In 2013, I packed up my life and went on a new adventure. I moved to Villefranche-sur-Mer in the South of France where I embarked on a month-long intensive French language program.
Perched hillside, overlooking one of the deepest natural bays of the Mediterranean, the Institut de Français is possibly one of the most picturesque learning environments in the world. In addition to the immersive French language training, the school served up a delicious education in French cuisine and lifestyle, including family-style breakfast and lunch each day.
Pastries, cheese and baguette, oh my! You can bet your bottom dollar that I hustled my butt up the many, many steps to get to the school early enough to partake of ALL the croissant, the marmalade made from oranges plucked off the trees in the garden and the daily rotation of fromage.
I don’t think the stairclimber workout to get to the school really offset the caloric consumption at breakfast.
After 4 hours of instruction, primarily practicing our skills in the spoken word, we would break for lunch. While breakfast was delightful, lunch was a three-course show-stopper. Conversation at lunch was strictly in French and anyone caught speaking their native tongue would be fined 1 Euro.
I never did much talking at lunch because I was fixated on making sure I gobbled up any second helpings that became available. A full roasted rabbit made an appearance at one lunch, sending the vegetarians squealing. Ratatouille at another, and so on through a delectable rotation of classic French fare.
The best part? There was always dessert.
One of my favourite sweets served during my month-long sojourn was a cherry clafoutis. This dish is a traditional French favourite that is comprised of fruit, typically black cherries, arranged in a buttered dish and covered in a flan-like batter.
Now, I am a big textural eater. Typically, I LOATHE flan. It’s custard-y, gelatinous texture is deeply unpleasant to me. In a clafoutis though, the texture is less offensive, in large part thanks to the stone fruit that breaks it up.
In this example, I’ve added peaches to the dish to add some diversity to the flavour profile. The cherries, pitted but otherwise left whole, will soften slightly without becoming mushy. The peaches, thinly sliced, develop a beautiful sweetness once baked.
You’ll notice the clafoutis puff up like a soufflé when it’s nearly done baking – as pictured above. Don’t worry, it will settle back into the dish and be easy to slice and serve after left to cool for a few minutes.
This is the perfect end of summer dessert that requires just minutes of hands-on time and no fussy dough.
The very first bite transported me back to the Côte D’Azur and had me whispering sweet French nothings to my fork. Try this recipe out on your own and it will have you saying, “Mais oui!”
- butter for greasing the pan
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar, for dusting the pan
- 4 large eggs
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- Zest one lemon
- 2 tbsp melted butter
- ¾ cup all purpose flour
- 2 cups black cherries pitted
- 1 peach thinly sliced
- powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Butter and lightly dust a 9-inch round pie dish or cast iron pan with granulated sugar. Set aside.
In a blender, combine the eggs, sugar, salt, milk, lemon zest, and vanilla extract. Blend just until combined. Add the flour and blend again, just until combined and smooth. Finally, add the melted butter and pulse a few times to incorporate into the batter. (You can mix the ingredients by hand, if you don't have a blender.)
Arrange cherries around the perimeter of the prepared pie dish. Create a ring of thinly sliced peaches inside the cherries on the perimeter, repeat cherries and peaches until you reach the centre of the dish. Slowly pour in batter, trying not to disturb the pattern.
Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to one hour or until the custard is just set. A wooden skewer inserted in the center should come out relatively clean. Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly.
When ready to serve, dust with powdered sugar. You can serve the clafoutis warm, at room temperature or cold.
Recipe adapted from: "Cherry Clafoutis." Olivia's Cuisine. July 2017.