By Joe Dizney
It’s hard keeping up with the bounty of summer. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss out. For instance, I was all set to pull the trigger on this week’s column but on a trip to Nature’s Pantry in Fishkill for staples I stumbled upon a table of sweet cherries from Fishkill Farms.
Its deep red Hedelfingen variety is nominally a common “sweet cherry” — they’re related to the red/yellow Raniers and the Black Gold varieties — but I find them darker still and possessed of a sweet complexity reminiscent of true wild black cherries.
Sure enough, the door is already closing on cherry season. Fishkill Farms has ended this year’s “pick-your-own” crop, although some may be available at Nature’s Pantry and at the farm store (9 Fishkill Farm Road, Hopewell Junction; daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and at the Beacon Farmers’ Market (Sundays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Veterans Place, behind the Towne Crier) for a short, sweet while longer.
There are quite a few things to do with these beauties, but only one recipe celebrates and frames them in a classic manner: the homey-simple French dessert called the clafoutis.
An oven-baked specialty from the Limousin region, clafoutis consists of a simple batter (egg, milk, sugar, flour) poured over a layer of cherries and baked until the pancake-like mix puffs up a bit. It is traditionally finished with a dusting of powdered sugar and consumed immediately and enthusiastically.
The assembly takes less than 10 minutes, particularly if you stick to the no-frills country French method of using unpitted cherries. The rationale behind such a foolhardy challenge to oral health is that the pits contain amygdalin, the active element in almond extract, a nod to a seriously simpatico flavor pairing. The obvious fix is to pit the fruit beforehand and add a bit of almond extract.
As complex as all that may sound, the batter itself is forgiving, depending on the recipe, ingredients and proportions, and sometimes the region and chef. Some like their clafoutis “cakey” with more flour, while others go for an eggier, flan-like custard. The batter may be thick or thin, according to taste, and made with non-fat, low-fat or whole milk, cream or half-and-half. Some chefs add butter or fruit-flavored liqueur.
The version here is humbler, more like a Dutch pannekoek (pancake), a possible culinary country cousin. Another classic Limousin dessert and obvious antecedent — the flaugnarde — which consists of pretty much the same batter and process, uses fruit such as apples, pears, apricots or plums and even raisins or prunes. But for today life is just a bowl of cherries. I have gone light on the flour, so the consistency will be more like a custard or flan. I also avoid the powdered sugar dusting by spreading a couple of tablespoons of granulated sugar over the set custard 10 minutes or so before it’s done, which makes a crunchier crust.
A drizzle of cream or scoop of vanilla ice cream, while unnecessary, will not be met with disdain, but the clafoutis pictured here was everything I hoped for by itself — creamy sweetness and molten fruit. I rushed to share some with my neighbors and mistakenly left the dish with them overnight. Longing for another bite for inspiration as I wrote, I went to retrieve it only to find a clean dish. Get it while you can.
About 8 servings
1¼ pounds sweet, dark cherries, pitted
Softened butter to coat the baking dish
3 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon almond extract
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1¼ cup whole or low-fat milk or cream
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a shallow (about 2-quart) baking dish or casserole with butter. Lay the cherries in a single layer in the dish.
With an electric hand mixer, beat the wet ingredients until well mixed and slowly add the dry ingredients until incorporated into a smooth, loose batter.
Pour the batter over the cherries and bake on the middle rack for about 30 minutes until batter is just set. Remove the pan briefly from the oven and sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar evenly over the surface. Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. The clafoutis is done when lightly browned and a knife can be inserted into the center and emerge relatively clean.
Serve warm or at room temperature.