In Season: Cherries + Short Stack Cherry Crumb Cake & Chocolate Cherry Tart Recipes

ParisPaysanne-CherrySeason

I get a little obsessed when it comes to foraging, I think it's because foraging seasons are so fleeting. In the blink of an eye bear's garlic will go to flower, nettles become stalky and unappetizing, and wild strawberries dry under the early summer sun. Of all these forage-ready fruits and flowers, cherries seem to be the most short-lived.

First of all, the weather has to be just right to have any cherries to start with- a cold winter, frosts, or a late arrival of springtime sun will delay or prevent the arrival of cherry blossoms and cherries themselves. Then there's the birds, who are often quicker to harvest than humans (and don't need to drag out a ladder to get the ruby red fruit hanging from the higher boughs).

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Even in a perfect year, with the perfect earlier-than-the-birds timing, cherries ripen and fall from the tree with such speed that you may find yourself stomping on more fruit underfoot than you grab overhead

So you can see why I step to at the sight of the first red cherries bursting from the branches of cherry trees in our village. About a week ago, our generous neighbors sent me a text announcing "Cherry season is open! Come and pick whenever you want!" At 8 1/2 months pregnant, I was dissuaded from climbing a ladder (or the cherry tree itself, a precarious endeavor pregnant or not) and so had to wait until my boyfriend had time off to come help harvest. 

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I managed to remain patient until the weekend, when we crossed the street to our neighbor's yard, armed with baskets and bags to fill with fresh-from-the-branch fruit. I get greedy when it comes to free fruit, which I think is a quality if not a vice, I think the bird's are fine with sharing, and I have big plans for each cherry that ends up in my panier

Cherries are great raw, served simply in a bowl as a dessert, but if you have a ton of them, why not have some fun? I took cherry season as an opportunity to try two new recipes- both from the Short Stack Editions Volume on Cherries. The Chocolate Cherry Tart is a decadent and rich way to end a dinner party and the Sweet Cherry Crumb Cake turned out to be a great way to start your day (paired with a cup of coffee, yum!!). As the heat wave hit its stride, we kept the crumble cake in the fridge and ate it fresh as a midday goûter as well. 

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Sweet Cherry Crumb Cake 

from Short Stack Editions "Cherries" by Stacy Adimando

For the crumb topping: 

2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour

1/4 cup (55 grams) rolled oats

1 firmly packed cup (120 grams) light brown sugar

1/4 cup (55 grams) cane sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (225 grams) + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into medium sized cubes, then left out to soften

For the cake:

1 pound (450 grams) sweet red cherries

3/4 cup (170 grams) + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, sofftened

2 1/4 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups (300 grams) cane sugar

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup (240 grams) full-fat sour cream

Preparation: 

Make the crumb topping: In a large bowl, add the flour, oats, both sugars, cinnamon and salt; stir to combine. Add the butter and mix with your fingers, being sure to incorporate all the sugar from the bottom of the bowl, to form a moist, crumbly texture. Cover the crumb mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you're ready to bake the cake.

Make the cake: Pit the cherries using a method that will keep the flesh of the fruit intact. Place them in a medium paper towel-lined bowl to absorb excess juices. Refrigerate the cherries while you prepare the rest of the cake. 

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F (177°C). Grease a 9-by-13 inch baking dish or pan with butter and set it aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt: whisk briefly to combine. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer), beat the butter and sugar at medium-high speed, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed, until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat at medium-low speed until incorporated. With the mixer at low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture (in three batches) and the sour cream (in two batches), beating just until incorporated, and starting and ending with the flour mixture. (Stop the mixture between each addition and/or stir in the last few batches with a spoon so as not to overmix.) 

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan, using a spatula to spread it evenly to fill the corners. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the batter.

Bake the cake, rotating the pan halfway through, until the crumbs are golden brown and a cake tester inserter into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let the cake cool before serving. 

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Chocolate Cherry Tart

I switched out the chocolate crust for this tart with my recipe for Zesty Hazelnut Crust (I left out the zest in this case) get the recipe here. Bake the crust for 20-25 minutes (or until golden) then remove from oven and let cool before adding the filling.

For the filling and topping: 

1 cup (240 grams) heavy cream

10 ounces (280 grams) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 large egg plus 1 large yolk

1 teaspoon orange liqueur, such as Cointreau

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Flaky sea salt, for garnish

15-20 whole cherries, pitted and halved vertically for garnish

Homemade whipped cream for serving (optional)

Preparation:

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 inch of water to a simmer over medium heat. Set a heatproof bowl over the pot without touching the water; add the cream and chocolate and cook, stirring frequently with a rubber spatula, until the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is well combined. Remove the bowl and set aside to cool slightly. 

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and egg yolk. To temper the egg so it doesn't scramble, whisk 1 to 2 tablespoons of the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, then slowly whisk the egg mixture into the larger bowl of chocolate until it's completely combined. Stir in the orange liqueur, vanilla, and a pinch of salt.

Pour the chocolate filling into the tart shell, using a spatula as needed to help spread the filling evenly in the shell. Set the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake until the filling is just set but jiggles slightly when the pan is shaken, 18 to 20 minutes.

Remove the tart from the oven and sprinkle generously with flaky sea salt. Let the tart cool completely, then top with the cherries, cut side down. Slice and serve with whipped cream, if desired. 

Fresh Eggs & Oeufs Mayonnaise

Some people will say making mayonnaise is incredibly easy. Others will say it's impossibly hard. Both will be lying a little bit. 

