out, here is the truth about maraschino cherries, from McGee: “The familiar ‘maraschino’ cherry originated several centuries ago in northeastern Italy and the neighboring Balkans, where the local marasca cherry was preserved in its own liqueur for winter eating. In the modern industrial version, light-fleshed varieties are bleached with sulfur dioxide and stored in brine until needed, then infused with sugar syrup, dyed cherry red, flavored with almond extract, and pastuerized. After all that, what’s left of the original cherry is mainly its skeleton, the cell walls and skin.” So there you have it. My roommate and I had a little get-together last year for the finale of the first season of Jersey Shore, at which we attempted to make the infamous “Ron-ron juice,” a toxic cocktail (heh) of maraschino cherries, cranberry juice, watermelon, and vodka, that tasted exactly like Benadryl (I guess we should have known). You won’t be seeing a recipe on the blog for that stuff ever. I was horrified enough at the time; now that I know what maraschino cherries are, I am horrified even more.
But there is nothing artificial about this dessert. It is thick and almost nourishing, in a way – real, and very rustic, comfort food. You should definitely plan to make this when cherries are in season (in addition, of course, to eating them fresh by the fistful).
I made a few minor changes to this recipe, mainly, cutting the sugar considerably. The original recipe called for a cup, while other recipes around the internets called for 1/3 – 1/2 cup for the same quantity of batter. Since this recipe also includes a tablespoon of brown sugar (to add depth to the flavor), I decided to use 1/3 cup of granulated sugar. I thought it was the perfect level of sweetness – the cherries and hint of almond in the custard were not drowned out by too much sugariness – but you could increase the sugar a bit if you prefer your desserts very sweet. I also didn’t use the slivered almonds, because I had all the other ingredients and didn’t feel like making a special grocery store trip for them. They’re not strictly traditional, as far as I am aware, and would interrupt the creaminess of the custard, so I’ve made them optional.
2 cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted or not (see discussion above)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons Amaretto, or 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Powdered sugar for dusting
2 tablespoons slivered almonds (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Butter and lightly flour a baking pan – the original recipe recommends a 9 x 9 or 10 x 7, but I only had an 8 x 8. Put the cherries in the pan. If you are using the slivered almonds, throw them in with the cherries.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, white and brown sugars, salt, and flour until the mixture is smooth. Add the milk, Amaretto (or almond extract), and vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth, and pour into baking dish over cherries.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, until lightly browned. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out mostly clean, though it’s ok if it’s not totally clean – the final result is supposed to be a custard, after all. Mine wasn’t getting perfectly clean, but I took it out at 50 minutes, and it was done. It is normal for it to wiggle a little when you remove it from the oven – this is not a sign of it not being done. If you use a larger pan with more surface area (e.g. the 10 x 7), check it earlier as it will cook a bit faster. Once you’ve taken it out of the oven, let it cool on a wire rack. It puffs a lot in the oven, but will deflate pretty quickly as it cools. When it has cooled for a bit, dust with powdered sugar. It is best served warm.
Adapted from Simply Recipes