Clafoutis, or Flaugnarde, or whatever

For the record, Limousin is not a car, it’s a chunk of central France. Well south of Paris and well north of Provence, here’s where roughly half the fine porcelain made in Europe come from, sharing its name with the regional capital, Limoges. Limousin oak is used to make the barrels that fine cognac ages in. They’re also rightfully famous for one of the most versatile desserts I know of, the clafoutis, (clah foo tee), which also happens to be incredibly easy and quick to make. It’s great any time, but right now, when berries and stone fruit are available in all their glory, it’s ethereal.

Clafoutis is an old creation, around in some form since fire and flour found each other. This was a big deal dessert in the 1800s, spreading across Europe, taking advantage of whatever favorite fruit was ripe locally. The classic Limousin version is made with unpitted cherries, but frankly, that’s a tradition I can do without – if, as claimed, the stones add a certain je ne sais quoi to the dish, I say just bake the thing in clay and keep your dental work intact.

The basic ingredients are pretty much what you’d use to make pancakes, and not too far off from custard or Yorkshire pudding, yet clafoutis is unique. Cherries are just the starting point – berries, plums, apricots, nectarines, peaches are all stellar, and in the fall, apples and pears are too, (how about an apple and extra sharp cheddar version?). Nuts go great with many of those fruit options – The traditional version uses almonds, but hazelnuts, cashews and walnuts are all solid bets.

Since this is a famous regional French dish, I do have to point out that calling anything made with fruit other than cherries a clafoutis is pas correct, because, well – it’s not – That would be a flaugnarde, (Flûn-yard). Yes, it’s exactly the same thing with different fruit – and yes, it’s nitpicky, but hey – now you have two cool French words to flash while making a delicious dessert.

I’ve done the recipe we’ll share with a bunch of different things, and varied the fruit content from 2 to almost 3 cups – while the latter versions were obviously, well, fruitier, they all were delicious and baked up just fine. If you pump up the fruit ratio, add baking time, and you’ll be fine. That’s another lovely aspect of the dish – you can eyeball things after making a few of these, which makes it a perfect last minute dessert.

You’ll note that there are no leavening agents in the dish. Just as with a pancake or a Yorkshire pudding, you want to get some air into the batter – small bubbles get trapped in the lattice of flour, sugar, and egg and expand as the dish bakes, giving you an admirable rise – from maybe an inch deep as batter, you’ll easily top a 2.5” baking dish when it’s done. Julia Child used a blender to do this, and advocated spreading a little batter over the bottom of the baking pan and cooking that a bit before adding fruit, nuts, etc. I love Julia with all my heart, but this is in essence a peasant dish, and you needn’t go to all that trouble – an immersion blender does a fabulous job and is much easier to clean. I tried the thin layer pre-cook, and frankly found zero appreciable difference from skipping that step.

NOTES:

1. All purpose flour is your best choice – it’s got the right amount of protein/gluten to make a nice stretchy batter happen.

2. If you live where you can get Rainier cherries in season, there is no finer dessert on this earth.

Urban Clafoutis / Flaugnarde

2 – 2 1/2 Cups fresh Fruit

3 large Eggs

1 Cup Whole Milk

2/3 Cup Bakers Sugar

1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour

1 Tablespoon Honey

3 Tablespoons Nuts

2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract

1/2 teaspoon Almond Extract (or liqueur)

Pinch of Salt.

2 Tablespoons Turbinado Sugar

Measure out milk and leave out at room temp – same with the eggs.

Preheat oven to 350° F and set a rack in the middle slot.

Lightly butter a baking dish, (anything around 10” x 7” or 11” x 8” works great).

Add a tablespoon of flour to the dish and tap it around to lightly coat the butter. Turn the pan over the sink and tap out any excess flour.

Pit any stone fruit. Cherries can stay whole, as can berries – rough chop larger fruit.

Rough chop nuts – if you have raw, a quick toast in a hot skillet until they turn golden brown and fragrant is a nice touch.

Combine sugar and honey with the eggs, and whisk to a smooth blend.

Add flour and salt to the wet mix and whisk to thoroughly incorporate.

Add the milk, vanilla and almond extract, and whisk smooth.

Process the batter with a stick blender for about a minute, until lots of small bubbles form.

Scatter fruit and toasted nuts over the bottom of the baking pan.

Pour the batter over the fruit and nuts.

Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180° and sprinkle the turbinado sugar evenly over the top of the dish.

Bake another 15 to 20 minutes, until the top of the clafoutis or flaugnarde, or whatever you wanna call it is golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before serving.

It beats the heck outa granola bars for breakfast the next day, if any of it survives that long.

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