[Updated with details on the ideal type of baking dish for this dessert and additional sugar sprinkling]
A lot of cooking magazines go onto the shelf or into the recycling bin never to appear again. But the May/June 1998 Saveur has been a phenomenal exception. Two of the recipes have become mainstays in my kitchen. The first, a large savory pie with olive-oil crust and a filling of chard, potato and feta cheese is a year-round favorite. But the other one, clafoutis, makes a brief appearance during the short overlap of cherry and apricot season in California.
Clafoutis is essentially a very thick vanilla custard studded with fruit and baked in a hot oven so that a golden crust forms on the outside. The time in the oven softens and intensifies the fruit’s flavors and probably promotes some carmelization. The Saveur recipe uses only cherries as the fruit, but since I’m a big fan of fresh apricots and so I use half cherry, half apricot.An aside about apricots: They are not the most popular fruit among farmers these days. Last year the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about farmers ripping up apricot orchards in California: “California still produces 98 percent of all apricots commercially grown in the United States. Most of the crop comes from Stanislaus County, home of the Patterson variety….About 90 percent of California farmers who grew apricots 10 years ago have either yanked their trees or reduced their acreage.”
Back to the recipe. The Saveur article claims that the recipe dates from the 1860s. The name derives from the word clafir, which means “to fill” in a regional dialect. The term “fill” doesn’t refer to the form of the dessert–nothing is stuffed into anything else–but instead that the dessert is hearty and filling.
Before I present the recipe, a few factoids about apricots from The Oxford Companion to Food:
- The apricot is thought to have originated in China, with first cultivation by humans around 2000 BCE. The fruit spread west along the Silk Road, reaching Iran, Greece and Rome by the 1st century BCE.
- The Greeks believed that the fruit originated in Armenia, and that mistake carried into its botanical name of Prunus armeniaca.
- The name apricot derives from the Latin praecocium, meaning precocious, a reference to the fruit’s early ripening.
- In the “great apricot belt” from Turkey to Turkistan, you can find a dazzling variety of apricots: “white, black, grey, and pink apricots, from pea to peach sized, with flavours equally varied.”
- The route from China to California included the Spanish, who brought the fruit to Mexico after their conquest of the Aztecs and other indigenous peoples. It eventually was brought to the California territory.
- Apricots have been crossed with plums in various ways to create apriums, pluots, and plumcots, as detailed by Shuna at Bay Area Bites.
- Butter for the skillet or baking dish
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 6 eggs
- 6 tbsp sugar
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 2 tbsp kirsch or other appropriate liqueur amaretto, brandy, apricot brandy
- A pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup white flour
- 1 1/2 cups pitted cherries
- 1 1/2 cups pitted fresh apricots
- Powdered sugar for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 425 F (215 C).
- Butter a skillet or baking dish. Optional: sprinkle some sugar onto the butter, which will caramelize during baking.
- Cut the fruit into bite-size pieces: cherries in half or quarters, apricots in quarters or eighths.
- Put the vanilla extract, eggs, sugar, milk, liqueur, and salt into a blender. Blend for a few seconds. Add the flour and then blend until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute.
- Pour batter into skillet, place fruit into batter. Optional: sprinkle the top with a coarse sugar like Demerara for extra caramelization effects.
- Bake for 30 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean and the top is golden brown.
- Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar, if desired.
- A blender for making the batter (a food processor would probably work fine) A shallow baking dish is important so that the dessert is cooked through before the crust becomes too dark.
- A cast iron skillet is the traditional container, but I typically use a ceramic dish that is 8" x 10" by 2".
Try this dish with all cherries, another stone fruit (nectarines and peaches might be good), or prunes soaked overnight in Armagnac.
Adapted from "Not Cherry Pie," by Corinne Trang, Saveur, May/June 1998