That Cherry Cake Called…

According to the UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages, four of the six dialects of Occitan are “severely endangered,” with the other two (Gascon and Vivaro-Alpine) in slightly better shape, listed as only “definitely endangered.”

Still, whatever happens to the Occitan language once spoken from Provence into Catalonia in the west and Italy in the east, something tells me cherry clafoutis is a baked dessert that’s here to stay.

I got that feeling a week or so ago, when I prepared the sweet treat at Fischer & Wieser’s Culinary Adventure Cooking School as the evening’s grand finale. The event was a fundraiser for Fredericksburg Academic Boosters, a great cause that inspired me at the last possible moment to top the oh-so-traditional French cake with the flaming cherries jubilee I grew up enjoying in my hometown of New Orleans. Based on the response, I think I’ll do it that way from now on.

Fact is, I only learned of the dangers faced by Provencal and other dialects of Occitan after preparing what has to be its single most famous (and most strangely named) recipe. If it hadn’t been for clafoutis and my desire to confirm it’s a real Provencal word, which it is, I probably could have spent my entire existence never hearing of the UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages.

France is home to most of “Occitania,” yet considering its love of its own national language, it isn’t exactly going to the mat to protect one of its weirder dialects. Other than the separatist movement that riles up Barcelona and its Catalan surroundings from time to time, approximately no one is.

I can’t understand scholarly linguistic terms like “pan-dialectical,” and I must confess that “fricative” still sounds like a naughty word. I do, however, get it that Occitan is an ancient romance language, from the same lyrical family as Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese, with shared roots in Latin. Perhaps Occitan’s greatest claim to fame, and certainly my favorite, is that it was the vocabulary of the troubadours, who traveled from village to village in the Middle Ages singing songs of love, bravery and honor.

Clafoutis is pronounced more easily than it’s read – kla-FOU-tee – and while other fresh fruits and berries can turn up, it is traditionally made with black cherries. The very name means “filled,” pointing to a flan-like batter that’s filled with cherries, which it most assuredly is. Go back in history and the dessert was made with cherries with pits. Some old-timers insist upon that around Provence even now, but modern pitted cherries will surely make most diners (and bakers) happier.

Besides, if things keep going the way they’re going now, all the Catalans will have to speak Spanish, all the people of Italy’s Occitan Valleys will be speaking Italian, and even the peasants of Limousin and lovely Provence will be speaking French. And if a new generation of troubadours ever springs up, the only word they could make anybody understand might be… clafoutis.

ALMOND CHERRY CLAFOUTIS

This recipe is a bit of a melting pot – the traditional French dessert called clafoutis topped with the New Orleans flaming dessert called cherries jubilee. What they have in common, of course, is cherries. Taken together they are quite a sweet celebration, with a bit of show business tossed in for good measure.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, thinly sliced, plus more for the dish

2 cups frozen pitted cherries, thawed with juice

3 large eggs

1 1/4 cups half-and-half

1/2 cup cottage cheese

1 jar Fischer & Wieser Almond Cherry Jubilee Jam

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Sauce:

1 cup frozen pitted cherries, thawed with juice

1 cup granulated sugar

½ stick unsalted butter

¾ cup cognac or other brandy

Remaining Fischer & Wieser Almond Cherry Jubilee Jam

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter an 11-inch-round baking dish and spread the cherries evenly over the bottom.  Whisk the eggs, half-and-half, cottage cheese, 2 tablespoons of the jam, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and the flour in a bowl until combined. Pour the batter over the cherries, sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and scatter the sliced butter on top.  Bake until puffed and golden around the edges, about 40 minutes. Cool slightly, then dust with confectioners’ sugar.

To prepare the sauce, combine the cherries with the sugar and butter in a pan until the butter is melted and the cherries are heated through. Carefully add the cognac or brandy and flame. Once flames have died out, stir in the jam. Spoon cherries and sauce atop the squares of sugar-topped clafoutis. Serves 8-10.

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