Plum Flaugnarde

Once again, I found myself with an overload of fruit. Sure, I like pears and apples, which show up at the market on the cusp of autumn. But I want summer to last as long as possible. So when I see good nectarines, peaches, and plums lingering at the market, I pack my market basket to the brim, carefully making sure the delicate fruits aren’t going to get bumped and bruised, and lug my beautiful bounty home.

Plums are right up there with my favorite fruits of all. French plums fall on the sweet side, like tiny, golden mirabelles and Reine Claudes, each bite filling my mouth with a sticky plum nectar, making me reach for another before I’ve even finished up the one I’m still working on.

I don’t often bake with these plums, which are perfect for snacking, preferring sharper tasting purple plums for tarts and crisps. I like the contrast of tangy and sweet when purple plums are baked, but I was inspired to go resolutely French with these plums and made a flaugnarde. A dessert with roots in Périgord, and a cousin to clafoutis, one often associates flaugnardes with pears (or at least I do), but found a recipe for one with prunes and raisins in The French Menu Cookbook by Richard Olney.

For those of you who don’t know who Richard Olney was, he was an American who spent most of his life in France, tasting wine, and became a widely recognized expert in France (and elsewhere) on French wines. He was also a gifted cook, but he was an especially gifted writer. He wrote several cookbooks on his own and penned Lulu’s Provençal Table with Lulu Peyraud. He was the inspiration for the cooking at Chez Panisse, and the restaurant’s philosophy was guided by his book, Simple French Food, which I was told I should brush up on before my interview to work there. To be honest, I didn’t know who he was and fudged my way through the interview. (Yet somehow managed to get the job.) But I’ve made up for lost time and have become a devotee.

A recent portrait of him, as well as some of his American compatriots, are part of The Gourmands’ Way: Six Americans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gastronomy, along with M.F.K. Fisher, Alexis Lichine, A. J. Liebling, Julia Child, and Alice B. Toklas, other Americans who lived in France and had a notable effect on the presence of French cuisine outside of the country.

This revealing book is based on letters and historical documents, researched by Justin Spring. I met Justin when he was in the early stages of writing the book and had come to France to feel out the topic, and the characters. When the book was almost done, he told me that I’d find a number of things in it eyebrow-raising, which were true. There had been notable errors and flaws with Fisher’s The Cooking of Provincial France for the Time-Life Foods of the World, including making the statement that “French cooking means an elaborate and expensive way of complicating or at least masking food with sauces.” Many of the things written about in the book were extensively footnoted in the French edition, for accuracy.

Julia Child and Richard Olney had a not-necessarily smooth rivalry. She bickered with her friend and co-author, Simone Beck, who was also a good friend of Olney, who both had issues with her “Americanization” of French cooking. And Alice B. Toklas lived in near-poverty after her partner Gertrude Stein passed away, surrounded by paintings by Matisse and Picasso in her apartment, which became the property of Stein’s brother, who was less-than-gracious (and generous) to the widowed Toklas.

The Gourmands’ Way is recommended reading if you want to learn a more about these six icons who influenced generations of cooks in America, and elsewhere, including me.

Because of Justin’s book, I’ve been re-reading Olney’s The French Menu Cookbook. It’s hard to describe what an eloquent food writer he was, probably the best of our generation. (He passed away in 1999.) His writing wasn’t overwrought and you felt like he was talked to you in every recipe, from simple to complicated, with guided assurance and precision. He encouraged cooks to use their senses, teaching you something about French cooking with a remarkable economy of words.

He was also sharp and méprisant (scornful), which often came through in his recipes. One for Roast Guinea Fowl begins with a discussion on how to prepare the bird, “All roasting birds, if they haven’t already been mangled by the butcher…” Which could be translated as – Your butcher may not know what she or he is doing, with a sly allusion that he knew more than they did.

His headnote before the flaugnarde cautioned cooks, and dinner hosts, that “Those accustomed to leavened pastries may, at first contact, find the custardy texture and the somewhat leathery skin bizarre. It’s simple honesty rarely fails to seduce.”

There’s a whole lot going on in those two sentences, which seem to contradict each other, but explains the appealing honesty of this traditional French dessert whose texture is different for a cake or torte, which was Olney’s gift. It was the perfect way to showcase my plums, without being fussy – I prepared this in less than 15 minutes (so much for French cuisine being “elaborate and expensive”), and we had a warm dessert by the time we finished with dinner.

