Rubies. Glittering, bright, red rubies. That’s what these cherries remind me of. But they are not hard and cold – they are warm and sun-kissed, and practically sparkle with life. I stare mesmerized at their beauty, hesitant to taste because I’m sure they cannot live up to the expectation. Oh, but they do! The ripe flesh gives way under the gentle bite of my teeth and the sweet juice explodes in my mouth with a bright pop. I close my eyes involuntarily letting the tiny fruit work its magic. And reach for another. And another. Until all I have left is an empty bag. So I do the only thing that can be done – I go to the farmers’ market and buy some more. Correction, a lot more – read, 3 pounds. Which is why, there are going to be 3 consecutive posts on cherries. I can’t help myself – I’m swimming in them; they just taste so good. I’m sure you’re not going to complain, are you?
There existed a time when I didn’t like cherries all that much – strange to hear after that rhapsody, but it’s true. Back home, the first cherries of the season were always mouth-puckeringly sour and thereafter, even in the bag of sweet cherries, there would always stealthily lurk some unfriendly ones ready to spoil your experience. You never knew what you were going to get – life is a box of cherries, and all that. The sour cherries would so turn me off that I think I just gave up on the fruit gradually. But these cherries are a different story – big, dark and plump, nay, fat with juice. I’ll stop before I begin to repeat myself.
Knowing I could not possibly finish eating my loot alone (well, I could, but I’m trying to exercise some restraint here), I started fishing around for ideas for something to make with them. The list was possibly endless – pies, tarts, clafoutis, panna cotta, cakes, sauces, jams, cheesecake, muffins… But I practiced some of that restraint I was talking about. And made only 3 things. In 3 days. Needless to say, roommates and people at work are presently very happy with me.
The first to come out of my oven was a clafoutis tart. Clafoutis originated in the Limousin region of France. It is a simple dessert consisting of sweet cherries, which are covered with a pancake like batter and baked till puffed and golden. Wherever I read about the clafoutis, I read the same phrase – “like a tart”. So why not make it exactly like one, I thought. Cherries and almonds are best of friends, so it made sense to match the silky custard-like filling with a crumbly almond crust.
Clafoutis is traditionally made with unpitted cherries; when cooked, the kernels release their sweet almond flavor. To mirror this without the inconvenience of spitting out cherry pits (especially at work), I flavored the filling with a splash of Amaretto liqueur (because obviously there is nothing inappropriate about booze at work). I also replaced the powdered sugar that is traditionally sprinkled over the baked warm clafoutis with almond praline – that caramelized golden dust. These updates turn this simple dessert into a luxurious affair while still retaining its homey comfort. You can also omit all the jazz and bake the clafoutis on its own – its simple goodness does not need much embellishment. But sometimes it’s just so much fun to dress up, don’t you think?
Recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Sweet Tart Dough
1/2 cup blanched almonds
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 large egg, beaten
1. Preheat the oven to 350⁰F (175⁰C).
2. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet. Toast in the preheated oven for 8-10 mins, stirring once halfway through. (If making the praline, you can toast the sliced almonds also now – about 5 mins.) Let the almonds cool to room temperature.
3. Place the almonds in a food processor and process until ground. Add the flour, sugar and salt and process to combine.
4. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (Don’t over-process, the mixture should have pea-size flakes.)
5. Add the egg and process in pulses until the dough begins to clump together.
6. Turn the dough onto a work surface and gently knead once or twice to bring it together. Lightly butter a 9-inch tart pan or pie plate. Transfer the dough to the pan and gently press evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Cover and freeze for at least half an hour.
7. Cover the crust with aluminum foil, place beans or pie weights on top of the foil and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 mins.
Clafoutis Recipe adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking – Julia Child
1 pound dark, sweet cherries
For the Clafoutis Batter:
3/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons Amaretto
pinch of salt
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 9-inch pre-baked almond crust
For the Almond Praline:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1. Pit the cherries. (If you don’t have a cherry pitter, a vegetable peeler works very well. Insert the pointed tip at the stem end of the cherry and scoop out the stem and the pit.)
2. Preheat the oven to 350⁰F (175⁰C).
Make the clafoutis batter:
3. Place the clafoutis ingredients in the blender in the order they are listed and blend to get a smooth batter. Don’t over-mix.
4. Place the pitted cherries on the pre-baked crust and pour as much batter as will fit to the rim of the crust.
5. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake in the center of the preheated oven until the edges are puffed and golden and the center is set and does not jiggle when the pan is tapped, about 45 mins.
Make the almond praline:
1. Place the sugar in an even layer in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon until the sugar melts.
2. Cook further, stirring only occasionally, until the sugar caramelizes and turns golden.
3. Add the toasted sliced almonds and mix.
4. Pour immediately on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and spread to a thin layer. When it is completely cool, chop the praline into shards with a knife or pulse very briefly in a food processor.
Cool the baked tart for 20 mins, garnish with the almond praline and serve immediately or at room temperature.