Cherry season is brief and delightful. Not only are cherries the very first of the very good summer fruits to arrive at the farmer’s market, but they might just be my favorite fruit… Well, don’t make me choose… But cherries would be near the top of my list – I can’t resist their crisp, taut juiciness, and their adorable hand-held serving size. My preferred way, and the best way, to eat them is out of hand. But occasionally, I make a cherry clafouti.
Like strawberries, cherries aren’t the best fruit for baking (sour cherries are an entirely different matter); I don’t care for their fleshiness in a pie, for instance. And the traditional clafouti recipe, which sets raw, unstoned cherries in batter, often seems crude and inelegant (although traditionalists would argue, I’m sure). So, better that the cherries first be stoned, and briefly baked in the oven to soften and begin the concentration of flavors. It’s more work for the cook – but like most extra steps, if you do it once, you’ll never go back to the easy way again.
Pitted cherries are sprinkled generously with sugar and set in the oven to bake. They release their juices surprisingly quickly, and once soft, the cherries are drained, leaving sticky juice behind – which, briefly reduced on the stove, becomes a lovely drizzle of sauce for the finished clafouti. (So the extra work pays off twice then!)
All this can be done the morning (or day) before you plan to serve your clafouti. But assemble the dish at the last minute – and like most eggy-things, it’s best served warm from the oven. (Although the next morning, a leftover slice, warmed in the oven, and served with a cup of coffee is a welcome treat to the chef, and a reward for the extra step that made all the difference.)
Recipe: Cherry Clafouti serves 6-8 Wash and pit 1 lb sweet dark cherries. Place them in a baking dish, and sprinkle over 1/3 cup sugar. Bake at a 350º oven until the cherries are tender and juicy – about 15-20 minutes. Us a slotted spoon to separate the cherries from their juice – set both aside. For the clafouti, combine 1 1/4 cups milk, 1/4 cup sugar, 3 eggs, 1 tsp. of almond extract, a pinch of salt and 2/3 cup flour in a blender or food processor, and blend until very smooth. Butter a 10″ round heavy baking dish or skillet, and pour in the batter. Top with cherries, and bake at 350º until the edges puff and the center is from when tested, about 30-35 minutes. While the clafouti is in the one, lightly reduce the cherry juices until thickened, but still liquid. To serve, sprinkle the finished clafouti with powdered sugar, and drizzle with cherry juice.