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Rhubarb clafoutis is a French dessert that falls somewhere between a cake and a custard, and features at its center roasted or seasoned rhubarb stalks. Traditional clafoutis is made with the dark cherries native to the south of France. Adding rhubarb is a relatively recent variation, but the tartness of the rhubarb in many ways echoes the tartness of the cherries used in the original. The result is a pleasingly tangy combination of simple flavors.
A clafoutis is dish that dates back centuries to the peasants of Southern France. The dish is humble, and is made with simple, easily available ingredients. Its light texture, sweet taste, and ease of preparation have made it a lasting favorite with modern cooks all over the world. Rhubarb clafoutis is variation on the original that developed in the 19th century, as rhubarb became more readily available in Western marketplaces.
The rhubarb is a vegetable that, like celery, grows from a tall, stalk-like rhizome. Its stalks typically range from deep pink to bright red in color, and its leaves are dark green. Rhubarb leaves are toxic to humans, but the stalks are edible. They have a bitter, tart taste when raw, which improves with cooking.
A rhubarb clafoutis almost always involves cooked or roasted rhubarb stalks that are then baked into the dessert. It is rare to find a rhubarb dessert that utilizes raw stalks. Roasting softens the bitterness while releasing a lot of the stalk’s naturally-stored sugars. The result is a tender, tart-sweet vegetable that is usually sliced into bite-size chunks, then placed in the bottom of a cake dish or pie pan.
Clafoutis batter is heavily egg-based, and, in many ways, resembles pancake batter. In most cases, it is little more than eggs, sugar, milk or cream, and melted butter. Cooks pour the batter over the sliced rhubarb, then bake in a hot oven. As it cooks, the batter forms a gentle custard, and the vegetables rise to the top. Once the batter forms a golden crust, the rhubarb clafoutis is done.
Rhubarb clafoutis, like most clafoutis varieties, is served only slightly warmed. It must usually rest for at least half-an-hour after coming out of the oven. In many establishments, the dessert is served at room temperature. It is often dusted with powdered sugar or topped with sour cream or crème fraîche just before serving.
It is common to find additional flavors folded into a rhubarb clafoutis. Orange, vanilla, and almond are common choices. Almond-rhubarb clafoutis are not necessarily almond desserts, but the nut richness adds a complexity and subtle sweetness prized by many chefs.