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At the recently opened Maman (239 Centre Street, 212-226-0770), chef Armand Arnal leans on his French upbringing for his clafoutis, a baked fruit dessert that best resembles a flan-and-cake hybrid, which originates from the central French region of Limousin.
“There, we can find it in every home,” Arnal explains — including his own, where he grew up making the dessert with his mother. While any fruit can be used for clafoutis, Arnal has debuted the dessert at the café using the most traditional option: cherries. His mother used to handpick them from their garden for the clafoutis they made together, and Arnal says the task was trickier than it looked. “The cherries cannot be too ripe,” he explains. “Picking the right cherries is key.” The good news, though, is that besides some quick de-stemming, the stone fruit requires no further prep. “In the traditional preparation, we leave in the cherry pit to keep the juice inside,” he says.
Once the fruit of choice is selected (anything from apples and pears to blueberries and oranges can be used), the oven can be preheated while milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and butter are whisked together in a mixing bowl. Flour is slowly added to the bowl and whisked until smooth, at which point the batter is poured into a buttered skillet or pie pan. The fruit is distributed evenly over the top of the batter, and the dish is baked until golden brown.
While the recipe is fairly straightforward, there are other key tips to keep in mind. “The golden rule is to always prepare the clafoutis with fresh fruits,” Arnal says. “Never use frozen fruits!” However, the chef encourages using other flavors that can help bring complexity to the rustic pastry. “You can always add certain spices — anise or tarragon, for example,” he says.