Become obsessed with clafoutis, a custardy fruit pancake

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This summer, I became obsessed with making clafoutis — big baked custardy fruit pancakes. If you look up the definition of clafoutis, it is referred to as a tart or fruit covered with flan. But, I think the taste and texture is more like a big thick crepe or custardy pancake.

Regardless, they are delicious for breakfast served with maple syrup or for dessert with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Truthfully, it is almost as good the next day sliced and eaten straight from the fridge. My good friend Bob Blumer suggested that I call the recipe “James and the Giant Peach Pancake.”

The first time I ever had clafoutis, I was living with a French family in the Loire Valley for the purpose of learning to speak French. The family didn’t speak English, so it was the perfect place to practice my French. If I wanted anything, I had to say it in French. Meals were full of chatter and my brain sometimes hurt from thinking and speaking in a foreign language but the food was the trade-off. It was simple, rustic and good.

One Sunday, the “Madame” of the family bought fresh cherries at the market, and decided to make the classic “clafoutis aux cerises.” It smelled and looked divine and I couldn’t wait to taste it. It came to the table still a bit warm and she cut big wedges for each of us. I saw a big ripe cherry gleaming up at me and took a big bite. and crunch! I almost broke my tooth in two. No one had bothered to tell me that Madame made her clafoutis in the traditional way without pitting the cherries. Literally, the pitfall of rustic country cooking. Nonetheless, I fell in love with clafoutis.

This is a versatile recipe and can be tailored to whatever summer fruit you have on hand. My favorite combination is fresh peaches and orange zest but blueberries and lemon zest is like a big fat scrumptious blueberry pancake.

That first bite taught me to inquire about pits from then on, and of course, I pit my cherries if I use cherries in my clafoutis. This summer I have been adding a handful of fresh pitted cherries to my peach clafoutis instead of using all cherries, and I have loved the result.

The custardy batter is like a crepe. And, like my crepe batter, I love putting everything in a blender and blending away. I also have found that you can make the batter in advance, leave it in the blender container — a to-go smoothie cup from your blender set is the perfect size. I add citrus zest, vanilla extract and a bit of cognac to the batter to deepen the flavor and make it a little more complex. My no-nonsense French country Madame probably wouldn’t approve of the fancy touches to her simple dessert but the extra flavors (and pitting the cherries) makes a world of difference.

About an hour before dinner, you can melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a deep-dish pie pan, arrange your fruit in the hot butter in the bottom of the pan. Re-mix the batter in the blender cup for a few seconds and pour over the fruit. In 40-50 minutes, your clafoutis will be ready to come out of the oven. Let it rest at least 15-20 minutes or up to 2 hours before slicing. Otherwise, the custard is too hot and too loose to cut. I let mine cool on a rack so the air will rotate around the pie pan. Serve with maple syrup or a dusting of powdered sugar.

Summer Peach Clafoutis

Servings: 8. Start to finish: 85 minutes (20 minutes active)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 large peaches, cut into thin slices

1 handful of fresh cherries, pitted

1 cup of half-and-half

Zest of one whole orange fresh

1 tablespoon cognac,

1/2 cup granulated white sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 /4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

Maple syrup or powdered sugar, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Add butter to a deep-dish pie pan. Place the pan in the pre-heated oven and let butter melt and cook until slightly caramelized but not burnt.

Meanwhile, prep the fruit: Remove the stems, pit the cherries and cut in half, if using. Peel and slice peaches and place in a pattern in the bottom of the pie dish in the hot butter. Place the cherry halves in between the peaches, if using.

Blend the wet ingredients: Combine the half and half, zest, cognac, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a blender and process until the batter is smooth, about 10 seconds.

Add the flour and salt and pulse until just incorporated. At this point, you can refrigerate and re-mix just before using.

Pour the batter over the fruit. Bake until set, puffed, and light golden brown around the edges, about 40-45 minutes. Remove when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Place the skillet on a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes (the Clafoutis will deflate). Serve with maple syrup and or dust with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Eat cold, room temperature or reheat in a 300 F oven until warmed through.

Per serving: 205 calories; 74 calories from fat; 8 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 99 mg cholesterol; 100 mg sodium; 28 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 20 g sugar; 5 g protein.