Last weekend, as I was browsing the Broadway farmers market in Seattle, I suddenly realized that we’re right in the middle of le temps des cerises (the cherry season). I’ve been travelling so much recently that I completely lost track of the seasons. In France fresh cherries mean clafoutis, one of the easiest cakes you can make. It’s about as complicated as making pancakes or crêpes. Actually, no. It’s easier because you just have to throw it in the oven and wait. A clafoutis is a rustic dessert, filled with fruits, the consistency of which is halfway between a cake and a custard. Today, people make clafoutis with any seasonal fruit, but the true, authentic clafoutis is made with black cherries (griotte).
Cherries are like madeleines to me. They’re nostalgic and bring back lots of tender memories. While I was pondering whether or not to buy cherries, I thought about that beautiful cherry tree that still stands in my grandma’s garden and how every summer I would fight with the birds to pick the best cherries and be rewarded for my epic victory with an amazing clafoutis. Nothing can top my grandma’s clafoutis, but you will have to take my word for it, because even if I wanted to, I would be unable to give you the recipe. Not that it is a family secret, but my grandmother does it intuitively, without a scale or a recipe book, and it’s always delicious. She would rinse the cherries, lay them in a single layer in a dish, whisk together two or three eggs, add some flour, sugar, milk and cream and pour it over the cherries. Then she would bake the delicious mixture until the batter is just set with nicely browned and puffed edges.
My recipe is slightly different and includes some almond powder, but everybody in France has his or her own take on this classic, notably when it comes to leaving in the pits or not… There are two schools of thought on this: The traditionalists recommend using unpitted cherries, as the pits supposedly release a nice flavor when the dish is cooked. But nowadays, the modernists prefer clafoutis with pitted cherries, since it’s easier to eat. Personally, I always leave the pits — not because I’m a traditionalist but, to be honest, I’m just lazy. I really think the story about the pits adding more flavor to the clafoutis is just a way to justify the cook’s laziness.
Pick your cherries carefully. Choose the nicest fruits: plump, firm, shiny and juicy. I bought some Utah Giant cherries: They were very flavorful, sweet and slightly sour — an important detail if you don’t want your clafoutis to be overly sweet. Bing cherries would also be a good choice. Don’t hesitate to adjust the quantity of sugar based on the sweetness of your cherries.
Yields 8 servings
- 1 tablespoon softened butter
- 1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
- A pinch of fleur de sel
- About 1.5 pounds cherries (enough to cover the bottom of a baking dish)
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- 1/2 cup golden brown sugar
- 1/2 cup almond meal
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (10 cl)
- 1 cup whole milk (25 cl)
- Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Grease a baking dish, cast-iron skillet or a Pirex pie plate with the softened butter. Sprinkle the two tablespoons of brown sugar and the fleur de sel (my secret touch!). Wash the cherries, remove their stems (and their pits, if you want), and layer them in the prepared dish.
In a mixing bowl, using an electric mixer if you like, beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture almost doubles in volume. Gradually add the almond meal, flour, cream and milk, alternating between the dry and wet ingredients as you combine them. Mix until the batter is homogeneous.
Pour the mixture over the cherries and place in the oven for about 40-45 minutes, until golden and puffed. If you desire, sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy lukewarm or cold (with homemade lavender-chocolate-chip ice cream, as Em and I did! — more details to come soon).