Hello summer, long time no see!
Cherries are arguably the best thing about summer. Sweet and juicy and preferably freshly picked in your garden. I appreciate that not everybody has access to a cherry tree but it is far superior to the supermarket bought ones. In fact: your own cherries >>> greengrocers cherries >>>>>> supermarket cherries. I hope that we are clear on that point now and you will try and hunt down some lovely cherries at your local greengrocer’s. Sharrow Marrow in Sheffield stocked some absolutely gorgeous cherries so do pop in and get yourself a bag.
The whole family agrees that this year we have had the best crop of cherries in the whole lifetime of our lovely cherry tree. My parents have planted the tree about 13 years ago with the intention of pruning it regularly and keeping it in pygmy form. This did not happen and the tree reached gigantic proportions. Every year there is talk of it being chopped down, however this ceases as first cherries are picked. Who wouldn’t love this ultimate fast food – if you’re feeling slightly peckish you just nip out to the garden and graze. Maybe you would fancy this Siamese twin of a cherry.
If your cherries come from your garden then unfortunately there is one thing you need to be cool with – you are going to share them with others. Starlings and blackbirds absolutely love them. However it is creatures of the creepy crawly variety that usually put people off eating their home grown cherries. This is why our cherries have been excellent this year: a cold spell earlier in the spring killed most cherry fruit flies and so prevented them from impregnating our lovely cherries with their offspring. Thanks nature!
You can judge me if you want but I am fairly unperturbed at the prospect of eating the occasional maggot. This might be due to the fact that I grew up eating our garden produce and so have a fairly high tolerance of these less pleasant aspects of life. Furthermore, you will never be able to tell that you have just eaten a maggot, they do not affect the taste and are usually very small so you cannot even feel it. I rarely ever bother picking out maggots from my cherries – I will if I can tell the fruit obviously contains one. A less firm area on the surface is a failsafe indicator that the fruit houses an unwanted inhabitant, as are any obvious pinprick holes. However even if your cherries resemble Emmentaler cheese do not despair – soak your cherries overnight in water. This will kill the maggots and hopefully also flush them out. You can then use these cherries for baking and making compotes or preserves. However, if your cherries are too far gone not even this method will save the day. In that case my humble proposition would be making cherry liquour.
Wikipedia tells me that cherries are a great thing to eat if you are dieting. Apparently rats that were given cherry powder along with a high-fat diet did not build up as much body fat as those who were not, and had much lower levels of cholesterol. I would hope that we all know that what applies to rats in a lab might not apply to humans in the real world but hey, for me this is a good enough licence to stuff my face! Warning: what follows is a recipe for something delicious yet entirely unsuitable if you are dieting, but such is life.
Light & summery cherry and almond cake
This, obviously, isn’t clafoutis. When we make cherry cake at home we use a fail safe clafoutis-like recipe, known to us as bublanina – ‘bubble cake’, an absolutely fantastic Czech recipe (to follow at some point) using a batter into which we carefully fold beaten egg whites to achieve a heavenly fluffy texture. This recipe, on the other hand, is still very light but does not require the extra effort of beating egg whites.
flour and butter to grease your form
450g soured cream or yogurt (I went half and half)
240g caster sugar
pinch of salt
160g plain or self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder (only use if you are using plain flour)
cherries: as much as you see fit (we have a funny contraption to pit cherries at home, by hand this is more of a hassle so you don’t have to pit them. It is probably best if you do if children are involved.)
200g grated almonds (or coconut)
You will need a tart tin and smaller and larger bowls, and preheat your oven to 170 °C. Start by greasing your tin with some butter. Place a handful of flour in the tin and shake it around to cover the surface. This creates a nice non-stick layer. Cream together butter and 150g sugar and a pinch of salt to a yellow, fluffy consistency, I’m sure you all know the drill. Keep beating and add your eggs, one by one, followed by 150g of yogurt or soured cream.
Sift your flour into another bowl together with baking powder, if using. I think life is too short for pointless tasks such as sifting flour but this was my mum’s task and she did it this way. Apparently doing so leads to a much lighter texture. Whatever. You can then gradually add this to your sugar and yogurt mixture, beating all the time to eliminate lumps. When you are ready pour the mixture into the prepared tart tin.
Now for the cherries. Pitted or not, shake them with about 50g of almonds to cover them, then arrange them in a neat or not-so-neat pattern onto the cake batter. Bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes.
The home stretch: mix the rest of your sugar, yogurt or cream and almonds in a bowl. When the cake has had its 30 minutes spoon this mixture onto it and spread as evenly as you like. Pop back into the oven for 20 minutes. Should the ‘icing’ start to burn just cover with tinfoil. Job’s a good’un.
I imagine it is going to be hard to wait for the cake to cool down before you get stuck in but please do this. The almond and cream icing will only set when the cake has cooled down, any earlier and you will be left with a runny gloop.
You can obviously devise your own variations of the recipe. I have pointed out that you can use coconut instead of almonds, but the choice of fruit is entirely up to you too – forrest fruits and strawberries spring to mind instantly. You might want to give some thought to possible fruit and icing combinations (apricots would be best with almonds, not coconut). You can even forgo the icing topping altogether and in this case sky really is the limit. Enjoy!