Plum Flaugnarde
Print Recipe
4 to 6 servings
Adapted from The French Menu Cookbook by Richard Olney If you want to leave the kirsch out, I've offered a few substitutions. If you want to make it without the alcohol, add a dash of pure almond extract along with the vanilla extract. For those on gluten-free diets, although I haven't tried it, it's likely one of the gluten-free flour mixes would work well for this. This is usually made with whole milk but I like the touch of richness that heavy cream provides, which also makes the texture a little silkier. But you can use 1 cup (250ml) of whole milk in the place of the 3/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup of heavy cream. Feel free swap out other fruits or berries for the plums, such as blackberries, raspberries, cherries, apricots, nectarines, or a mix of fruit and berries. I'd avoid using anything too juicy, like peaches. Pears are classic, and in his book, Richard Olney uses prunes (which he says, with classic Olney panache, should be "of the year's production, if possible") and raisins soaked in Cognac.
12 ounces (350g) plums, pitted and thickly sliced
3 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 cup (70g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50g) sugar, plus 1 teaspoon for sprinkling over the finished dessert
1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream
pinch of salt
3/4 cup (180ml) whole milk. (or 1 cup/250ml whole milk)
1 1/2 tablespoons kirsch, or another eau-de-vie, Cognac, brandy, or dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Generously butter a 6 to 8 cup (1,75l) baking or gratin dish, or a large pie plate. (I like to use one that's narrower, but deeper.) Strew the plums over the bottom of the baking vessel.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, 1/4 cup sugar, heavy cream, salt, and about a third of the milk, until there are no lumps in the mixture. Whisk in the rest of the milk, the kirsch, and vanilla extract.
3. Pour the custard over the plums in the baking dish. Bake on the middle rack of the oven until the custard is just barely set in the center, about 20 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven and set on a cooling rack. Wait a minute, then sprinkle 1 teaspoon of sugar over the top.

Serving: The flaugnarde is best served warm or at room temperature, the day it's made. It can be served cold, although Olney says it's "less good."


Plum Flaugnarde (Plum Custard)

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  • September 10, 2018 8:30am

    I might try this with figs. Our tree is loaded this year. Or with foraged blackberries…
    This really is identical to clafoutis. I looked around and found that flaugnarde (which many spelled as flognarde) is just the regional name, but others said it’s the “clafoutis of winter,” because it’s for fall fruits like pears and clafoutis is for spring fruits like cherries.
    I would say that you are one of the most lyrical food writers of today (actually lyrical about more than food) and certainly my favorite.

    • September 10, 2018 11:47am
      David Lebovitz

      Fig (and blackberries) would work great. And you could replace the kirsch with a little Chartreuse, if you like – I love it with figs.

      Yes, I’ve seen it spelled differently in various places, and it’s often made with fall or winter fruits, but sometimes prune plums/quetsches : )

    • September 10, 2018 2:46pm

      Figs were my first thought as well. And combining them with blackberries sounds even better. Wonderfully written, David, thank you.

  • KarenTheCondimentQueen
    September 10, 2018 1:51pm

    A sheer lovely article.
    Thank you!

  • Rachel
    September 10, 2018 2:00pm

    Thanks for reminding me. I haven’t made one of this in a long time. Nectarines and blackberries are one of my favorite combinations for this.

  • Kathleen Shepard
    September 10, 2018 2:11pm

    I loved Justin Spring’s book The Gourmand’s Way. Read while on vacation in France. It transports the reading to a special time in French Cooking. Highly recommend

  • Gavrielle
    September 10, 2018 2:16pm

    While I’m waiting for plum season, I’m going to try the prune/raisin/Cognac combo. Like, tomorrow.

    I just read L’Appart today (I’ve been saving it and ending up gulping it down in one go). It’s beautifully written and a terrific read, of course, but OMG! No spoilers here, but I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that.

