Celebrate France with Evanston chef’s cherry clafouti

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Bistro Bordeaux's Executive Chef Johnny Besch creates a cherry clafouti. | Tamara Bell~Sun Times Media

Cherry Clafouti

(From Chef Johnny Besch)

1 pound cherries, pitted

½ cup sugar

2/3 cup flour

1/3 cup cream

2/3 cup milk

4 whole eggs

2 egg yolks

Butter and sugar (enough to coat the baking dish)

Powdered sugar (enough to dust the finished clafouti)

Brush baking dish with some melted butter and coat it with some sugar. Shake out any excess sugar.

Sift flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the milk and cream into the well and stir to make a smooth paste.

Add the eggs, egg yolks and sugar. Continue whisking to make a smooth batter.

Put cherries into buttered and sugared pan. Ladle batter over cherries.

Bake clafouti in oven pre-heated to 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. It should be puffed up and just beginning to brown.

Remove from oven.

Allow to cool slightly, then dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve.

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To France and all those who love her, clafouti is to the peak of summer what Bûche de Noël is to Christmas time.

The flan-like custard dessert clafouti (pronounced: kla-foo-TEE) is a cinch to make, requires only a few basic ingredients and can be transported easily to picnics and backyard barbecues. And because the treat can showcase any and every seasonal fruit, nothing says summer— and, in honor of Bastille Day, “Vive la France!” — quite like clafouti.

While asparagus, zucchini, bell peppers and other seasonal vegetables have become the stuff of many a modern day savory clafouti, cherries were the stars of the original dessert when it was developed in Limousin, a farm country region in south central France. The area has been famous since the 18th century for the porcelain dinnerware and hinged novelty boxes produced in its capital, Limoges.

The dessert came a bit later. According to Johnny Besch, executive chef of Bistro Bordeaux in Evanston, “The recipe is old but not ancient. It can probably be dated to around the 1860s.”

Artist favorite

The artist Claude Monet (1840-1926) was a fan. Cherry clafouti was one of a number of treasured recipes of the Impressionist painter included in Claire Joyes’ cookbook Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet (Simon & Schuster; 5th Edition, 1990).

Clafouti is traditionally made, as Besch explained, with unpitted cherries. “The pits are thought to enhance the flavor of the batter with a perfume faintly reminiscent of almonds,” he said. “Whole cherries are also less likely to bleed into the batter.”

Mais, attention! A few obvious risks associated with such old school clafouti making should not be taken lightly. “If you choose to make clafouti with unpitted cherries, remember to warn everyone,” Besch emphasized. That won’t be a concern at Bistro Bordeaux, where Besch makes cherry clafouti sans cherry pits.

Brandy for flavor

For the best taste, he recommends using black cherries. “Black cherries are the meatiest, juiciest and sweetest of all cherries,” Besch said. For even more flavor, he suggested soaking the cherries in brandy first.

Cherries and other fruits can be soaked in liquor for as little as a few hours, but the flavor intensifies the longer they soak. Some recipes include a sprinkle of fruit brandy added to the top of the dessert before baking. A little lemon zest or a few drops of fresh lemon juice can also add flavor to the standard clafouti recipe.

It’s a simple mixture of basic ingredients like sugar, flour, eggs, milk and cream. Besch described clafouti as slightly thickened crêpe batter. The batter is ladled over fresh fruit in the bottom of a pie plate or quiche dish. The consistency is heavy and thick, like a quiche, making the durable dessert easy to transport.

“The unusual name comes from the word clafir, which means to fill, and fill it does. Not least because it’s so good that one’s tendency is to ask for seconds and thirds,” Besch said.