A Classic French Dessert
What delight when fresh cherries appear at the grocery store and local roadside produce stands. It’s the perfect fruit for summertime snacking or creating a delicious dessert for dinner or something special for brunch. One recipe that sounds elaborate but is very easy to prepare is cherry clafoutis (kla-foo-tee), a rustic dish created in the agricultural region of Limousin in south-central France.
Known for its distinctive Limousin cattle and famous Limoges porcelain, the area is proud of the tart Morello cherries that grace the landscape in profusion. In the 19th century, growers found different ways to prepare the fruit with simple ingredients from the farm. This delicacy, clafoutis aux cerises, is made with fresh cherries baked in an egg-rich custard with the consistency of flan or a puffed pancake. The name derives from the verb clafir — to fill.
Traditionally, the recipe in France calls for using whole cherries with pits, as it adds an extra amount of almond flavor when baked. Seeds and kernels of cherries, plums, apples, apricots, and peaches contain amygdalin, the chemical that creates almond flavor.
Fortunately, family and guests were aware of the pits among the cherries, so they were careful in avoiding a broken tooth when taking a bite. Nowadays, it’s easy to remove the pits with a sharp knife or handy cherry pitter and then add a splash of almond extract to the custard mixture to increase the intensity of taste and aroma. Some recipes add slivered or sliced almonds in the custard mixture or sprinkle on top with powdered sugar.
Most instructions call for a shallow baking dish or cast-iron skillet, allowing the cherries to spread across the bottom as the custard is poured in before baking.
Like most recipes, people choose many variations and different amounts of individual ingredients when preparing this dish, but the standard list calls for eggs, sugar, salt, flour, and milk or cream. The flour creates a more structured consistency. Some cooks like to sauté the cherries in butter for a minute or two before adding the custard mixture while others place the cherries in the baking dish.
It’s always interesting when comparing recipes, which is easy online by simply searching for cherry clafoutis. There are also numerous YouTube videos demonstrating different ways to prepare this dish.
Some recipes call for two eggs while others suggest three or four. Some use whole milk or a combination of heavy cream for added richness. The end result is a creamy and velvety creation that will please any palate, especially when served warm with powdered sugar and perhaps a dollop of freshly whipped cream.
Here’s a simple and easy version to try.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- Butter a shallow baking dish, including the sides. If fresh cherries aren’t available, one can use frozen or drained canned fruit.
- 2 cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted (any variety in season)
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup flour
- ½ teaspoon almond extract (more, depending on taste) Tip: You can substitute vanilla extract.
- 1 cup whole milk or ½ cup milk and ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
Mixing: Another personal choice in preparation. Some people simply whisk ingredients together while others use a blender or food processor. There’s a debate that using an electrical appliance over-whips the mixture. It’s up to the cook.
- Mix the eggs, sugar, sugar, salt, milk/cream, and almond extract. Then add flour slowly and thoroughly. Add the melted butter. The result will resemble pancake batter.
- Pour the mixture over the cherries, ensuring they are evenly distributed across the baking dish.
- Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, checking for doneness with a toothpick or knife that comes out clean when inserted in the middle.
- Dust with powdered sugar. Best served warm for dessert or brunch.
French cuisine holds true to a longtime custom when referring to the classic custard dessert. Cherries are the only fruit associated with the word clafoutis. All other dishes prepared in this manner are called flaugnarde — also spelled flagnarde, flognarde, or flougnarde.
The name derives from fleunhe and flanhard, words originating from the ancient language Occitan, spoken in southern France, Monaco, and parts of Spain and Italy. It translates as soft or downy, and it also means cozy and cuddly, sometimes used to describe quilts and stuffed toys.
Flaugnarde is a favorite dish throughout the country, especially in the regions of Auvergne, Limousin, and Périgord. Depending on the season, it’s usually made with apples, peaches, apricot, pears, plums, figs, prunes, or mixed berries. Some cooks enjoy combining two or three different fruits with the custard, following the same steps when making clafoutis. Slivered or sliced almonds are often added to the recipe, especially when using apricots.
Savory dishes are also a favorite, especially with fresh cherry or grape tomatoes harvested in the summer. It’s similar to a quiche but without a crust, often made in a pie pan or individual ramekins.
The tomatoes are tossed in sea salt and butter and then roasted in the oven until soft and caramelized — about 15 to 20 minutes. The custard mixture is made with eggs, sugar, just three tablespoons of flour, finely grated Parmesan cheese, and heavy cream.
You can find an easy-to-follow recipe on the The Nibble — Great Food Finds, the Webzine of Food Adventures: www.blog.thenibble.com or www.theNibble.com
It suggests using a combination of different tomatoes in an assortment of colors — ranging from golden yellow, orange, purple, red, and green.
The recipe also calls for separating the eggs, beating the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Then the yolks are folded in until blended thoroughly. After covering the tomatoes in the custard mixture, fresh basil, sliced into ribbons, is added to the top before baking.
There’s no denying that egg custard is a favorite addition to many recipes worldwide. It’s the ultimate comfort food, especially combined with fresh fruits picked from the garden or found at one’s local tailgate market. Rave reviews will surely follow as guests feast their eyes on the dish’s beauty and then taste the goodness for themselves. Whether it’s cherry clafoutis or perhaps a blueberry flagnarde, the cook will be applauded with great enthusiasm. If only they knew just how easy it was to prepare something so elegant and divine!
Vive la France!
Originally published in the June/July issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.