    • Gavrielle
      September 11, 2018 1:01pm

      I made this tonight in the prune/raisin version and it was superb. I particularly liked that it wasn’t over-sweet. I threw Cognac into the fruit with abandon and tipped the small amount that wasn’t absorbed into the batter. In case anyone’s wondering whether you can make the batter with skim milk, I did as it was all I had and it was great. No doubt whole milk and cream batter is silkier, but mine was pretty damn silky. I look forward to making it again with a range of other fruit.

  • paula
    September 10, 2018 2:20pm

    Why are French prunes so much better? Do they use a different variety than California? Great texture and shape!

  • September 10, 2018 2:22pm

    David, I’m so glad to see your tribute (shout-out in common parlance) to Olney who is not quite as unknown to American cooks as he was in his heyday but almost. He was a great writer about food with an astonishingly astute palate. I would suggest that “a not necessarily smooth rivalry” is a diplomatic way of describing the Child-Olney relationship–they openly detested each other, and he equally detested most other food writers, at least those writing in the U.S. (He adored E. David, another one who was dismissive of everyone else–except Olney.) I’m working on a brief memoir of the times I spent with him at Sollies-Toucas. They were–no other word will do–memorable.

  • September 10, 2018 2:54pm
    David Lebovitz

    Nancy: Yes, Justin’s book spoke about the feuding (and Julia Child’s with Simone Beck), as well as a lot more background about how their feelings for each other. He was pretty critical of people writing about French cuisine who didn’t live the same life he did; deeply embedded in the country and the culture. There are a lot of stories about his brilliance and he was very well-respected in France for his extremely keen knowledge of French wines. He came to Chez Panisse when his book on Château d’Yquem came out, bringing cases of the amazing wine with him. It was a real treat and I’ll be interesting to read about your time with him. I never went to visit, but those who did also came back with some “memorable” stories ; )

    paula: French dried prunes are almost the same variety grown in California, prune d’ente, but in France, they’re often sold as mi-cuit, or partially dried, so they’re not too dried-out, and super plump and moist. I always eat way too many of them!

    Gavrielle: Really glad you liked my book! It was quite a challenge (and the book has a lot of twists and turns), which I wasn’t expecting either…

    Kathleen: It’s a great read, especially for those into reading a more in-depth look at our food icons, which are often varnished looks at their lives. They were real people, with rivalries, jealousies, problems, etc. and it was interesting to read about the various facets of their lives that aren’t so well-known. Justin also wrote The Secret Historian, about a friend of Tolkas and Stein, which was his previous book. And although the subject is vastly different, that was a brilliant book, too.

  • Helen S.
    September 10, 2018 3:42pm

    We are celebrating 52 wedding anniversary today and about to have a short trip. I opened this article and it solved what I am going to do with plums in refrigerator!! These are becoming breakfast! Oh what a wonderful way to start the day!! Thank you!!

  • Nancy C
    September 10, 2018 4:10pm

    Hi David, if I were to use cherries instead of plums, which would be better: sweet or sour cherries?
    Thank you!

  • Janet
    September 10, 2018 4:18pm

    Very nice, David. You’ve hit my soft spots – I am a big fan of clafouti and flaugnarde and a devotee of Richard Olney.
    Simple French Food sits on my bedside table, an inspiring read that never fails to instruct and inform the next day’s menu. As a diversion, Alice B. Tokla’s books share the bedside table, but mainly to amuse me. And Olney’s Lulus Provençal Table is one of my all-time favourite cookbooks!
    I look forward to Nancy’s memoir.

  • September 10, 2018 4:53pm

    As always I love your posts. What I miss here in California are the Italian plums and when I see them, I buy them all. I just made the Pflaumenmus from the Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss. It’s divine. I will try your Flaugnarde .

    • October 1, 2018 8:29pm

      I’m very surprised you don’t get susini in California. I’d think southern Californian weather might be too torrid for them – these are used a lot in Austria and in some German regions, but I don’t see why they couldn’t be grown farther north or at higher altitudes.

      We have some wonderful tiny ones at Marché Jean-Talon now and I might make one of these. I try to severely limit concentrated sugar, but I suppose a bit must be used to brown a clafoutis or flaugnarde – or Pflaumenmus. Or a bit of maple syrup?

      Richard Olney was a wonderful writer. Well, so was E. David. Seems she wasn’t a very nice person, but reading her books is very far from cohabitating with her! I was sad about Alice B. Toklas. Even back in the 1980s, I had a gay male colleague and friend whose death – and inheritance – were confiscated from his companion by his bigoted rural family. Fortunately we’ve made some progress in that respect!

