Clafoutis, essentially a custard-like pancake, is delicious with almost any fruit.
WHEN I FIRST read Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” decades ago as a teenager, I was thrilled to discover a simple dessert called a clafoutis — essentially a fruit custard-like pancake — among the lengthy descriptions of more arduous steps and techniques. This rustic French dessert couldn’t be easier. It still is one of my go-to recipes when I want something dreamy and fruity without any fuss, and it works well in any season.
My favorite clafoutis in fall showcases ripe pears. It takes just a few minutes to prepare the pears and blend the ingredients. Unlike other baked fruit desserts, there’s no need to roll out a crust or make a pastry topping. Adding a tablespoon or two of pear brandy or eau de vie lends an elegant je ne sais quoi to the otherwise rustic dessert.
Referring to the dessert as a flan, Child published variations with cherries, apples, pears, plums and berries. I also love a clafoutis with halved apricots. You really can’t go wrong with any fruit baked in this sweet and creamy batter.
Long after Child’s classic, I’ve seen similar recipes from many other chefs, sometimes spelled clafouti or often called a flaugnarde. In fact, purists consider a clafoutis made only with cherries, whereas a flaugnarde is made with other types of fruit. Whatever you call it, the recipe should produce a basic batter of milk, flour, eggs and sugar.
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A clafoutis may be baked in a pie plate, cast-iron skillet or quiche dish. I like to channel the French countryside by using heavy stoneware or a cast-iron skillet, served right at the table. Child’s directions specified a pie plate about 1½ inches deep. However, her recipe makes too much batter to fit in my standard pie plates, so I use a deep-dish pie plate or a wide ceramic tart pan that yields a thinner clafoutis that requires slightly less baking time. Experiment with your favorite baking dishes, adjusting cooking time according to thickness of the clafoutis.
Child’s recipes call for a thin layer of batter heated on the bottom of the baking dish (on a burner or in an oven) for a few minutes to make a firm, brown layer. A firm bottom makes for easier serving if you’re after reliable pieces. Most other recipes skip this step, as I do here in the interest of time. The entire batter may be poured directly into the buttered baking dish, but it might be harder to get perfect pieces out of the pan. A clafoutis is a rustic and casual dessert, after all.
Serves 6 to 8
2 large ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced
2 tablespoons pear brandy
¼ cup sugar
1 cup milk
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup flour
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter a deep-dish pie plate or a medium cast-iron skillet.
3. Combine pears, pear brandy and sugar in a bowl, and let stand for 30 minutes.
4. Pour the liquid from the pears into a blender jar. Add to the blender all of the remaining ingredients in the order in which they are listed. Blend at top speed for one minute.
5. Arrange pears on the bottom of baking dish. Pour batter over pears.
6. Place in center of preheated oven, and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until puffed and slightly brown.
7. Cool to warm, sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve. May be served chilled, also.
Adapted from Julia Child’s Clafouti aux Poires (Pear Flan), “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1.”