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Aug 15, 2012 12:59 PM

Are you a clafouti expert?

cream, half-and-half, milk of various fat profiles, water, almond milk, coconut milk.....seems like the liquid ingredients have endless variety!

Some people say one is better than another. They're probably all just fine--depending on what texture/consistency you're looking for.

So, what's the science say? Would you adjust the number of eggs or dry ingredients based on which liquid(s) you're using--and if so, why? How do these affect the end results? What impact does the amount of fat have (aside from calories) on taste, texture, firmness, etc.?

I don't want to have to bake a dozen clafoutis to test out the options; help me out with some baking wisdom.

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  1. Milk or cream. No water. No almond milk. No coconut milk.

    My recipe (from 97 Joy of Cooking) is almost identical to the recipes my friends here in France have gotten from their mothers and mothers-in-law... 4 eggs to 1 cup of milk (plus a tablespoon each of rum and vanilla extract)

    It comes out so good, every single time, that fiddling with it doesn't even enter my mind.

    20 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      Speaking of fiddling, Jacques Pepin has a recipe that does that big time - the flour is replaced with ground almonds and a bit of cornstarch. This is one of his early 'quick' books from the 1990s. The result is good, but quite a bit denser than the regular.

      In my limited experience, the quantity of fruit, and its juiciness, is a bigger variable than the liquid used in the batter.

      The use of milk, or a milk - cream combination clearly is most traditional, what a French farm cook would have used. The use of coconut or almond milk is clearly a modern substitute, the rational being that since milk is a while liquid, any other white liquid would work just as well.

      For a German Apple Pancake, with similar batter, ATK recommends half and half, apparently because it strikes the right balance between richness and lightness.

      1. re: paulj

        +1 on paul's statement on fruit.

        1. re: paulj

          I was going to point out the Jacques Pepin recipe, as well. It's from "Short Cut Cook" and is my go-to recipe for cherry clafoutis. To the point that when cherries are in season, I pit and bag them in freezer bags in the right amount for this recipe. I use either almond milk or oat milk in substitution for cow's milk.

          The cookbook is out of print, but if you can get your hands on it, it's a keeper.

        2. re: sunshine842

          sunshine842: And you find no difference, as some do, between milk and cream? Curious. I assume by "milk" you mean whole milk...

          Also, I can't help noticing you're just deferring to authorities, which is not a bad thing, but also isn't what I'm seeking.

          I have to fiddle with it, since I can't use flour.

          paulj: I just love when people make assumptions, and can tell you do too! (Such a bother to actually ask a question and maybe learn something new.) I don't use any version of milk. Half-and-half or cream are okay. Coconut and almond milk are very common substitutions. If you can suggest a non-white liquid that would work well, please do enlighten us all.

          Perhaps the additional info makes it more clear that it's key I develop a better understanding of the interactions between the various ingredients.

          Thank you for both for your contributions. We are inching forward!

          1. re: Enso

            of course there's a difference -- I wouldn't even try to make it with skim (or even part-skim) milk - it wouldn't set up right unless you added another egg. It's richer, has a better consistency, and a better flavor with cream. You need the additional proteins in the cream to make it set up correctly. The egg amplifies the setting. Three eggs would be more like pudding; five would be approaching scrambled eggs.

            I've made it a couple of times where I didn't quite have enough cream -- a little part-skim milk won't hurt it at all, but I wouldn't use *just* part-skim, either.

            Water, almond milk, and coconut milk don't have the proteins -- therefore they won't set up correctly...and won't have the proper flavor. You can have a custard-like dish baked with cherries, and you might have something tasty -- but it won't be clafoutis.

            The flour then further binds the liquid...You could try substituting cornstarch, tapioca starch or similar -- I don't know how this would affect the texture.

            As to deferring to authorities -- I use the Joy recipe because it's the one I usually have at my fingertips and it's delicious. I don't know what better source you could want, though, than recipes handed down through French's a traditional French dish. (and I get lots and lots of compliments on the Joy recipe -- from those same French friends.) Don't know about you, but when I have a recipe I like and gets compliments (especially from people who know what it's *supposed* to taste like, I tend to not want to fool around with it much.

            You can find more French-language recipes for clafoutis at or

            1. re: sunshine842

              I don't think the protein is the main player here. Because skim milk has as much protein in it as whole milk, and both have more protein than cream. I don't doubt that there is a big difference in flavor and richness, but I imagine it's due primarily to the difference in fat content.

              1. re: DeppityDawg

                That's what I was thinking, too, DeppityDawg.