  • Theresa Lemieux
    September 10, 2018 4:57pm

    This looks wonderful! If I were to use pears, is it a simple substitution?

  • September 10, 2018 5:04pm

    Hello you mean flOgnarde I suppose ? :-)

    • September 10, 2018 5:10pm
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve seen it spelled four ways in French :) This was one of them.

  • Jacqueline
    September 10, 2018 7:00pm

    I love your recipes but this time I am intrigued by the pan you used with the offset handles. Is it readily available or one you picked up at a flea market?

    • September 10, 2018 8:20pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s vintage and I got it at a flea market. I’m pretty sure they are not making them new, but I come across them from time to time. I like the handles, too!

  • Genie
    September 10, 2018 7:14pm

    Hello David. Love your blog. Please explain what the distinction is between a clafoutis and this flaugnarde. The recipes look very similar. Thank you!

    • September 10, 2018 8:22pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s pretty much the same thing. Some say that a flaugnarde has winter fruits in it, but I’ve seen flaugnarde recipes with other fruits. I think it may be like “pain au chocolat” and “chocolatine,” and “galette au sarrasin” and “galette (or crêpe) de blé noir.” They’re regional differences.

  • Janet
    September 10, 2018 8:48pm

    I’m at the airport to fly home from France. I went to a farmers market in Chamonix on Saturday and wish I’d looked for those plums! Oh well, American supermarket plums will have to do.

  • Maria C Ortega
    September 10, 2018 8:58pm

    I love it! I too have many too many plums at home and I don’t need to make any more jams! Thank you again for a wonderful recipe David!

  • Sara
    September 10, 2018 8:59pm

    Where I live it has gotten harder and harder to find sweet juicy peaches so I frequently bake them which does wonders for them. I wondering if you think these less ripe, less juicy peaches would work in this recipe. It sounds delicious.

  • Jennie
    September 10, 2018 9:02pm

    Where I live in Boston I found beach plums and made 2 batches of beach plum jam. It is a most beautiful dark purple (thanks to the skins and red wine) and tastes delicious.

  • Anne Dandurand
    September 11, 2018 12:46am

    Thank you again David for a delightful recipe! Yesterday, I received beautiful plums from my Chinese neighbor, who had harvested them in a farm near Montréal, and I just made your flaugnarde, with Triple Sec and orange extract, oooohhh, what a delicious dessert! (My twin sister eat it in silence, always a sure sign of an exceptional enjoyment!)

  • Nici
    September 11, 2018 10:29am

    I’ve got a jar full of prunes soaking in armagnac. I know what I’ll be doing with them!

  • Susanna
    September 11, 2018 8:27pm

    I always thought that this had eggs in the recipe! good to know it doesn’t since I am allergic to them ! This one is definitely a keeper!

    • Meredith
      September 12, 2018 7:51pm

      Please look again – this is a custard, and the recipe calls for three large eggs, which are needed to make it set! I wonder if corn flour or corn starch could be substituted for eggs as a thickening/setting agent so that people who are allergic can enjoy it?

      • Susanna
        September 17, 2018 11:00am

        Oops! you are totally right! I missed that line with the thrill of thinking there were no eggs in it! I thought it was weird though… Corn starch could be a nice substitution, or chickpea flour. I use chickpea flour in several recipes instead of egg and it works fine. Of course, not the real deal… but getting close!

  • Margaret
    September 12, 2018 12:15am

    I’d like to make this and also the famous plum torte….

    • September 12, 2018 8:53am
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, I featured that plum torte recipe in my newsletter this month!

      • Margaret
        September 13, 2018 2:53am

        Yes, that one! I thought you’d posted it somewhere but I couldn’t find it…

      • Bebe
        September 13, 2018 10:20pm

        I have made Marian Burros’s torte since it was first published. Now finding it difficult to find the plums (called prune plums here) which for some time were sold by Costco every October in 4# plastic clamshells. No more. Not a good eating plum so maybe they gave it up?

        I made mine in an 8” springform pan and the plums were virtually wall-to-wall. Cinnamon and a little sugar on top. Wonderful. (Also great over the sink in the morning!)

