I have spent large part of my culinary career proselytizing about clafouti (or clafoutis), the custardy flan/tart that often encases boozy fruit. What makes me go on and on about this French dessert is its simplicity, seasonality, and, of course, the satisfaction that awaits you at the end. It is equally at home for brunch as it is at the end of the meal. It is delicious warm, room temperature, and cold straight from the fridge. If you are ever asked to bring a dessert to a dinner party, consider this your new mainstay.
What is clafouti?
Simply put, it is crepe batter poured over fruit and baked in the oven until puffy and browned.
What equipment do you need?
An oven proof baking dish or skillet (usually 8- or 10-inches), and a whisk or blender.
How do you make the batter?
Assembling a good crepe batter is best accomplished in the blender (although a good old-fashioned whisk will do in a pinch): Combine eggs, melted butter, milk or cream, flour, and sugar (or whatever ingredients your crepe recipe asks for, and whirl until all these ingredients smooth as silk. Let it rest for 30 minutes. This resting period is key to making the most tender clafouti; the gluten in the flour is tight after a run through the blender blades, and needs this time to relax so the resulting custard won’t be too rubbery. The resting period is not as crucial if you use a more-gentle whisk to combine the ingredients.
Cherries are the bomb (and classic), and the best are the ones in season locally. You can use them pitted or not; the purists leave them whole so their red juices don’t stain the clafouti and because the pit lends an impressive almond-like flavor to the fruit when baked. Just remind your guests to watch out for them before they dive in.
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When cherries are out of season, despair not. Equally delicious in clafouti are blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, pears, peaches, and apricots. Furthermore, this is an excellent place for thawed frozen fruit to shine; just make sure to drain the liquid off before using them or it will compromise the setting of the custard. Toss the fruit with a little sugar (or not) and let them macerate for about 20 minutes. Clafouti purists will also add a splash of booze to the fruit, usually a brandy.
You want to add the fruit to the bottom of your dish, then pour the batter on top.
How long does do I bake it?
Usually 25-30 minutes in a 400-degree oven. You want to cook it hot and fast, so the custard puffs up dramatically and browns in beautiful craggily crests. It will deflate when removed from the oven, but the high drama continues as you plunge your fork in and understand the true merit of clafouti: how good it makes you feel to be eating it.
Bearing in mind everything you've just read, here are some recipes to get you started:
I am wild about food. And about my new cookbook -- Six Basic Cooking Techniques: Culinary Essentials for the Home Cook -- based on the most popular class at my cooking school in New York City. If you crave food knowledge, take a peek inside the book on the website above.