It may seem like banh mi fills my kitchen but it doesn’t. I do cook other food! In fact, this was my near dessert disaster on July 4. I had a bunch of cherries in the fridge and wanted to make a quick sweet treat to conclude our dinner. Something not too sweet but that employed a decent amount of cherries since they were sort of on the brink of going bad.
Looking through my bookshelves, I pulled out the Fruits volume of Time Life’s Good Cook series published in the early 1980s. It was one of my favorites to check out of the library when I was young, and last year, I bought an entire set on eBay.
The Good Cook series was sold via mail and supermarkets. Each volume was dedicated to a particular kind of ingredient. There were lots of handy how-to technique chapters that preceded tested recipes spanning the globe. Richard Olney edited the series and he was known to be persnickety with details. That’s to say, the recipes reliably worked.
It didn’t take long for me to find a clafoutis recipe that was translated as “French Cherry Custard Cake”; clafoutis is a favorite of the Limousin region in central France and is named after the local term clafir, which means "to fill." Making clafoutis was easy – pit the cherries, make a thickish crepe-like batter of egg, milk and flour in the blender and bake. The simple approach reminded me of Vietnamese banh chuoi, a banana cake that I often bake; for my recipe, see Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, page 292. The finished cake is dusted with powdered sugar and served lukewarm. "
The batter was flavored with a tablespoon of vanilla which gave me the idea of substituting almond paste leftover from Belinda Leong’s amazing almond cookies. (Yup, that almond paste lasts a long time in the fridge.) The paste would theoretically lend more body to the batter too. Normally, the clafoutis batter would puff during baking and substantially deflate during cooling.
Everything went swimmingly well. Our friend Jeff came over and I posed him holding the finished cake. Then our friends Katy and Stephen invited us for a drink and we went. When we returned home, the cake was cold and I wanted to properly warm it up. I put the clafoutis in the toaster oven at 300F and sat down to dinner. We’d had a bottle of wine or so before I remembered the warming clafoutis.
When I pulled it out, yikes, the top was a deep mahogany brown, not burnt but very dark. With no other dessert in my back pocket, I let the clafoutis cool and dusted it with a snowy layer of powdered sugar. Rory, Jeff and I ate half of it up. Rory said that he liked how the darkened top lent the cake character. I don’t think he was just being a kind husband. The next day I tried the cake again and he was right. The nearly burnt top was nice.
So my neglect turned out to be okay. I don’t know if I’ll repeat this in the future but it goes to show you that kitchen mistakes are not necessarily kitchen disasters.
If you don’t have almond paste, use 4 eggs (instead of 3), ¼ cup sugar (instead of 2 tablespoons) and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (add with the liquid ingredients). For a gluten-free version, I think you could use almond flour instead of all-purpose flour. A little ground ginger may be nice too. Cherry season comes to an end soon and this is a nice way to enjoy it.
Cherry and Almond Clafoutis
Yields: 6 to 8 servings
- Unsalted butter
- 8 ounces (225 g) cherries
- 3 ounces (90 g) almond paste
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 ½ cups milk or soy milk
- ½ cup (2 ½ oz / 75 g) all-purpose flour
- Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
- Generously butter an 8-inch (240 cm) square baking pan that’s about 2 inches deep (what you’d bake a brownie or cornbread in). Set aside. Set the oven rack in the middle position and preheat to 350F (180 C).
- Stem and wash the cherries. Pat dry with paper towel. Pit the cherries and put in the prepared baking pan, spreading them out evenly. Set aside.
- Put the almond paste, sugar, and salt in a blender. Run the machine to break up the almond paste. Stop to add the eggs. Blend to combine well. Add the milk and flour. Run the machine for about a minute, or until smooth. Taste and add extra sugar, if needed. It should be mildly sweet. Pour the batter into the pan of cherries.
- Bake for about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool to lukewarm then run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake. Invert onto a plate or leave in the pan. Cut into triangular pieces. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.