from "Living Within" June, 2015.
Happiness in June is a bowl of cherries. A locally sourced supply of reasonably priced fruit is in prospect, and we are temporarily spared the supermarket fleecing of imported supplies, so expensively travelled they seem priced by the cherry instead of the kilo.
There is nothing much that will improve a cherry’s natural perfection but they must be enjoyed in their moment, for they won’t last long - not only is their season short, but they lose their plumped up gloss quickly once plucked from the tree. Unlike many other summer fruit, they will benefit from chilling, for both their keeping and their eating qualities. At times of plenty, they can also be cooked in sweet sauces to complement savoury dishes, and in puddings and pies, soups and compotes. A favourite dessert of mine, borrowed from the French, is the “clafoutis” - a simple batter pudding that can be made up quickly and that needs no ceremony in its serving.
At its most pared back and traditional the clafoutis is almost as plain as making pancakes: eggs, flour, milk and sugar, beaten together into a batter and poured on top of a pound of cherries, stones intact, baked in a hot oven is all that is needed. Purists cook with the stones because they are supposed to improve the flavour of the cooked cherries, but it is an option, (and almost always a kindness) to spend a little time de-stoning the cherries, to make the pudding easier to eat and to avoid the possibility of accidental dental calamity.
Proportions of ingredients and variety of flavouring can vary, but the following is one guide for the methods below: 500g cherries; up to 50g butter; 70g + 3 tablespoons caster sugar; 3 eggs; 3 tablespoons plain flour; 70g cream; zest of 1 lemon; few drops vanilla extract; 1tsp ground cinnamon; icing sugar (for dusting).
(the most simple) involves putting the cherries in a buttered gratin dish, pouring over a batter made by whisking all the remaining ingredients together (excepting the icing sugar, and perhaps substituting milk for cream, and no cinnamon or lemon necessary), and baking the whole in a hot oven for between 20 and 30 minutes, until the batter is puffed and golden. This provides an unexceptional, workmanlike, pudding, akin to a sweet “toad in the hole”.
If, however, you are prepared to take a fraction more time (and to do a tad more washing up), the ingredients can be put together in a way that adds a level of sophistication without much additional trouble.
- pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (or equivalent);
- pit the cherries (with a sharp knife and a little patience, or with a dedicated cherry pitter - either way the cherries will spit and drool and create a mess, and you should protect their surroundings and wear an apron - your surfaces will, none-the-less, take on the look of a minor crime scene;
- melt the butter in a sauté pan and add the 70g sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest and the cherries - cook on a very low heat for about 5 minutes - until the cherries are sitting in a thick, coarse looking, syrup and long before their shape is in danger of collapse;
- transfer the cherries and all the buttery syrup into a gratin dish in one even layer;
- separate the eggs - keep the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another (and it is very important that the bowl in which you put the whites is both clean and dry and that there is no egg yolk that has escaped into them);
- whisk the egg yolks with the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, until thick, creamy, and pale yellow in colour;
- add in the flour and beat together gently, then mix in the cream and the vanilla exact;
- With a clean, dry, whisk, beat the egg whites until they stand in soft peaks;
- add the whisked egg whites to the egg yolk mixture and fold together gently; pour this mixture over the top of the cherries and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes, until the top of the pudding is golden and a skewer inserted can be removed free from raw mixture;
- Leave to cool for a half hour or so - dust with icing sugar and serve warm or tepid, with more cream or crème fraîche to hand.
The resulting pudding should be light and fluffy, with no dense patches of batter (a potential hazard in the simpler version). Don’t be tempted to serve hot from the oven, the cherries are likely to be scorching, and the flavour will be compromised