One of my summer jobs as a student in France was picking cherries. It was an unexpected opportunity that a cousin I was visiting offered me. He was the head cook in a traditional French restaurant and knew a farmer well. I lived with the farmer and his wife for a week in a big stone house perched in the mountains and valleys of the Luberon region in southern France. I shared with them one meal a day from their land. I woke up with the roosters and collapsed with the sun. The entire day, I sat on tree branches along with Catalan workers who lived there with their families, picking the best cherries and filling bucket after bucket. I never really understood why we were laughing and giggling the entire time. I suspect a certain amount of alcohol in the cherries made its way into our mouths instead of the buckets, and exposure to the sun must have had some effect. Anyways, it was a great time, cherries will always make me smile.
Cherries are one of those fruit, like peaches, that are naturally sweet and juicy. It takes determination not to enjoy them right away and to save them for a baking project. Unless cooking transforms them into something completely new, like oranges with marmalade, I think it’s better to savor cherries how nature offers them. But clafoutis does transform them.
Clafoutis is a traditional French baked dessert from the Limousin region that truly honors cherries. Cherries are placed in a buttered baking pan (with their pits intact) and a simple pancake-like batter is poured over them, then they go to the oven. No crust to make or chill, no pitting, no mess. The baking process keeps the cherries whole, and the pits release a slightly bitter and nutty flavor that gives the authentic clafoutis its taste.
I tried many clafoutis recipes until I reached the taste I was looking for. The difference between the recipes is basically in the batter, which leans either toward a flan, a custard, or a cake. My recipe is the perfect balance.
1 pound Cherries
1/4 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Whipping Cream
1/4 cup Flour
1/3 cup Milk
2 tablespoons Butter (melted and still warm)
1 Lemon Zest
Butter the baking dish (I use one 9-inch round dish, six 2½-inch small ramekins, or four 4-inch crème brulée ramekins) and sprinkle with flour (or even better, sugar for caramelization). Place inside the cherries, previously washed and the stems removed, tightly packed one next to another without leaving any space empty.
To make the batter, beat the eggs and sugar together for a minute, then incorporate the cream. Add the flour until well combined, then add the milk, butter, and lemon zest. Mix well. Then pour the batter carefully next to the cherries until the baking dish is almost full but can still be carried to the oven without spills. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes at 350°F until the top is puffy and golden.
Clafoutis is best served warm, but it’s also good straight from the refrigerator the next day. Vanilla-flavored whipped cream is undoubtedly a heavenly finish to the dish, or a sprinkle of icing sugar. I hope you will try clafoutis before it’s too late in the season.