A Tree Grows in Philly

It’s not a giant tree.

I think, actually, it’s a “semi-dwarf” tree.

But now, in its seventh full year in soil, it’s cranking out quarts and quarts and quarts of sweet, plump cherries faster than we can pick and eat and process them.

Loaded
Spindly but mighty. I swear the branches sigh with gratitude when you release the fruit.

Over the past 18 months, the vacant lots behind us have gone from an urban copse—complete with apple, pear, and mulberry trees—to a 40-unit apartment complex. Without those showy, bird-diverting neighbors, I worried that our yard now housed a cherry-red, avian bullseye, so I was steeling myself for a disappointing 2015 harvest. Thus far, though, most of the fruits, even high up the ladder, are intact; I guess now that the little woodsette is gone, so are most of the birds.

All of which means that most of my spare minutes since Sunday evening have been spent picking and pitting (or slurping and spitting).

Pitter
Next year, I need to invest in a pitter with a hopper. This one-at-a-time business is killing my hands.
Frozen
Freezing the cherries individually lets you load them into bags without their sticking together.
Sealed
And vacuum-sealing them flat lets you stack a bunch of bags neatly in your freezer compartment.

What we haven’t eaten out of hand, I’ve given away or frozen. With one exception. Tuesday night I pulled out the vintage enameled Copco pan I use for pretty much one dish only—clafouti.

Cherry Clafouti

Because I first fell in love with the dish in Scotland, I tend to use the Anglophone clafouti instead of the French clafoutis, but either way, what we’re talking about is an eggy, custardy cake that’s more like a Walker Brothers Dutch Baby than anything else. It’s so easy to throw together you’ll wonder why you don’t do it more often. The recipe is sized for a 6- or 7-inch pan, but it easily scales up or down to fit whatever size vessel you like. I generally use cast iron, but ceramic or glass pie and tart plates (or even round cake pans) work well, too. Adapted from Gale Gand’s Short and Sweet and from a page torn out of Bon Appetit. Serves 3-4 as breakfast, 5-6 as a dessert.

Clafouti
A French dish that resembles a German pancake nicknamed Dutch Baby and made in a Danish pan. Right on.
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1-1/2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
  • 1 cup sweet cherries, pitted*
  • powdered sugar, for dusting

Butter your pan, and preheat the oven to 325º.

Get out a good, large bowl (really, go big, even though on paper or in pixels the numbers look small—you need room to whisk vigorously). In that bowl, combine the milk, eggs, sugar, butter, and extracts. Stream in the flour, and whisk briskly, until the batter is quite smooth. If you prefer, you can whiz everything up in a blender instead.

Give everything a rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, maybe even a half hour if you went the mechanized route. You do want the batter to be free of lumps, but you don’t want too much air to be incorporated, so let any bubbles calm down a bit before you proceed.

Meanwhile, butter your pan, and preheat the oven to 325º.

Pour the batter into the pan, taking care to leave a good inch or more of space up the sides of the pan. The clafouti will rise high—and will fall back down—so give it some room to breathe. Dot the top with the cherries. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown.

Done
When done, the cake will pull away slightly from the edge of the pan, and the center will be firm.

Dust with powdered sugar and serve right away, if you like it light and fluffy. Or if you prefer a firmer, more custard-like consistency, let it sit for awhile first.

Slice
Cherries are the natural fit, but apples, pears, raspberries, blackberries, and rhubarb are also clafouti-friendly.

*If you really want l’authentique clafoutis aux cerises, leave the pits in. The stones share a compound with almonds, and when they bake, they release a subtle, toasted-almond scent. True. But so will adding a little almond extract—and then you don’t have to be so vigilant when you’re chewing. Your call.

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