The day that sweet cherries go on sale for less than $5 a pound is always a great day for me. Since I was a kid, I've loved to eat them by the bowlful; a few years ago, though, I tasted this dessert for the first time. So now there's even more reason to look forward to finding good cherries in the market. If you can get the Ranier variety, they're especially good, but any sweet cherry will work.
The recipe comes from my good friend, Claudine, who sings in the summer choir. She's French, down-to-earth, and a great cook. Nothing fancy (well, maybe a little fancy), but just plain delicious. This is a good example. It's the sort of thing French country housewives throw together without measuring anything, so it's pretty forgiving stuff. That hasn't prevented me from trying to refine the recipe as much as possible.
See, Claudine's recipe was all in metric units--even the oven temperature. So I had to convert it, and that took several attempts, because there are discrepancies about converting weight to volume when it comes to sugar and flour. So, tant pis, I had to make a lot of clafoutis. The truth is, none of them has ever turned out bad; all have been delicious. That includes the time I forgot to put in the flour. So don't stress too much; just whip this up when you have the chance, and you'll love it. One note: in the most authentic recipes for this dish, you leave the pits in the cherries. The theory is that they taste better--stronger--when the cherries cook with the pits inside. I was skeptical, so I pitted the cherries--once. It's a messy job (your fingers will be stained purple for days and your fingernails will look black), and the fact is, it does taste better with the pits in. Warn your guests when you serve it (or have it all for yourself, and forget the guests). If it really bothers you to have the pits in there, then be my guest, pit the cherries. But, trust me, it tastes better if you don't, and it's a whole lot less work.
CLAFOUTIS A LA CLAUDINE
(for a printer-friendly version of the recipe, click here)
1 - 2 lbs. sweet cherries--enough to fill a deep 9" pie dish in one generous layer (it's OK if there are more like 2 layers)
½ c. sugar (divided)
1 c. flour
1-1/4 c. milk
2 T. butter, softened
2 T. kirsch (if you can't get kirsch, cherry-flavored vodka also works)
1 T. vanilla
pinch of salt
1. Butter a 9-inch deep dish pie plate generously and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Remove the stems from the cherries, but leave the pits in. Rinse the cherries in cold water. Put them in the dish, sprinkle them with 1/4 c. sugar and the kirsch. Give everything a good stir, spread the cherries out evenly, and allow them to stand for at least 15 minutes.
3. Beat the eggs thoroughly. Add the milk, the remaining ¼ c. sugar, butter, flour, vanilla, and salt, beating thoroughly after each addition.
4. Pour the batter over the cherries in the dish. The pan will be quite full. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until set. The clafoutis will rise and dome quite lavishly. Test for doneness by inserting a knife or needle into the custard—it should come out clean.
Serve warm or at room temperature. (As it cools, it will collapse, but that's fine.)
This dish always makes me think I'm sitting in a French farm kitchen eating from a scarred oaken table. I like food that fires the imagination that way.