I love cherries. I genuinely can’t get enough of them, and will happily eat my way through an entire punnet in one sitting.
You can get cherries all year round nowadays, but out of season they’re usually not very sweet, and also horrendously expensive. So when fresh, seasonable cherries are readily available, I go a bit mad!
You can, of course, make cherry clafoutis in a pie dish, simply the fruit and batter. This is both delicious and easy, but if you want to make a bit of an effort, I think it’s well worth baking one in a pastry case. I also think the pastry adds a good textural contrast to the silky custard and sweet fruit. Furthermore, I think that the pastry should be savoury to contrast the sweet filling. I have tried making clafoutis with a sweet pastry a couple of times, and whilst delicious, the cherries are no longer the star of the dish, which I think rather defeats the point!
I have made many, many cherry clafoutis over the summer, from the disastrous, to the nearly perfect, and it’s been a real journey! I think it took me until my 7th or 8th attempt before I was really happy with what I made. And therefore, I present for your admiration and/or amusement, some of the varying degrees of success I have enjoyed along the way:
One important thing I have realised, is that you need a flan tin that is deep enough to allow the batter to cover your cherries. The only cherries that I am easily able to find are the super-sized and super sweet dessert cherries, so make sure your flan tin gives you room to all but cover them. I have a bit of an obsession with the slightly less fashionable flat sided tart ring lately, but all of mine were just too shallow – the cherries are very prone to exploding their juices everywhere and ruining the pastry, so I’ve had to concede this point. I did consider buying a deeper tart ring, but my husband was adamant that we don’t have space for any more bakeware. Fascist.
So I now use a deep 23cm (9 inch) flan tin, which is perfect for the job. You should have enough cherries to fill your dish satisfyingly. About 500g is a good fit for mine. I like to check for the amount of cherries I need before I start. That way I can also eat all the spares while I make it!
I think it’s absolutely essential to stone your cherries. Some recipes call for the stones to be deliberately left in, suggesting that the baking of the cherry stones adds to the flavour of the clafoutis. Even if that is true, what is the point of an elegant dessert when you have to sit there spitting bits out?! No thanks. You can pick up a cherry stoner quite cheaply these days, and if you like cherries, they’re a great investment.
Your first job though, is to make the pastry. I always used to make pastry in the food processor, but I can’t even remember how that’s done any more; since I rediscovered the traditional method, I don’t want to do it any other way. There’s nothing difficult about it, and it’s a lot harder to accidentally overwork your dough. Just tip everything, bar the milk, onto the counter and cream it all together with your fingertips. I like to squidge the cubes of butter and feather them into the flour. Once the pieces of butter are about the size of your little fingernail, there is no real need to make them any smaller. Any little shards of butter in your pastry are only going to give you a lovely flake.
Once your pieces of butter are all sufficiently small, you can add the milk to bring it all together. Just give it a quick knead until it is smooth, and then wrap with clingfilm to refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Simple!
If you leave the pastry in the fridge too long, it will crack when you try to roll it; I wouldn’t leave it any more than 1 hour in my fridge. Or if you plan to leave it for a while, get it out of the fridge a good 10 minutes before you roll it out.
When your pastry is nicely chilled, you can move on to blind bake your pastry case.
I feel I should take this moment to make a confession:
I have always (loudly) maintained that folding the excess pastry over the sides of the tin doesn’t stop the pastry shrinking. However, I recently realised that this is because I was trimming the pastry immediately after it came out of the oven, rather than waiting for it to cool. So yeah, this technique totally works, and I feel pretty silly for not figuring this out sooner 😀
You should aim to roll your pastry out to about 3mm; this is at just about the point where you start to wonder if it’s all going to fall apart when you try to pick it up! Roll it carefully around your rolling pin, and lay the pastry over the top of your flan tin. Lift the pastry and ease it down inside, using a spare blob of pastry, floured if necessary, to gently push the pastry into every nook and cranny.