                Coconut cream (not milk, actually) has pretty high fat content. I'm not sure about almond milk having never bought it (just saw it as a possibility).

                1. re: Enso

                  Almond milk has little fat or protein. For example, Whole Foods unsweetened almond milk has 3g fat and 1g protein per cup.

                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                    From a cooking standpoint, commercial almond milk should be viewed as just flavored water.

                    After 40 some posts, the role of milk in a baked item like this (or pancakes and quick breads in general) is unclear. It already has concentrated sources of fat, protein and sugar.

                    1. re: paulj


                      "Milk, although not as structurally important as egg, contributes to the viscosity or gel strength of the finished product. Calcium ions present in the milk are needed in the formation of a thicker custard, as ***custards made with water will not gel or thicken***."

                      THIS is why you need milk (from a cow, not an almond or a coconut) to make a proper custard.

                      I already posted my comments about trying to make ice cream with soy milk -- water won't make custard.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        That may be true in Oregon, but in Michigan
                        "Liquids. Usually milk, cream, or chicken broth, are used as the solvent for sugar and salt, to add nutrients to the egg mixture, and help to make a more tender gel by diluting the egg concentration."

                        goes into this in more detail. It's the salt(s), not milk protein or sugar or fat.

                        "The effect of the salt content on coagulation can be shown by combining egg as for custard, but substituting distilled water for the milk, which when heated to 83° to 86°C. does not gel. If to this distilled-water custard a definite concentration of a salt is added, coagulation will occur on heating.

                        Read more:

                        1. re: paulj

                          Forget the proteins, we're talking ions now! Calcium or salt. paulj, can you please share your chicken-broth based clafoutis recipe?

                          1. re: DeppityDawg

                            I wonder if there is an Asian (Japanese or other) sweet custard (most likely steamed), that uses water. Egg tofu is egg and soymilk 'custard', usually sold in plastic tubes.

                            Unless we are making the culinary school version, clafoutis is more of a baked pancake than a custard. Batter ingredients are basically the same as for crepes.

                            I just made a small quick batch of crepes, using almond milk (blue diamond) instead of milk. I didn't detect any difference from my regular crepes.

                            1. re: paulj

                              I really, really think you're going to be pretty disappointed if you try a clafoutis with almond milk -- in both taste and texture.

                            2. re: DeppityDawg

                              Okay, so the salt in the clafoutis assists with the coagulation, too...

                              1. re: DeppityDawg

                                DeppityDawg: There's a chicken curry "clafouti" recipe on Mark's Daily Apple (in the blog, not the forums). But I think it's really more of a crustless quiche...

                            3. re: sunshine842

                              I'll throw my understanding of how custards work into the mix. I'm admittedly not an expert, though I am a bit of a food science nerd. I haven't made clafouti without milk before.

                              You can make custards without milk or cream. There are many milk free custard recipes on the web (some are terrible, some pretty decent). Or consider chawanmushi, a Japanese custard, at its most basic made only of egg and dashi (a very thin, watery liquid). With enough futzing around, you can get a pretty decent consistency from this kind of custard.

                              But that's not to say that milk has no effect in a custard. It is a thicker liquid, usually containing fat that is already fully emulsified. It seems to me that what milk or (even more so) cream accomplishes is that it lessens the amount of egg you need somewhat to get the same texture, mainly by nature of its own thickness and emulsified fat content. And perhaps even more important, it makes a custard less susceptible to textural problems when the final temperature of the custard is inexact. Custards that are made with very thin liquids need to be cooked to very precise temperatures to achieve a thick silky texture. They are often covered and steamed or cooked in a bain marie (sous vide works even better, btw). Custards cooked with milk or cream are a little more forgiving IME.

                              How much difference would almond milk specifically make? I'm not certain. It would probably be a little more forgiving that the dashi of a chawanmushi, and even that can certainly be done.

                              To the OP - replacing the wheat flour (if you go that route - you can of course make a clafouti-like dessert just using a flour-free custard) is perhaps trickier than replacing the milk - the flour is an important structural element. Usually, a combination of ingredients is used to create a similar structure, because other 'flours' lack the structure-forming gluten of wheat flour, while hydrocolloids can form structure but lack the bulk starch. For example, you could use mostly rice flour and add a small amount of tapioca flour along with an even smaller amount of xanthan gum, which should mimic the structure and texture that wheat flour provides. Some experimentation is usually necessary in any given recipe to get the texture exactly right. Alternatively, it might be easier to find 'gluten-free flour,' which is often a mix of those ingredients or similar ones.

                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                Great discussion; thanks for the many contributions. I love food science!

