A Classic Cherry Dessert Bound To Impress Guests

Cherry Clafoutis (with Roasted Grapes)

I love summer fruit and have been busy making cobblers with peaches and nectarines these past few weeks. I steer away from pies this time of year, since they require too much pressing and pinching. I like making desserts that at least seem and sound easy.

I had never made clafoutis.

But sometimes I see a recipe for something that doesn't necessarily scream, "In season!" but rather just says, "Try me."

And sometimes I look at a recipe and I think, "That will save me today."

I saw this recipe for Cherry Clafoutis in the summer issue of Cooks Illustrated. I had subscribed to Cooks Illustrated years ago and then let my subscription lapse. A few months ago, I decided to try it again. I don't know why. I think I was looking to steepen my new learning curves. It is one thing to read cookbooks and borrow recipes from friends and relatives. It is another to take cooking seriously, and do it technically correctly. Cooks Illustrated tells you what to do, and how, and why.

I had also been reading All the Light We Cannot See, and thinking about Occupied France. Then my in-laws came to visit: My brother-in-law and sister-in-law from Indiana ,and their 3 ½ year old. The house was full. My father-in-law is German and was born in France, as his family was fleeing Nazi Germany. Nobody likes food as spicy and strong as I do. This fruit clafoutis seemed like a nice way to welcome my in-laws.

Meanwhile, both of my children had independently and in different places, but simultaneously, seriously pissed me off. And inconvenienced me. And irritated my sister-in-law. And gotten himself in a spot of trouble.

Adding to that: I couldn't find the whisk.

I was in a foul mood, with a house of teenagers and in-laws.

I am a firm believer that meditation and yoga can take the sharp edge off things. Lately, I've been reading a lot about how doing inversions for five minutes a day can dramatically change your mood. And in fact, this morning, after yoga, I was still so rattled that I meditated for 25 minutes and then stood on my head for one minute. I felt better. However, as the day progressed (or dragged, depending upon how you look at things), I felt more and more upset. While the others went to the beach, I decided to make cherry clafoutisss.

What are you doing? My husband said.
I'm still very upset, I said. I'm going to make something.
I guess that's your schtick, my husband said, and left for the beach.

My younger son stayed behind, both to do his summer reading and I'd like to think, keep me company.

We had two cups of cherries. But the recipe called for 1 ½ pounds (24 ounces, or three cups.) I decided to add in blueberries -- I had bought three containers that morning. But they had all been gobbled up at lunch. What to do? I did not feel like going back to the store. We did have strawberries but not that too many. So I used the blueberries we had and added in a handful of grapes.

Real clafoutis calls for leaving the cherry pits in. But we had a three and ah alf year old in the house. Plus that seemed like a lot of works for the adults. I started carefully slicing the pits out of the cherries. Then I got impatient and started yanking the pits out with my fingers.

"Whatever you're making smells delicious, what are you making? " my younger son said.

It was basically a baked custard.

You could add a little kirsch (cherry liqueur) too.

It is more traditional to leave the cherries whole and not pit them. Cherry pits taste of almond and cinnamon, and leaving them in means the cherries won't burst in the clafoutis. However, leaving them in also means that in every bite, you will be spitting cherry pits out. That's not fun to do or watch, so I decided to pit the cherries, I didn't have a cherry pitter so I started slicing them, as precisely and delicately as I could. But carving out cherry pits is time consuming and though sometimes doing something in a painstaking way can distract you from what's really bothering you. This was just too much effort. I started pushing the cherries out with my thumb and middle fingers, and that was actually very satisfying.

By the time the clafoutis was done, my kids had long disappeared and went to play miniature golf. I served it to my in-laws, brother-in-law and sister-in-law and they all said it was fantastic.

But then, behind closed doors, my husband said the clafoutis was actually bland. Bland? And when I thought about it, it did taste a little eggy, more like a breakfast cake. And yet. It was good. Worth keeping, and serving again. If nothing else, I wanted my kids to try it. So when my husband's cousins and her kids came over the next day, I put it out as a snack. And it was delicious. The flavors had married and deepened and become intensely cold and wonderful. It made a fabulous afternoon snack.

Mom, this is good, my older son said.

I went online and saw that this was actually a riff on Julia Child's recipe. Hers called for more fruit (3 cups), more milk (1 ½ cups), fewer eggs and no heavy cream. Cooks also cooked it in a sauté pan, whereas Julia's recipe calls for a standard baking dish.

Cherry Clafoutis (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

1 ½ pound cherries, pitted
½ cup combination of blueberries and grapes (if you use grapes, slice them in half. You can also use whatever small, juicy, bite-size fruit you have one hand---raspberries, strawberries, etc)
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, plus ½ cup flour
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar, plus two teaspoons sugar
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees
2. Adjust oven racks to lowest and upper-middle positions.
3. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place cherries and grapes, cut side up, on sheet. Roast cherries on upper rack until just tender and the sides look dry, about 15 minutes.
4. Transfer cherries to medium bowl toss with lemon j8ice and let cool five minutes. Mix 2 teaspoons flour and cinnamon in small bowl. Sprinkle the flour mixture on the cherries and roast to coat cherries
5. Whisk eggs, 2/3 cup sugar, vanilla and salt in large bowl until smooth and pale, about 1 minute. Whisk in remaining ½ cup flour until smooth. Whisk in cream and milk until incorporated.
6. Remove skillet (careful: handle will be hot) and set on wire rack or oven burner. Add butter and swirl to coat bottom and sides of skillet (butter will melt and brown quickly.) Pour batter into skillet and arrange cherries evenly on top (some will sink). Transfer skillet to lower rack and bake until clafoutis puffs and turns golden brown (edges will be dark brown) and center registers 195 degrees, 12-22 minutes. Rotate skillet half way through baking. Transfer skillet to wire rack and let cool for 25 minutes. Sprinkle remaining teaspoons sugar on clafoutis. Slice into wedges and serve. (Also excellent, and arguably better, served cold the next day.)

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