  • RuthL
    September 12, 2018 2:54am

    I made this tonight with a mix of mostly Damson plums, plus a peach and a handful of raspberries. It wasn’t until after I’d prepped the fruit that I noticed your warning about peaches, but I’m glad I missed it because the combination was excellent. To further counter the tartness of the little Damsons, I put in a smidge more sugar (used less than one third cup total). No kirsch in the house, but the amaretto I used was a good match.

    To me, this is a perfect dessert — homey, comforting, easy and fast, not too sweet, wonderful flavors. I will be making it again, and again, and again. Thank you, David!

  • Catherine
    September 13, 2018 9:01pm

    I made this with what I had at home and made it with pears and figs I roasted in butter and honey and subbed almond flour for flour, honey for sugar and light cream (the type you find in France) for heavy cream/milk.
    I used a long rectangular glass pan and the flaugnarde came out perfectly fine, although it could have been sweeter as I only used 30 g of honey. It’s a forgiving dish, which I plan on experimenting with in the future.

    • September 14, 2018 4:39pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks for your feedback and glad you liked it. My most frequently asked question about recipes is people wanting to decrease the sugar in them. I cut the amount of sugar from the original one and didn’t find it not sweet enough, but yes, you could more sweetener, if desired!

  • Hope Anderson
    September 13, 2018 9:03pm

    Thanks for remembering Richard Olney, whom I first discovered via Chez Panisse; I regard him as one of the greatest chefs of all time. Two of his classic recipes that I’ve cooked for over thirty years: squid and seeks in red wine, and chicken stuffed under the skin with ricotta and shredded zucchini. I think his rivalry with Julia Child stemmed from the fact that he was an innovator, while she was a classicist. His difficult personality didn’t help matters.

    • September 14, 2018 4:42pm
      David Lebovitz

      She modified recipes to make French cooking more accessible to people outside of France while Olney (and Simone Beck) didn’t feel the need to make the concessions. Julia Child also had that grand personality and he was someone who, while I only met him once, could be described as you did. He didn’t have the telegenic personality that she did. (Although very few people do!) I know some people got along really well with him, and others didn’t.

  • Bebe
    September 13, 2018 10:13pm

    Richard Olney’s Simple French Food was on my cookbook shelves many years ago. I have read parts of it and perused the recipes, but found him to be an insufferable “my way or the highway” snob. Published in the 1970s, it fit the snobbish food and wine aficianado mood, when “experts” abounded.

    My understanding has always been that regular French food was fairly simple as it was from the kitchens of thrifty women who did not have enormous food budgets. The refined haut cuisine that many believe was French has been said to have been brought to France from Italy by Catherine de Medici…

    All of this is controversial. And quite interesting.

    This article speaks of many French chefs who enjoyed fame during the “foodie explosion” of some decades ago:

  • September 15, 2018 3:10pm

    David – may buttermilk be substituted for the “regular” milk called for in the recipe? I’m always confused about the usage of buttermilk vs. regular milk, but have used it successfully instead of yogurt or kefir.

    • September 16, 2018 8:38am
      David Lebovitz

      Buttermilk would likely curdle when heated so I wouldn’t advise it. (If you’re going to more tartness, you could use some crème fraîche.) If you do give it a go with buttermilk, let us know how it turns out.

      • September 17, 2018 11:29pm

        Two of the great dessert people on eG weighed in, with one baking 2 versions.

        Neither found the buttermilk to curdle – they felt that the eggs and/or flour prevented that.

        I have yet to try!

  • Denise
    September 17, 2018 5:57am

    I made the Apple Harvest Tart posted in 2012 last weekend for guests. Divine, simply divine. Thank you.

  • Roberta
    October 1, 2018 10:57pm

    For lactose problems canned coconut milk works very well

  • anne taylor
    October 4, 2018 8:59pm

    Hello David,

    A great fan of Richard Olney and use Simple French Cooking and Lulu’s Provincial Table for many delicious meals

    Baked Plum Flaugnarde the other night with a mix of plums. Good but not great. Used an earthenware grating dish, wider than deep. The batter barely covered plums. Checked Olney’s recipe and it calls for four eggs, not three. Will try with prunes and raisins and four eggs. All other proportions to remain the same.