                                I'm slowly improving my version of clafouti. In addition to adhering to my diet, I don't know that I'll be making it often enough to buy acceptable ingreds that I don't normally eat.

                                So I won't be trying any almond milk versions, though I've read that some people have.

                                cowboyardee, grains are out (for me) and therefore rice flour is to be avoided. Probably gluten-free flour as well.

                                Whatever "real" clafouti is like, I'm interested in a "clafouti-like" dish that is a little thicker/texturier than a pure egg custard. Am very impressed with the coconut flour in that respect.

                                I wonder if coconut cream has some of those almost-magical coagulation-promoting ions...

                                I will have to look into tapioca as I don't know much about it, and it might come in handy doing double-duty for thickening sauces/pan juices.

                    2. re: sunshine842

                      I'm happy for you that you get compliments, sunshine842.

                      I'm not going for compliments, myself.

                      I'm going for 2 things:
                      1) something that RESPECTS my eating preferences, and
                      2) to learn some of the science around this particular dish.

                      1. re: Enso

                        Please see my note about this very thing downthread.

                2. Good grief!!! Who the heck gave you all that high-falutin Clafouti nonsense. How ridiculous & how unnecessary. A Clafouti was meant to be a simple peasant dessert using fresh fruit of the season in a simple batter, sometimes with a local fruit brandy added.

                  Do yourself a HUGE favor, forget all the exotic idiocy you've been supplied with so far, & do a search for Julia Child Clafouti recipes. Then just follow one of them, & you'll end up knowing exactly what a Clafouti should be.

                  And since today would have been Julia's 100th birthday, making an authentic (& simple) Clafouti would be more than fitting.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Bacardi1

                    Speaking of which, see this Julia recipe for clafouti from today's New York Times:

                    1. re: masha

                      Exactly what I'm talking about. How simple is that?

                      1. re: Enso

                        Well, far too many people seem to LOVE making something very pleasant & simple into something difficult & frou-frou.

                        Clafouti is one of the easiest fruit desserts to throw together, & who the heck is going to argue with Julia Child?

                        1. re: Bacardi1

                          A little fuzzy on the difference between arguing and seeking info, eh, Bacardi1?

                          You're the one who brought up the esteemable JC. I'm sure her recipe uses at least flour, which I've already stated is not going to work for me. Are you hoping to change my mind or just procrastinating on doing something productive with your time? Oh, wait, I repeat myself.

                          1. re: Enso

                            Sorry. I was still responding to your original post wherein you didn't mention anything at all about dietary restrictions. I just thought you were looking for a good unconvoluted recipe for clafouti.

                            Am thinking you need to post this in the dietary restriction area.

                    2. Tough one. Some recipes are like a pancake batter and others like a custard. We live in cherry country and this is my son's fave, tweaked from a few different recipes:
                      Cherry clafoutis:
                      1) Butter a 9 x 12 (thereabouts) glass pan. I use the Corning casserole dish.
                      2) Cover the bottom with about 4 cups ripe, pitted cherries
                      3) Whisk together the custard--
                      1 cup sour cream
                      3 eggs plus one yolk
                      3/4 cup whipping cream
                      1/4 cup milk
                      5 tbsp flour ( I use blending flour)
                      1 cup white sugar
                      1 Tbsp vanilla
                      4) Pour the custard over the cherries, bake at 350 deg, in a water bath, for about an hour and a half.

                      Optional: I like to add a splash of kirsch and sometimes some dollops of homemade apricot jam across the top. Great warm or cold.

                      Very rich dish, non-traditional because it uses sour cream as liquid and flour to thicken. I think with clafoutis you have to think....."hmmmm custard and fruit" and just go with what you like. I take the time and trouble to set up the water bath so that it's gentler on the eggs---you don't get a rubbery outer rim with an under-done centre.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: applgrl

                        Sour cream--how interesting!

                        Have you ever been tempted to try yogurt? I wonder how that would turn out.

                        Would probably require more sugar, and since your recipe, tasty though it sounds already uses more sugar than I can, I guess I should stick with my initial ask.

                        1. re: John Francis

                          I'm going to be as naughty as paulj above, and make an assumption. Those links include recipes with flour (for sure), milk (probably), and more than a few tablespoons of some sweetener.

                          And I bet that they are merely recipes, with little explanation of how the ingreds combine to do what they do so I can proceed to mess with it with some small confidence.

                          I appreciate the desire to help.

                          I am not seeking recipes per se.

