Originally published in the Khaleej Times wknd magazine for Kari’s food column “When Hunger Strikes.”
The thing about fresh, seasonal and (where possible) organic and local ingredients is that they need little manipulation. A tomato in season is perfect sliced with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and crack of pepper. Basil and buffalo mozzarella only add a harmonious chorus to an already beautiful solo. Out of season, you will have to add tomato flavour via pastes and canned sauces to fresh tomatoes and balance the lack of sweetness by adding a bit of sugar. Like tomatoes grown in northern regions, summer is the season for stone fruits like peaches, nectaries, plums and cherries. The one which reigns supreme for me, is the cherry.
Cherries harvested in the summer are fruits from heaven! The dark, plump sweet ones from Iran are by far the best of the lot of the Bing cherry variety that is popular in the US, where it was created as a cross bred graft and is popular throughout the world and in the Middle East. The ones grown in my Jamaican homeland are of a different variety offered here. It is called the West Indian Cherry and is sweet and juicy with a spongy seed and always has a tangy bite, even when it is sugary sweet and are eaten fresh by children and made into juice for adults who cannot be bothered with the seeds.
I have loved cherries ever since I was a child and maybe it is this association with fond childhood summers that makes them so special for me. Imagine then my delight when Karma, the 5-year-old daughter of my dear friend started calling me “Kari the Cherry!” Having learnt rhymes in school, she associated the sound of my name with cherries and has not let up since. Recently, her mother got fresh cherries to make a compote and she quipped “We’ve got the cherries so all we need is Kari!” Karma, like every child I know, loves cherries and so this Cherry Clafoutis will be eaten with relish my both young and those of us who qualify for the “young at heart” grouping.
Cherry Clafoutis is a charmingly rustic traditional French sweet pudding-like custard treat from the Limousin region that is baked in clay dishes to perfection. It is such a much-loved treat in France that 18th generation French clay cookware makers Emile Henry created a special pie dish for it. Served warm, it is dotted with fresh cherries in the summer and is perfect as a brunch sweet course or dessert after dinner. It is classically made with ‘unpitted’ cherries to impart the almond flavour from the pit, but if you want to do without them you will have to pit them.
Pitting cherries is the perfect kitchen task for children, but be sure to use a cherry pitter to avoid any danger with knives. A good one will also prevent the juices from splattering all over your kitchen. Since I do not have children to pit my cherries, I made mine the classic way- with the pits! They are a little annoying when eating, but going with the pits actually reduced the preparation time and allows you to use this as a great dessert for impromptu guests, especially because it is served warm. Simply sprinkle with a light dusting of powdered sugar and serve with a dollop of crème fraiche for a totally French presentation!
How to buy cherries
According to baking expert Stephanie Jaworski of the blog “The Joy of Baking,” “Buy Bing cherries that have their stems still attached, are bright and shiny red, almost black in color. They should be plump, firm to the touch, with no browning around the stems. Do not buy cherries that are soft or have brown spots, cuts, are wet or sticky, or have shriveled stems.”
250 g / 9 oz self-raising flour 250 g / 9 oz crème fraîche 4 eggs, separated 2 teaspoons vanilla essence 150 g / 5 oz caster sugar 20 g / ¾ oz butter for greasing 3 tablespoons oil 1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional) 250 g / 9 oz cherries
Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla and almond essence, until the mixture becomes white. Add the crème fraîche and oil, and whisk again. Add the flour in three parts, mixing after each addition. Whisk the egg whites until they become stiff. Add them carefully to the mixture. Pour into your pie dish, having greased it with a little butter. Add the cherries to the mixture. Bake for 35 min in traditional oven (200°C ) Serve warm.