Clafoutis is one of those crazy words. First, it’s a bit of a mystery to pronounce. I’ve researched this traditional French dessert, which consists of a basic, milk-based batter and pitted black cherries, and I still feel uncomfortable saying it. Try it…klah foo tee. See what I mean?
Secondly, despite its complete and utter deliciousness, it sounds like a disease. A mild one, granted, but a medical malady nonetheless.
‘Hey Betty Sue, I see you keep scratching your arm. What gives?’
‘Oh…it’s no big whoop, Serena. It’s just a mild case of clafoutis. The doc gave me some cream for it and it should go away in no time.’
I’d accept that very plausible-sounding answer without a moment’s hesitation. Don’t be fooled, though. The only way clafoutis will land you in the hospital is if you cannot stop eating it after your first bite.
Kidding aside, clafoutis is just a fancy-sounding rustic dish from France, the country responsible for making every last word in the universe sound exotic. Even the word ‘garbage’ sounds enticing when a French person says it, for heaven’s sake. But, alas, regardless of how it sounds, the dish consists mainly of eggs, whole milk (or cream, for those seeking more decadence), flour, and an additional flavoring agent or two. That’s pretty much it, except for salt of course.
I view it as the silkier, more delicate cousin to the far eggier and sturdier Italian frittatas and French quiches. That’s because the clafoutis gets its texture mainly from the milk and flour mixture. The presence of eggs in the batch merely prevents it from becoming a soupy, and consequently not very custard-y, mess. It’s a particularly ingenious dish during the warm summer months, when the palate favors lighter consistencies.
Unlike the traditional recipe from the rural south-central Limousin region of France, we don’t need to limit ourselves to using the cherries it calls for. It’s just as well, since the recipe requires tart Morello cherries, which may be difficult for many of us to find. In its stead, we can use whatever we have on hand.
In fact, the clafoutis’s batter, which as we’ve learned is basically just a baked custard thickened slightly with flour, acts very much like the proverbial cauldron into which anything short of the kitchen sink can be added. Freshly-picked strawberries from a nearby farm, bananas about to turn, or chocolate chips just burning a hole in the refrigerator are all fair game. I love the freedom a clafoutis offers. And its simplicity as well, though not everyone agrees on this last point.
While researching clafoutis on the web, I came across an interesting and slightly insane string of comments in a forum all about making clafoutis. (Yes, amazingly, they exist.) I proceeded to read through this very, very, VERY long succession of comments designed both to enlighten everyone as to the commentator’s ultimate intellectual prowess and to upstage others’ suggestions by asserting them as less informed and, consequently, less worthy.
Just as I was beginning to develop a twitching condition from reading all this pretentious gobblygook, a voice of reason emerged from the pack. Without mincing words, the commentator began with: ‘Huh…what on earth are all you crazy fools talking about?’
A smile sprung to my lips. I am paraphrasing the rest of the comment because I didn’t have the foresight to copy and paste it for this column, but please trust me when I say I have accurately captured the author’s sentiment.
‘While all of you disagree on what part of the chemical process creates custard, let’s not actually lose sight of the basic fact that a clafoutis is essentially a peasant dish! You know…peasants. You may recall them. They are the ones spending every single minute of their arduous lives working on something deeply connected to their survival. Well, these folks gravitated towards dishes like clafoutis because they could throw a handful of basic, inexpensive ingredients together in 5 minutes and then get back to the business at hand, like tilling the soil or darning socks. You are all making this wonderful little dish way too complicated! Stop it! Ahhhhhh!’
Like I said, clafoutis is one of those crazy words.
making berry clafoutis
To prepare, pre-heat the oven to 375°F. Generously butter a medium-size flameproof baking dish or cast iron skillet that is at least 1 1/2 inches deep.
Wash and remove the tops from 10 to 12 (8 oz.) of fresh strawberries. Quarter them and place on paper towel-lined dish to absorb excess moisture.
Rinse 1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries and also place on paper towel-lined dish to absorb excess moisture.
Now, I would normally use fresh blueberries for a dessert like this, but I just have too many frozen blueberries in my freezer. And given that we are moving next month, I am trying to empty out my refrigerators and freezers as much as I can.
Place ½ cup heavy whipping cream, ¾ cup whole milk (or you can just use 1 ¼ cup whole milk and scrap the cream), 1/3 cup of granulated sugar, 3 eggs, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, and ⅛ teaspoon salt in a food process.
Then add 1 cup of flour.
Adding it last prevents it from sticking to the bottom once mixed. Blend for 1 minute at top speed until smooth, frothy and bubbly. Set one of your large burners on your stove to medium. Pour about a ¼ -inch layer of batter in the baking dish.
Place the skillet on the burner and allow batter to set for 2-3 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when you lightly tilt the skillet and you see that only the top of the batter moves. Remove from heat.
Spread berries over the batter and sprinkle with 1/3 cup granulated sugar.
Pour on the rest of the batter.
Dollop out the optional marmalade. Place skillet in the center of the oven and lower the temperature to 350°F. Bake for about 55-60 minutes, or until top is puffed and browned and a tester plunged into its center comes out clean. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.
A final note…to maximize the flavor of this lightly sweet and heavenly treat, plan on serving it either straight out of the oven or at least still slightly warm. Your tummy will thank you. While still delicious, it will sink into itself and become denser as it cools. Also, you can shorten the list of ingredients by using just whole milk and one type of fruit instead of two. But it’s summer…so why not enjoy all the spoils of our hot and humid weather? Makes 8 servings.