                          I want to understand the science of the recipe enough to alter it to respect my diet preferences. Isn't that protected in the Declaration of Independence? (By implication, I mean. Or would that be an assumption?!?)

                          lol :-D

                          1. re: Enso

                            Then your question is (I think after this post) not "how do I make clafoutis"? It's "how do the eggs and milk and flour interact with one another and with heat in a custard, and what substitutions could I make in order to meet my dietary restrictions?

                            In your case, it really doesn't matter whether it's pudding, custard, clafoutis, or flan...your question is about the ingredients, not the recipe.

                            We answered the question you just wasn't the question you *intended" to ask.

                            Bottom line is, as I said above -- skip the almond milk and skip the coconut milk. They will take you, texture- and taste-wise, on a long journey the wrong direction from where you're trying to go.

                            As I said above -- Almond milk and coconut milk don't have the proteins needed to make the custard thicken like you want it to. (I used to make non-dairy strawberry "ice cream" with soy milk and almond milk for a colleague...I eventually got it to thicken, but it took a lot of eggs and some flour to get it there.

                            As for flour, you need the flour because you need the additional thickening properties provided by the proteins in the flour. You could try substituting tapioca or corn starch (1 tsp of cornstarch for each **table**spoon of flour - not sure on the tapioca starch)

                            I appreciate that you need to fiddle with the recipe for the sake of your dietary restrictions...but you didn't specify that -- so please don't crab at us for answering the question you asked.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              Dori Greenspan writes that she was taught to make a custard like clafourti in culinary school, but the traditional style is considered a cake (the one with flour), though there's been a debate in France over whether it is a pudding or cake. The batter with eggs, flour, liquid is essentially the same that is used for crepes, popovers, Yorkshire pudding, and toad in a hole (savory clafouti with sausages?).

                              Eggs are the dominant protein. The protein in the flour is not essential in the way that gluten is in bread, but as in most cakes, the eggs and flour do create the structure that traps steam bubbles. Trapping steam is most important with popovers. In a clafouti the fruit inhibits similar rise, though some inflation will lighten the texture.

                              Thinking about these related items, I seriously doubt if the milk proteins make much of a difference in how the batter sets. There are flat bread batters that set without eggs or milk. I don't doubt that cream adds a richness that we expect in a dessert.

                              This Joy of Baking recipe is not picky about the milk

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Can you provide a source for your protein assertion, sunshine842?

                                If skim milk has as much protein as whole, and it makes the recipe fail, then fats, or something, needs to be part of the science of it all.

                                PS: Sorry you misunderstood my "expert" reference. I agree I should have clarified that to be someone who understands the process on a deep level, not just gets compliments on a finished product using ingreds I don't. My bad. Really.

                                PPS: And if my called it a clafouti is throwing people off, sorry about that. I'm glad to clarify. That's what language is all about after all! :-)

                                paulj, thank you, very helpful.

                                1. re: Enso

                                  I just remembered that I'd seen your posts on special diets (and the bitter mustard thread). If you are trying to avoid flour and other grain based starch (e.g. corn starch), you are moving out of clafouti territory. And the reasons why a crepe batter based clafouti works don't necessarily apply when making something rather different.

                                  2 deviations from the rustic French dish have been mentioned. One is the haute cuisine version which does not have flour in the custard (but may in the crust), the other is the JP version that I mentioned that uses almond flour. It has a bit of corn starch, but I suspect other starches (e.g. arrowroot) would also work.

                                  If you think more generally in terms of fruit baked in a 'custard', I suspect there are SE Asian versions that use coconut milk. Though an Asian custard dish is more likely to be steamed than baked. And the special diets people have probably worked out versions omitting their preferred evil, whether it be eggs, milk, or flour.

                              2. re: Enso

                                I know what it is that you want. Unless Alton Brown is lurking on this board, you probably won't get it. ;-)

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    These two people are expert cooks (where expert means they really know what's going on and why between the ingreds and process of making a dish)?

                                    I will check out whether they have books that would be helpful. Thanks for bringing them up!

                                    1. re: Enso

                                      try the Modernist Cuisne. myabe you can rent from a library.

                                    2. re: sunshine842

                                      Harold McGee is another source on 'whys'. His latest book 'Keys to good cooking' is less technical than his Food & Science book. He doesn't discuss the role of dairy in the pancake/crepe section (which also covers clafouti), but under pastry he does say that dairy helps tenderize the dough, and contribute to browning.

                                    3. re: TroyTempest

                                      just saw there was a link to Alton Brown making it already posted, oh well.

                                1. You might want to try posting on the board for those with dietary restrictions.

                                  1 Reply