It’s always a good idea to dock your pastry with a fork, and chill it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, while your oven preheats.
I like to line my pastry cases with ovenproof clingfilm (Cuki ‘microwave’ in case you were wondering), and rice. Squashing the rice down ensures that it fills the whole inside of the pastry case, and reduces your chance of getting bubbles in the pastry. Gather the clingfilm loosely on top, just so that it doesn’t soften down the outsides of your tin in the oven.
After 20 minutes, you can remove your pastry case from the oven and take out the rice, retuning the tin to the oven for another 5 minutes or so, completely drying out the bottom of the shell, so the wet filling doesn’t soften it.
I have taken to setting a timer for 5 minutes when the pastry case comes out of the oven before attempting to remove the excess. You certainly wouldn’t want to do it any sooner.
And don’t forget to turn your oven up as soon as it comes out of the oven – you’re going to need a higher temperature to cook your wet filling.
I like to use a paring knife to scratch away at the pastry horizontally, using the top of the tin as a guide. Do not be tempted to rush here – if you gouge out a piece of the side walls needlessly, you’re going to be pretty mad at yourself, and there’s no way to fix it!
While the pastry is in the oven, you should have been busily stoning your cherries and mixing your batter. You can then tumble in your cherries, and arrange them to fill the tin attractively. I superstitiously try to avoid aiming any of the holes in my cherries such that they might squirt on the pastry. I don’t know whether this makes any real difference…
Then simply pour over about half of the batter, and slide the tin onto the shelf of your oven. Once it is in place, you can go about using your batter to fill the pastry case as much as you dare! You don’t want it to spill over, but you also want to get as much in as you possibly can.
Towards the end of the cooking, you will notice that the filling rises up very high. This is nothing to be concerned about, and simply comes with the territory. It is very unlikely that you will be able to avoid cracking around the edges of your clafoutis, but if you remove it from the oven while the middle is still slightly wobbly, you may be able to avoid a crack in the middle.
Don’t panic about the height of your clafoutis; after about 30 minutes of cooling down, it will look almost completely flat, the custard becoming firm and silky.
Clafoutis is at it’s best when still warm, but will fall apart if served straight from the oven, as well as scalding your mouth with hot cherry juice!
Once ready to serve, just cover everything in a liberal dusting of icing sugar to hide/magnify all the imperfections, and enjoy!
250g plain flour
125g unsalted butter, cubed and slightly softened
1tsp fine salt
1tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp cold milk
500g dessert cherries
75g plain flour
75g caster sugar
75g butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp kirsch
1tsp vanilla bean paste
150ml whole milk
Tip the flour out onto your work surface, and make a well in the middle.
Add the butter, salt, sugar and egg, and cream the mixture together, incorporating the flour slowly.
As the dough starts to come tighter, add the cold milk, and knead until smooth.
Flattern into a disk and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 170c
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface, to a thickness of about 3mm
Wrap the pastry around your rolling pin, and carefully drape across a deep 23cm flan tin that is sitting on a baking sheet.
Lift the pastry inwards, and ease it down into the bottom of the tin.
Using a leftover scrap of dough, push the pastry into every corner.
Leave an overhang of pastry all around the tin, pressing gently on both sides.
Line with ovenproof clingfilm and rice, and bake for 15 minutes.
Remove the clingfilm and rice, and bake for another 5 minutes, until the pastry bottom looks dry.
Leave to cool for 5 minutes before trimming the top of the tart shell.
Turn the oven up to 200c
Sift the flour into a large jug and add the sugar.
Add the beaten eggs, kirsch, vanilla bean paste, and melted butter, whisking to a smooth batter.
Whisk in the milk.
Arrange the cherries in your pastry case, and then pour over most of the batter.
Slide your baking sheet onto the oven shelf, then pour more batter in, filling the pastry case as much as you safely can.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until the middle just starts to colour.
Allow to cool for 30 minutes, and dust with icing sugar to serve.