Discover more from Kitchen Sense
Issue #58: For Dessert, for Breakfast, for Anytime…Cherry Clafoutis
Fridge on the Fritz, Cherry Season, My Clafoutis Recipe
We’re up at the lakehouse for a couple of weeks. As we arrived, about 4 1/2 hours after we left, I realized I had left my knapsack with my computer and other essentials in it on the floor of our parking garage. So this is coming to you from Nate’s computer, typed during moments while he’s with Milo at the dog park or napping on the couch. Hope everyone managed to find a way to enjoy the holiday weekend despite the sorry state of our country at the moment. Independence and individualism are both the bonus and the bane of America. I’m hoping collectivity and community win out in the end. —Mitchell
Kitchen Sense is a reader-supported publication. To be able to comment, access the entire archive, make requests, and receive my personal city dining guides, consider becoming a paid subscriber (if you aren’t already).
Two issues ago I wrote about quiche, a perennial favorite, whatever your level of machismo. This weekend we had our friends Bonnie and Anna staying with us at the lakehouse. (If you like this newsletter, you should consider preordering their beautiful new cookbook.) One morning I couldn’t decide what to make for breakfast and the idea to make a sort of sweet quiche, that is, a clafoutis, popped into my head. Here’s why.
The day before, our fridge gave out. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a big deal at the lake because we only come up for a few days at a time and I regularly haul things from country fridge to city fridge and vice versa. But this time, we were planning to be up for a ten-day stretch, during which we were expecting several visitors, Bonnie and Anna and their dog Clementine among them. This was just the beginning of our stint. As you can imagine, the fridge was full when it conked out. Although we left messages on appliance-service answering machines around town, we were certain no one was likely to come repair anything over the holiday weekend.
So, we purchased some dry ice from the local ice-cream shop to keep the fridge and freezer cold and we plugged in an electric cooler we found hidden away in a corner of the house. The owners of the house located a small loaner fridge they brought over. And I set to dividing things up between the cold-storage options based on the degree to which they required chilling.
The funny thing about my fridges (I have multiple ones in the city, too) is that many, maybe even most things in there don’t need to be refrigerated. Whole-grain flours, jams, ferments, and other condiments, even some produce, such as eggplants and lemons are all things that can survive well enough at room temperature. I stretch out their longevity by refrigerating them, but they are fine, probably even better, in a warmer environment than most refrigerators provide. Those items at the lakehouse that didn’t need any chilling at all were left in the open air. Thus, when I came down the next morning, among the items I saw in the foodscape on the kitchen counter were a pile of local cherries and a stack of farm-fresh eggs.* Enter, clafoutis!
(*During my sorting I decided that I’d take a French approach with the local eggs and not refrigerate them.)
Clafoutis is a traditional cherry dessert from southern France that’s like a cross between a quiche and a pancake. Although I do not know whether it is ever served for breakfast in the Limousin region, whence it hails, as I surveyed my counter and thought of the dairy products I should probably use up first in the fridge, it dawned on me that everything in a clafoutis could fall into the “suitable for breakfast” category.
While you can make clafoutis with any kind of berry or fruit, the classic cherry is by far my favorite. We put clafoutis in the category of seasonal desserts we have only once or twice a year, around now, when cherries are in season. Although sour cherries are usually best for cooking in pies and such, clafoutis requires sweet cherries, big, meaty black ones or the lighter, bicolored rainier variety. I had a both and combined them.
There is a longstanding debate about whether you should pit your cherries for clafoutis. I fall firmly into the camp of non-pitters, preferring to keep the cherries whole because the faint bitter almond flavor that the cherry kernel inside the pit provides (known as noyau in French) is a wonderful addition to the flavor of the dessert. I like this flavor so much that I usually add more of it, whether with a pinch of mahlab, the Persian seasoning made from dried and ground cherry pit kernels, or a drop of almond extract. Plus, by not pitting the cherries, the juice doesn’t run. And frankly, it makes prep a cinch. Just be sure to warn your guests so they don’t break a tooth. If they are French, they should know to watch out.
As for the custard mix, here I follow the lead of my friend Jennifer, who is an expert clafoutis maker. You can make a clafoutis with just eggs, sugar, and milk. But Jennifer jazzes hers up with some almond flour, a little olive oil, and plenty of vanilla. There is some flour, too, to add density to the baked custard. Because the flour serves to thicken rather than build structure, you can easily substitute gluten-free flour with excellent results. In fact, I think I like the texture better with Cup4Cup than I do with regular all-purpose.
Finally, for the dairy products. My recipe calls for a combination of milk and heavy cream. But as with most of my recipes, you can substitute whatever you have: some yogurt, sour cream, crème fraiche, mascarpone, half and half, buttermilk, or anything, really. I haven’t yet tried plant-based milks, but I can’t see why they wouldn’t produce a respectable result.
Whether you serve the clafoutis for breakfast, dessert, or snack, it is best just baked, after about 10 minutes of cooling. (It’s not bad leftover, cold from the fridge, either.) Dust with powdered sugar and serve in generous slices. Don’t forget to warn your guests about the pits.
RECIPE: Cherry Clafoutis
(Serves 6 to 8)
Butter, at room temperature
2 to 3 cups sweet cherries, stemmed but not pitted, rinsed and dried
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
½ to ¾ cup sugar, depending on how sweet your cherries and your personal taste preference
¼ cup almond flour
1 tablespoon top-quality, extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon mahlab or almond extract, or 1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
½ cup all-purpose or gluten-free flour
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Very generously butter a deep-dish 9-inch pie plate or cake pan, an 8-inch square baking dish, a 9-inch cast-iron pan, or another oven-proof dish. Shape doesn’t matter much, but know that you will be serving in it. Use your fingertips to spread the butter and leave a decent amount on the bottom and sides. Arrange the cherries in the pan in an even layer. It’s okay if some poke up.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until light. Beat in the cream and milk until well blended. Add the sugar and beat to incorporate. Whisk in the almond flour, olive oil, vanilla, mahlab, if using, and a pinch of salt, then stir in the flour. Don’t overmix. Set aside.
When ready to bake, pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish with the cherries. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the filling has set, risen, and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.