Standing in front of the farmstand, we systematically believe that our capacity for devouring pounds upon pounds of ripe summer plums, cherries, peaches, and more is endless. Cut to five days later when we're picking through that carefully selected fruit, eating around bruises and scolding past us for buying far too much.

When will we learn?

Hopefully never… now that we've discovered clafoutis.

Like many other baked fruit desserts, clafoutis helps extend the shelf life of delicate summer fruit. But unlike a crisp or a crumble, this French specialty hailing from the Limousin (home to France's porcelain capital of Limoges) is a custard-based treat that's even prettier to serve at a dinner party.

An authentic clafoutis is always made with cherries, according to Lucy Vanel, the owner of Plum Lyon Teaching Kitchen. The cherries are traditionally tossed in an eggy custard with their pits in – not just because they allegedly impart the dessert with a slight almondy flavor, but also, Vanel notes, to avoid the juices of the cherry staining the custard while it bakes.

“When you put a pitted cherry into the mix, the juices tend to run and make the custard turn a drab sort of pink that isn't as pretty as the gorgeous contrast of the slightly golden off-white custard punctuated by deep dark cherries," she explains, noting that nevertheless, "I would not serve pit-in clafoutis to a crowd of strangers."

Rosa Jackson, owner of Les Petits Farcis cooking school in Nice, is of the opposite opinion.

“I prefer to pit the cherries so that they release some of their juice into the batter," she says. "For me, the slight almond flavor the pits are said to impart is very hard to detect. I prefer to add ground or slivered almonds if I want some almond flavor.”

As always, adherence to tradition is really a matter of preference – and regionality. This stands as much for pits as it does for the use of cherries at all.

Vanel notes that “the people from the Limousin region are particularly adamant about cherries in Clafoutis.”

“Their argument is that the cherry is central to the dish, and to change the ingredients, means you change the name of the dish.”

While the word clafoutis doesn’t have anything innately cherry-y about it (indeed, Vanel notes, “clafi” is local Patois for “filled to the brim” or “stuffed”) some do opt for a different word, flognarde (perhaps even more fun to say), when they sub other fruit, like mirabelle plums, chunks of peach, figs, blackberries, apricots, and more.

Whatever you call it, clafoutis is perfect for serving a crowd, especially given the fact that it’s even better when made in advance and allowed to cool slightly, to enjoy, as Jackson notes, “Definitely neither hot nor cold, but warm!”

“If it's served too hot, it tends to fall apart when serving," says Vanel, "so I like to let the custard set properly before serving it, ideally, still warm. I won't turn down a nice chilled slab of clafoutis, however."

However you serve it, it's ideal to bake it in an oblong baking dish (like this beautiful French porcelain from Made In) to yield maximum caramelization.

“I love, most of all, the subtle toasted caramelized sugary crust that forms on the edge of a good clafoutis," she says. "It makes it so complete as a dessert."

This clafoutis recipe comes from Lucy Vanel, via Nadine at the Lyonnais Croix Rousse Market in France

  • Cook Time
  • Prep Time
  • 8Servings

Ingredients

  • 500 g (about a pound) black cherries (or other fruit), unpitted
  • 20 g (2 tablespoons) butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 100 g granulated sugar + 25 grams for the dish (1/2 cup + a heaping tablespoon)
  • 75 g (1/2 cup) AP flour
  • 150 ml (2/3 cup) heavy cream
  • 350 ml (1 1/2 cups) milk
  • 15 ml (1 tablespoon) rum or kirsch
  • 10 ml (2 teaspoons) vanilla extract (optional)
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 210°C/425°F. Copiously butter a large porcelain baking dish (ours holds 1.3 liters), and dust the buttered surface thickly with granulated sugar. Remove the stems, rinse, and dry the cherries by rolling them on a dish towel. Spread them into the prepared baking dish.

Break the eggs in a mixing bowl with the remaining granulated sugar. Whisk by hand to obtain a light, foamy mixture.

Add the flour, whisking continuously until fully incorporated. (You can't whisk this too much.) Add the cream, milk, and the rum or kirsch and vanilla, and whisk to combine.

Pour the batter over the cherries, being sure they don't get all pushed to one side of the dish. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 190°C/375°F, and bake for another 10-15 minutes until the clafoutis is set. It will still jiggle a bit when it is ready, but be firm enough that the center seems to hold the cherries firmly in place. 

Let the custard set about 20 minutes before serving, and sprinkle the clafoutis generously with powdered sugar before serving warm or cold.

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