While cool weather slows the progress of some of our usual late-May/early June crops, Rick Steffens Farm continues to provide us with glimpses of things to come, thanks to their extensive cold-frame operation. This weekend, in addition to strawberries and tender sugar-pod peas, they brought perfect, ripe Bing cherries, weeks ahead of season, harvested from dwarf cherry trees they keep under cover as part of a crop test they’re doing with the clever agriculturists at Oregon State University.
Cherries always make me think of clafouti, that easy, classic French country-kitchen dessert that’s a cross between a tart, a flan and a light, eggy cake. Served warm with dollop of creme fraiche (or, if you can’t find that, unsweetened whipped cream), it’s a lovely, not-too-sweet, not-too-heavy dessert that shows off the flavor of the fruit. While you can make clafouti with other fruits, cherries make the definitive version.
My recipe comes from my dog-earned, food-stained copy of Mastering The Art of French Cooking, which was the second cookbook in what is now a large collection (after the Joy of Cooking my mother gave me when I left home). After three decades, it’s still one of the books I return to again and again for basic techniques and excellent recipes. I’ve tweaked this one over the years, but it’s still faithful to the original, and absolutely delicious.
- 2 cups ripe cherries, pitted. I have a nifty little cherry-pitting utensil, but for years I got by with the rounded end of a hairpin – scoop the loop of wire into the stem end of the cherry and down around the pit, give a tug and out it comes.
- 1/4 cup kirsch or brandy (optional)
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted.
- 1 1/4 cups rich milk or cream
- 1/3 cup sugar, plus 2 tsp for topping. For this purpose, I dip into my canister of vanilla sugar (sugar in which a couple of split and scraped vanilla beans have been buried)
- 1 tsp vanilla (if you don’t use vanilla sugar)
- zest of one lemon
- 3 eggs
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 2/3 cup sifted, all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup almond meal*
For a classic Clafouti a la Liqueur, soak the cherries in kirsch or brandy while making the batter; drain before adding to the dish.
Use 1 Tbsp of melted butter to grease the bottom and sides of a glass or ceramic pie pan or baking dish. Reserve the rest.
Combine the remaining ingredients in the bowl of your mixer and beat on high speed for a minute or so until thoroughly blended and foamy. (I use my wand blender when I don’t feel like messing with the KitchenAid). Let the batter rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Drain the cherries and arrange them in the bottom of the baking dish.
Blend remaining melted butter into the batter and pour over the cherries. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle reserved sugar over the surface and return to oven to bake for another 20-30 minutes, until the top is puffed and browned (it will deflate as it cools). Remove from oven. Serve hot or warm, with creme fraiche or unsweetened whipped cream.
* In France, the cherries often go into the dish unpitted, for the delicate almond flavor the pits impart to the batter. Having just gone through several thousand dollars worth of dental work, I choose to pit my cherries and add a little almond meal (sold as “almond flour” in the Bob’s Red Mill brand at several local supermarkets) instead.