Once the East Coast, Pacific Northwest, and Western Europe were all crying out about the heat waves, Los Angeles finally sat up and took notice. We finally have some sunny warm weather; it's supposed to be in the mid-nineties by the weekend. Welcome, summer! You've been missed.
What better way to celebrate than with cherries baked into a clafoutis? Firm, sweet custard; tender, juicy cherries; a hot oven; and me, armed with powdered sugar and a fork.
If you've completely missed the hype of the past few years (and I did, for a while), let me tell you that clafoutis is a dish of fruit, traditionally unpitted cherries, baked in an eggy, custard-like batter. The final result is a little bit like flan, with a touch of soufflé and a dash of Dutch Baby. As it bakes, it puffs up and browns lightly under the heat of the oven, then settles down, its fruit descending into jammy pockets. It is delicious eaten warm, room temperature, or cold - I like it cold from the fridge for breakfast - with nothing more than a sprinkling of confectioners' sugar.
Although cherries are traditional, my favorite clafoutis is blackberry and I also love apricot. I've been told that any clafoutis without cherries is actually a flognarde, but I've also heard that in France the two terms are interchangeable. You can call it cherry flan if you like, and I guarantee that your guests will enjoy it.
I've experimented with many different recipes for clafoutis over the past year or so; finding the right proportions to is up to personal preferencel, both the baker's and the fruit's. The amount of flour called for varies from recipe to recipe, providing wildly different results; the proportions of eggs, milk, and sugar also change, sometimes making what tastes like a cherry frittata or a sickly sweet pancake, like the french toast from a brunch buffet.
This recipe was tweaked from the entry in my trusty Larousse Gastronomique, and it has the right ratios for me. The custard base is not too sweet and not too eggy, and the flour makes it nice and sturdy - the perfect foil for delicious fruit.
adapted from the Larousse Gastronomique
Some recipes recommend cooking the cherries with a little bit of sugar before putting them in the pie dish; I think that would have resulted in overcooked cherries, but it might be necessary if your cherries are not nice and sweet. Also, feel free to pit your cherries if you prefer; do your best to keep the fruit whole.
Finally, you may want to adjust sugar levels if you are using a different fruit: apricots, unless they are very sweet, may require more, but perfect plums will need less. With softer fruits, I would put all the sugar into the batter instead of dividing it.
14 oz fresh sweet cherries, unpitted
1/2 C granulated sugar, divided
1 T unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 C unbleached flour
1 C whole milk
1 t vanilla extract
Wash the cherries, remove the stems and toss with 1/4 C of the sugar; set aside for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9" pie dish and add the cherries, arranging evenly. Whisk the remaining sugar, flour, and salt; whisk in the eggs. Add the milk and vanilla extract and whisk until well-blended. Pour the batter gently over the cherries; they will probably get pushed around, so gently spread them back out if necessary.
Bake 40-50 minutes, or until puffed, lightly browned, and set in the center. Let cool on rack until lukewarm; dust with powdered sugar.
(the flour amount has been updated - I had mislaid my notes and was working off memory when I posted this!)