Sunday, May 20, 2007
Burlat cherry clafoutis
Sam and I might be different in some ways - the Power Rangers aisle at the toy store is not my idea of paradise - but we basically think alike. He loves cakes of all kinds and so do I. Both of us see birthdays first and foremost as an opportunity to eat cake, and preferably more than once. My parents' visit in honor of his fifth birthday later this week provided the perfect excuse for a little extra indulgence.
Since it wasn't the official birthday gateau, I reasoned that any type of cake would do as long as I could stick candles in it. Big, juicy burlat cherries are especially beautiful at the market just now and I know that the Niçois like to make clafoutis, even if this dessert of crêpe batter poured over fruit originally comes from the Limousin region in central France. My fruit producer friend Louis Berthon makes it with tart griotte cherries, but it's also delicious with burlats so ripe they are nearly black.
I've made many a clafoutis in my lifetime, often substituting other fruits such as pears, plums or even pineapple for the traditional cherries (I'm proud to say that my caramelized pineapple clafoutis was once selected for a book on the 200 best American recipes of the year). I only rarely make cherry clafoutis, not because I don't love it but because the cherry season is so short, lasting about six weeks in southern France. This time I used a recipe from the wonderful book Les desserts d'enfance des cuisiniers (Saveurs et Harmonie), in which 60 top French chefs give away the simple recipes that made their childhoods so sweet. Behind every French chef, it seems, there is a doting mère or grand-mère who has a way with the whisk.
This recipe was from the chef Jean Bardet, who runs Château Belmont in the Loire Valley and grew up in the Limousin. Clafoutis was not surprisingly one of his favorite childhood desserts and his mother's touch was to add a little gnôle, a potent eau-de-vie made with black elderberries that would be pretty nasty if taken on its own. My throat-ripping marc de Provence would do very nicely. Bardet says not to pit the cherries, and I know that many French cooks believe they add a pleasing almond flavor to clafoutis, but I decided that my 85-year-old father would probably like to keep his remaining teeth. I got out my trusty olive pitter, which also works perfectly for cherries, and worked my way through nearly 2 lbs of fruit in 15 minutes. The cherries, from producer Françoise in St-Jeannet just outside Nice, were so fresh and ripe that black juice spurted across the kitchen counter as I pitted them.
That little chore accomplished, making the clafoutis was child's play. The only other change I made to the original recipe was to top the clafoutis with little pieces of butter before I put it in the oven and sprinkle it with brown cane sugar when it came out, a tip I picked up from a friend's French mother-in-law. The cake puffed up in the oven and fell a few minutes after it was removed, which is normal behavior for a clafoutis. The five of us devoured it in five minutes flat, barely leaving Philippe time to take a picture. Only later did I see that the recipe claims to serve eight to ten people.
Serves 8-10 (hah!)
1 3/4 lbs cherries (800 g)
2 knobs butter
2 tbsp light brown cane sugar or white sugar
For the batter:
3 heaping tbsp flour (2 1/2 oz, 70 g)
2 heaping tbsp white sugar (2 oz, 50 g)
Pinch of salt
2 whole eggs
3/4 cup milk (200 ml)
1 tbsp kirsch or other eau-de-vie
A little sugar for sprinkling
Butter a deep pie dish with a knob of butter. Place the cherries, pitted or unpitted, in the dish and sprinkle with 2 tbsp sugar. Set aside for an hour.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and eggs to make a thick paste. Add the milk bit by bit, whisking to make a smooth and slightly thick crêpe batter. Stir in the eau-de-vie. Set this batter aside for 40 mins at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400 F (180 C). I used the convection setting at a slightly lower temperature, about 375 F (160 C). Pour the batter over the cherries, top with little pieces of butter and place in the oven. Bake for 35-40 mins, until the clafoutis is puffed and golden. Remove the clafoutis from the oven and sprinkle with a little light brown cane sugar or white sugar. Serve warm.