It’s strawberry season. Even if you don’t live in France, where les fraises are famously extraordinary, you can still find ripe red berries packed into plastic clamshells at your local supermarket. In fact, it’s almost impossible to walk by the display without picking up one or two packages and putting them in your cart. And then, maybe, you get home and think, what am I going to do with these?
Make a clafoutis aux fraises, my friends. A clafoutis is a custard with fruit in it, that’s the basic literal definition. But it’s really a simple mixture of basic ingredients elevated by the magic of baking alchemy to the tender sublime. It’s richly creamy and smooth and not too sweet, bursting with juicy cooked fruit. It’s not a cake and it’s not a pie, it’s a thing unto itself that is so easy to make and so delicious to eat, I can’t imagine anything better to do with summer’s first ripe strawberries.
I know that now. But a few days ago, I had never seen, eaten, or made one before. I was intimidated by the name, which comes from the Limousin region and means “brimming over” in the local dialect. But I had a heap of ripe strawberries and a sense of adventure, so I wrote to my older sister Thea in Minnesota, my go-to authority on all things culinary. She wrote back right away with her friend Lucinda’s recipe, the self-proclaimed “Clafoutis Queen.”
Okay then. Who was I to argue with kitchen royalty, let alone my big sister?
I followed the easy recipe, which called for a tablespoon each of vanilla and almond extract—but I made one tragic substitution. Instead of whole dairy milk, I used extra-creamy oat milk, since dairy milk does not agree with me.
It smelled so good while it baked. But the resulting thing, whatever the hell it was, came out runny and clotted, and not in a good way. Since I’d never made one before, I had no idea what a clafoutis was supposed to look and taste like, but I knew that this was not it. My father-in-law, a good sport, ate his entire bowl and pronounced the texture “exotic” and the flavor “very almond forward.” No one had seconds.
I wrote to Thea, alerting her of my catastrophe. “Custard needs acid,” she wrote back. “Oat milk doesn’t have enough. That’s why it didn’t set.”
The next day, I made the recipe again, this time with real milk and a little more flour and no almond extract. I baked it for ten minutes longer than it called for, since I live 7,000 feet above sea level.
When my second clafoutis came out of the oven, I didn’t even wait for it to cool. It looked and smelled so good, and I was all alone in the kitchen, and no one was watching me except for the dogs. So, I cut myself a piece and ate it standing up at the stove. I might have moaned a little, it was that good. The dogs looked encouragingly at me as I ate another piece. Then I had a third piece. All of a sudden it was almost half gone. Reader, I had no regrets.
My version of Lucinda’s Strawberry Clafoutis
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put a big pat of butter into a round or oval stoneware or glass baking dish and set it into the oven to heat.
Wash and trim and slice a pint of ripe strawberries into a bowl. Toss with a tablespoon of sugar and the zest of one lemon.
In a blender, put three eggs, 2/3 cup of flour, a cup of whole milk, two teaspoons of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and ¼ cup of sugar. Blend for twenty seconds or so.
The oven will be hot by now… take the dish out of the oven with mitts, swirl the melted butter around to coat it, toss in the strawberries, and pour the custard batter over them evenly. Bake for 45-55 minutes, depending on altitude.
When it comes out, golden brown and fragrant, dust it with powdered sugar if you like, slice, and serve warm if you can wait that long.
Kate Christensen is a novelist, memoirist and food writer based in Taos, New Mexico. This essay is the fourth of a monthly series about French food called Bouffe, created and written exclusively for Frenchly. Her books, Blue Plate Special, How to Cook a Moose, The Last Cruise and more can be purchased here, on Amazon.
All photos courtesy of the author.