Stop Doing Clafoutis Wrong, Already!

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 29 2014 11:26 AM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Clafoutis

Clafoutis
Clafoutis in progress.

Courtesy of Liesl Schillinger

“Doing clafoutis wrong?” you may think, “But I’ve never done it at all!” And that’s your first mistake. If you want to bake a crowd-pleasing fruit dessert without going to the trouble of rolling out a piecrust, you likely have relied on the familiar fallbacks of cobbler, crisp, or crumble. But there’s another easy option you ought to fold into your repertoire, which is delectable, versatile, and far simpler to make than it may sound: Clafoutis (kla-foo-TEE), a tender custard studded with juicy fruits and raisins, with a handful of flour thrown in (gluten-free works just fine) to lend it a little heft and billow.

When I first ate clafoutis, in a French farm kitchen in the 1970s, I didn’t know what it was called. The mother of the house, while whipping up dinners for us children and the farm hands, would de-pit a heap of tart plums or ripe apricots, whisk together some cream, sugar, flour, and a few saffron-yolked eggs from the henhouse, throw it all together in a buttered tart pan, and half an hour later—voilà—the clafoutis appeared on the table, warm, golden, bejeweled with molten fruit, and dusted with powdered sugar. Many years later, in my own kitchen, I tried to recreate the dessert I remembered, but I always put in too much flour, producing a cakey treat that, good as it was, was not the dessert I loved as a child.

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And then, this summer, I came across a recipe for clafoutis in the new cookbook of the multi-Michelin-starred chef Joël Robuchon. His recipe called for pears and raisins, but he noted that cherries, apples, or apricots could be substituted. I made a recipe, using tart cherries and golden raisins, because I thought the red and yellow colors would look more cheerful in the finished dish. After taking one meltingly delicious, rich bite, I smacked my forehead: Here, at last, was the yearned-for taste from my childhood. The texture reminded me of the lushness of bread pudding, but without the heaviness that breadstuffs bring.

Clafoutis has a long history. Born in Limousin, in southern central France, a couple of centuries ago, it traditionally was made with black cherries. (Purists would say that a clafoutis made with red cherries, plums, apricots, pears or cranberries would properly be called a flaugnarde, but there’s no need to be quite so pedantic.) The name clafoutis comes from the verb clafir, a rustic old word that means “to fill,” because after you arrange the fruit on a buttered baking dish, you fill the pan with eggy batter. Long ago, cooks left in the cherry pits to add a hint of almondy lift, but today we can spare our teeth by leaving them out and adding a jot of almond extract. I also save time by using canned fruit (as Robuchon does in his recipe for “Pears and Raisins Clafoutis” in his cookbook, Food & Life)—though by all means, if you prefer fresh, go for it.

Chef Robuchon, catering to the health concerns of his clientele, used stevia instead of sugar, but I find that a quarter cup of sugar is a quicker way to get the needed sweetness, and I also have decided that I prefer to use half-and-half or whole milk instead of cream. That way, when you uncurl a scoop of vanilla ice cream onto each serving of clafoutis to cut the sweetness, you feel less guilty. Since rediscovering this satisfying dessert, I’ve served it at lakes, at the ocean, and in my own backyard, sometimes using cherries and raisins; other times using pears and dried cherries or dried cranberries. You can adjust the combination of fleshy fruit and dried to suit your own preferred fruit and color palette. Make it once, and you’ll find that, henceforth, your friends and relatives will positively clamor for clafoutis.

Tart Cherry and Golden Raisin Clafoutis  

Yield: 8 servings
Time: 50 to 60 minutes, partially unattended

¼ cup golden raisins
3 large eggs
¼ cup sugar, plus 1 scant tablespoon for sprinkling the pan
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
1⅓ cups half-and-half
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter for greasing the baking dish
One 24-ounce jar tart pie cherries, drained (about 2 cups)
Powdered sugar for serving
Ice cream for serving (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 400ºF. Put the raisins in a small bowl, cover them with warm water, and soak for 15 minutes, then drain.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and ¼ cup of the sugar in a large bowl, then add the flour, half-and-half, almond extract, and vanilla extract. Stir to combine. Grease a 10-inch round baking dish or cast-iron skillet with butter, then sprinkle with the remaining scant tablespoon sugar. Distribute the drained cherries and raisins in the dish and pour the batter over them.

3. Bake until the surface of the clafoutis is golden and the edges are golden-brown, about 30 minutes. Cool, dust with powdered sugar, and serve in wedges, topped with a scoop of ice cream. (Store leftover clafoutis in an airtight container for up to a few days.)

Liesl Schillinger is a New York-based arts writer.

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