Have any of you ever had the experience of walking into a produce store and finding yourself unable to walk out without filling your basket with fruits and vegetable you might not really need, but you just have to because it looks so beautiful? This happens to me at least once a week. The store owner knows it and will strategically push some of his more expensive fruits to the forefront when he sees me walking in. A few days back, I had just bought a bunch of luscious pink lychee, the green leaves still intact, when I saw him nudge a boxful of cherries in my line of sight. Just, just could not tear my eyes away from the tempting sphere of dark, gleaming red. I don’t see cherries that often, especially not such perfect looking specimens. While I could have been content with as little as quarter of a kilo, I had to get the whole box. I just could not stop myself. Armed with enough cherries to satiate my greed, I walked out clutching the box like it was worth its weight in gold.
Back home, a quick rinse and I could not help but pop a few into my mouth. These were some of the best cherries I had tasted n a long time. I usually find those small, pale orangey cherries which has decided that nothing was going to tempt it to turn a shade of red, I personally love cherries which are almost black in colour and this box had plenty of them. As I pondered over the mysteries of the colour of cherries, I looked down and found I had almost demolished half the box, and the pile of pits on the side was increasing alarmingly. I decided rather quickly, I had to put some aside to make one of my favourite cakes, which I unfailingly make every cherry season. Since the season is so short-lived, I land up making this cake only about twice a year.
It is one delicious cake though. Might seem like a fiddly bit of work for many, but I simply love sitting with a bowl of cherries, slicing through the thin skin, feeling the burst of cherry juice, prying out the pit, and occasionally popping a cherry in my mouth. . . It all feels so therapeutic. All this, knowing fully well you are going to end up with something divine. The almond flour, provides not only a hint of almond flavour (in my opinion almond and cherry work together beautifully) but a wonderful crumbly texture.
I bake these in a lot of different ways. As a cake, it is great when you have company, as little cuppies dusted with snowy confectioner’s sugar, it makes a great little snack that you can tuck away into the lunch box and fool yourself that you have something healthy, just because it has a little fruit in it. You can bake these in tall muffin cups, top it up with a swirl of soft whipped cream and it makes a perfectly decadent dessert. Anyway you decide to have it, make sure you eat it fresh. Leave it for a day or so (as if it will last that long) the fruit gets a little mushy and soggy and not very pleasant.
Now, if you do not have almond flour, do not panic. All you need to do is wiz some almonds in a blender.I use almonds from the freezer ( I am not too sure about the effect on my blender but I have not damaged anything serious so far) simply because the nuts don’t heat up soon while being pulverized, exuding its oil, which makes it more of an almond paste or butter. Work the blender in short pluses rather than letting it run on. I usually don’t even bother to blanch the almonds. (I can actually hear some of you gasp) So what? All that will happen is that you will have bits of the brown skin and that is not a crime. The cake will still be just as good.
This cake will not rise much when baked in a cake pan but the cherries will sink to the bottom. The lightness of the cake will come from beating the eggs and sugar till really light and more than double in volume. To make sure the top of the cake looks as pretty as the cake is going to taste, the cake is taken out half way through the baking time and you quickly need to pop some pitted cherries on top and push the tin right back into the oven to finish baking. Now, if you don’t have some hi-tech device to remove the cherry stone, all you need to do is use a small sharp knife and slice all the way around the cherry., The half will sort of twist away exposing the little stone. Now you just loosen it with the knife and it will come right off. It is really as simple as that !
(Adapted from the Joy of Baking)
1/2 cup Butter
2 generous cups of Cherries (350 gms to be precise) which will need to be pitted
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup Almond Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
3/4 cup Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 tsp Almond extract
1/3 cup Milk
1. Melt butter and cool to room temperature
2. Set aside about 10 to 15 pitted cherry halves and roughly chop the rest (chop not mince. We still want big chunks). If the cherries are super juicy, gently pat them dry with a paper towel.
3. Whisk together, flour, baking powder, salt and almond flour until well mixed.
4. In another bowl beat the eggs and sugar till light and creamy. When the whisk is lifted, it should leave a ribbony trail.
5. Gently stir in the melted butter and milk into the eggy sugar mixture along with the vanilla and almond extract.
6. Now fold in the flour mixture making sure you do not knock the air out of the light mixture, until just about wet.
7. Fold in the chopped cherries.
8. Pour batter into a springform pan (8 to 9 inches) lined with parchment paper.
9. Bake in an oven preheated to 200 C for about 30 minutes.
10. After about 15 minutes, quickly remove the pan from the oven, arrange the set aside cherry halves, cut side down, on the surface of the cake and return to the oven to complete the baking process. Do not linger over this step. Do it quickly and do not leave the oven door open
11. The cake is done when a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 15 minutes and serve warm or cooled. I like to serve them with a dusting of icing sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.
12. For cupcakes, follow the same process, except your baking time will reduce depending on the size of the cupcakes. Fill the cups up to 3/4 with batter to ensure that the cake rises to the rim.
You can try this with any stone fruit or berries and it works just as well. I have tried this recipe with sliced plums and also with strawberries. Both are equally delicious, but there is something about the combination of almond and cherries. Maybe it is the short-lived cherry season which makes me feel that it is imperative for me to whip up this cake the minute I can get hold of the fruit, provided of course that I don’t eat it all up first!