If the calendar is to be trusted, spring has now officially commenced. Depending on where you live, it may seem like this fresh new season has forgotten its yearly appointment, or perhaps it is stuck in traffic somewhere, or it has hit “snooze” one too many times. We just have to be a little patient: Spring will make its bright appearance in its own time.
And since no fruit announces spring as beamingly as strawberries, let’s while away the wait by pondering what can be made with the first sprightly rubies when they hit the market stalls. Gobbling them up straight from the box is an excellent option, but if you’d like to enroll them in a little baking and concentrate their jam-like flavor, I can suggest a strawberry clafoutis.
Clafoutis is the epitome of the French grandmotherly dessert: unpretentious, easy to make, and blissfully comforting. The fluffy custard, light as a cloud and studded with fruit, hails from the Limousin region in the heart of France, where each family has its own well-guarded recipe. Clafoutis is most classically made with cherries — leaving the pits in for maximum flavor and a nice jaw workout — but it will gladly open its arms to any other fruit, and in this case, strawberries.
An introductory nugget of horticultural trivia: These plump and luminously red berries belong to the rose family. Their delicate taste and delightful scent, sweet and acidulated like candy, make them an infallible crowd-pleaser. (Well, almost infallible: Since a small portion of the population is allergic to them, its a good idea to ask your guests about it ahead of time.)
While you may be able to find strawberries year-round, their peak season runs from April to June — with a brief reappearance in September — and this is when you’ll experience them at their juicy best, and at their cheapest, too. Choose small and deeply fragrant strawberries, firm but not rock-hard, with their green little collars still attached, and no sign of blemish. If you have access to a farmer’s market, it’s best to buy your berries there: They will be freshly picked, and if you wear your brightest smile you’ll be able to taste before you buy.
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- 1/4 cup (55 grams) unsalted butter
- 3 cups (600 grams) fresh strawberries
- 1/2 cup (60 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (50 grams) whole blanched almonds
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- A pinch of salt
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup (180 ml) milk
- 1 tablespoon light rum (optional)
- Confectioner's sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and grease an 8-inch (20-cm) square glass or ceramic baking dish (or 6 1-cup / 120-ml ramekins) with a pat of the butter.
- Melt the remaining butter in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat (or in a small bowl set in the microwave for a few seconds) and set aside.
- Rinse the strawberries under cool water — do not soak or they will loose some of their flavor. Drain in a colander for a few minutes, and gently pat dry with a clean dishtowel.
- In a food processor or blender, mix together the flour and almonds until finely ground.
- Add the sugar, cornstarch and salt, and mix again. Crack in the eggs one by one, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
- Pour in the melted butter, milk and rum if using, and mix again until well blended. The mixture will be thin, like crepe batter.
- Hull the strawberries, cut in halves or quarters depending on their size, and arrange in a single layer in the prepared dish or ramekins.
- Drizzle the batter over the strawberries, and put the dish in the oven to bake for 40 minutes (30 minutes if you use ramekins), until puffy and set.
- Transfer dish to a rack, and let cool to room temperature.
- Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar, and serve directly from the baking dish or ramekins.
Clafoutis is traditionally served on its own, but if you like you can add a few fresh strawberries on the side, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a little whipped cream.
This recipe was originally written for NPR’s Kitchen Window.