Friday, August 6, 2010

Easy as Pie: Cherry Clafoutis

Clafoutis aux cerises is a classic French dessert- it’s as French as tart tatin. (Bad play on “as American as apple pie” - my apologies.) 
I’ve wanted to make a clafoutis ever since I came back from Paris so when cherry season rolled around this year, I went looking for a recipe. I settled on Elisabeth Pruitt’s cherry clafoutis recipe from the Tartine cookbook. When I first read through the recipe, it looked so easy-peasy, I was a little skeptical. Because it couldn’t really be that simple, now could it? My doubt stemmed from conflicting reports I’d heard on clafoutis making- some said it was a bit tricky while others raved it was utterly effortless. I tend to heed warnings as I’ve been taken in by a few deceptively simple recipes in the past. In fact, even as I was pulling ingredients out to start on the clafoutis, I was listening to a Splendid Table archived episode in which a caller dialed in to ask a question on why the flour in his clafoutis was lumping. I wasn’t sure whether to take the coincidence as a good omen or bad.

I’ve learned that baking failures are almost always the result of error(s) in execution, or less often, a poorly written recipe. Only very rarely is a failure the result of forces outside of the baker’s control - i.e. altitude or a problematic ingredient. Meaning, I knew the blame was on me if my clafoutis was a flop as Tartine's recipes are very well written.

So with a flop sweat dampened brow, I got to work. Since I decided not to pit the cherries, there wasn’t much prep work involved other than measuring quantities. Clafoutis is classically made with unpitted cherries as the seeds release an almond-like flavor when baked. Many people find biting into a cherry pit in the middle of dessert a little disconcerting so most recipes you see now will call for pitting the cherries. As a fan of more flavor and less work, I opted to skip the pitting party (seemed like a no brainer to me). 
I prepared the custard exactly according to the instructions but I was a bit nervous about the thin consistency when I poured it into the baking dish. I had expected it to be thicker, thinking that the hot milk would “cook” the eggs/flour mixture when combining. Also, when I went to add the cherries, I discovered I had snacked (nervous eater) on a few more than I should have while making the custard so my clafoutis wasn’t as chock full of cherries as I would have liked.
Despite all the fretting, my worry was for naught as the clafoutis baked up just fine. Turns out, making a clafoutis is as easy as cherry pie. In fact, easier!

Cherry Clafoutis
adapted from Tartine

I love Elisabeth Pruitt’s recipes because, while drawn from the classic French tradition, she updates them in a modern, appealing manner. I’ve picked up some good tips from her cookbook and I like that her recipes allow me to practice techniques I learned at Le Cordon Bleu without having to make some fussy, outdated confection. That said, she isn’t one for shortcuts and her recipes aren’t always the easiest way to make a desired pastry, but if her instructions are followed properly, the end product is fabulous. I usually check Tartine first for a recipe, but admittedly, there have been times when I’ve gone with another baker’s version just because their method is simpler. Her’s is not the cookbook to pull out when you’re feeling lazy; however, this recipe is a delightful exception to the rule. This is a great recipe for when you’re short on time as it can easily be made at the last minute. Any stone fruit or berry would work well. I think next time I’ll skip the caramelized sugar topping and just sprinkle on a bit of powdered sugar. It's so pretty strait out of the oven that I hate to cover it up.
2 c whole milk
¾ c sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped or ½ t pure vanilla extract
pinch salt
3 large eggs
1/3 c + 1 T all purpose flour
2 c cherries
1/4 c sugar, for caramelized sugar topping
powdered sugar, for topping

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and butter a 10 inch ceramic quiche mold or pie dish.
2. In a small saucepan, combine milk, sugar, vanilla seeds or extract, and salt. Heat on medium and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to just under a boil.
3. While the milk mixture is heating, place one egg in a bowl and add flour. Whisk until smooth and then add remaining two eggs and continue to whisk until smooth.
4. Remove saucepan from the heat and slowly ladle the hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. If frothed from whisking, use a spatula to stir the custard mixture until smooth and then pour into the prepared mold. Add cherries and distribute evenly.
5. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until just set in the center and slightly puffed and browned around the outside edge. Remove the custard from the oven and sprinkle the additional 1/4 cup of sugar evenly over the top. Either use a brulee torch to caramelize the sugar or turn the oven temperature up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. To caramelize the sugar topping in the oven, put the clafoutis back in for 5-10 minutes until the sugar has darkened. It darkens quickly once it gets going so keep an eye out. (If you have one, I think using a brulee torch is best as putting the already hot clafoutis back in a 500 degree oven caused the cherries to bubble over and ruined the pretty look I loved when I first took it from the oven).
6. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes. Sprinkle a little powdered sugar over the carmelized crust before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature. This dessert is best polished off the day it’s made.

1 comment:

  1. I am seeing lots of versions of baking cherry clafoutis and most say not to pit the cherries. My thought is when you are eating this lovely creation it wouldn't be very pleasant to see everyone spitting out pits. But thanks for your recipe version to try.