The challenge in making mayonnaise, which is easy enough that anyone can do it but hard enough that they'll fail a bunch along the way, lies in marrying together the water from the egg yolks with olive oil that is slowly added to the yolks. This is done through the process of emulsion or, in less technical terms, whisking until you feel like your arm will fall off

Whether you find it a challenge or a piece of cake, making mayonnaise is undeniably easier when you have good eggs. Mayonnaise eggs should be fresh and at room temperature (opinions on the importance of their temperature vary, I believe room temperature yolks improve your chances of winning at mayonnaise). 

Getting eggs to be room temperature is easy enough-  just plan on taking them out of the fridge an hour or so before you'll be making your mayonnaise- but getting truly fresh eggs may be a little harder. Thankfully, country life has simplified this step for me. 

I recently became a foster parent to a brood of chickens consisting of three laying hens and one rooster. They were put in our charge by our friend, Noëlla Morantin a few months ago.

Noëlla informed us that the hens hadn't been laying eggs for her- maybe it was the season, maybe they weren't in the mood-  but she told us we shouldn't expect eggs any time soon.

After factoring in their shock at being taken from Noëlla's chicken coop and being brought to their new home (which we had cleaned out and made cosy in advance), we figured we shouldn't hold our breath for fresh eggs

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We were happy for the chickens' presence eggs or no eggs. The rooster immediately started crowing in the morning, giving our country home serious farm cred. On sunny days we'd watch the feathered crew explore their new grounds as we sipped coffee in the sun. The cats found the new residents absolutely delightful- not intimidating enough to inspire fear and just mobile enough to provide hours of fun as they tracked and spied on them from hiding spots. 

And then one day, Ben found an egg and I knew our daily lives had just changed in a small and enormous way. For a little over a week now, we've had an egg a day, thanks to our lovely white hen, who we call L'Islandaise due to the black collar around her neck that makes her look like she's wearing an Icelandic sweater

We're hoping her efforts will inspire the other ladies to start laying, in the meantime she's inspired more than a few batches of homemade mayonnaise

Oeufs Mayonnaisse

I've managed to make a few successful batches of mayonnaise back in the day, but I never really felt like I could master mayo until I read Tamar Adler's wonderful book An Everlasting Meal. I use a little less oil and a little more salt than the original recipe, but that's as far as I'll stray from Adler's advice. 

Ingredients:

2 eggs yolks (room temperature)

2 pinches of salt

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 cups (350 mL) olive oil

Dash of water

Drop of red wine vinegar

One hard boiled egg per person

Optional:

Cayenne pepper

Mâche or other greens for a garnish/salad

Preparation

Whisk together egg yolks, salt, and mustard until the mixture becomes creamy and lightens slightly in color. SLOWLY begin to add olive oil- this can be as little as a few drops at a time in the beginning, whisking vigourously while adding the oil. It is crucial that the mixture doesn't turn to liquid, it should be becoming thicker and almost elastic as the oil is mixed in. Once you have a good base of oil integrated into the thickening yolk mixture you can be braver with adding the oil. Keep adding oil until finished- if at some point the mayonnaise seems too stiff, add a dash of water and get back to whisking. Finish with whisking in a drop of red wine vinegar. Add salt to taste. 

Cut hard boiled eggs in half and top each half with a spoonful of fresh mayonnaise. Cayenne pepper is a traditional topping for oeufs mayonnaise and bright fresh greens make a nice side salad to the dish. 


My First Pond Draining Party + A Recipe for Fresh Friture

When moving to a new place, I think it's best to adopt an attitude which involves saying “Yes” to everything. So while I'm generally not in the market for eel or other local fishy favorites (I haven't yet developed a taste for the fresh water varieties in the region), I said yes to my friend Laurent when he asked if me and my boyfriend Ben wanted to go along with him and his girlfriend to a pond draining party nearby my new home in the Loire Valley.

It wasn't actually the pond draining itself that was the main attraction. Even if seeing the gunky surface and flattened flora of an otherwise inundated pond floor is a pretty cool, what really drew crowds was the resulting sale of fresh fish scooped out of the dwindling waters of the Etang d'Aiguevives.

In honor of the event, eels, crawfish, carp, and pike were sorted and transported into oversize kiddie pools where spectators and armchair anglers  could leisurely choose their catch of the day.

Seeing these monstrous fish- the biggest I had ever seen in real life- being plucked out of makeshift ponds and thrown into wicker baskets or firmly stowed under the rough wool sweater clad arms of burly outdoorsmen was something I hadn't prepared myself for- though I'm not sure what I expected to happen at an everything-must-go fish sales event.

I think I can speak for most of us when I admit to being totally divorced from the process of turning animals into food. I had left the step between pond, lake, river or sea to market stand intentionally murky and unexplored, for the very honest reason that seeing, or even things die makes me sad.

I'm actively trying to deal with this sadness and accept it as a reality that I can incorporate into my life with some sort of understanding. Recently I became the guardian of my first ever animals that I might end up eating one day- a small posse of chickens that I am enamored with, but trying not to be attached to. I think this recent fish fest was a good warm up to understanding what it is to raise, and slaughter, animals.

Being witness to the mass asphyxiation of fish is a troubling experience. It is also an experience that- like many moments experienced in the countryside- brings you closer to nature and your sources of food. The event was shocking at first, but then I understood it as cyclical- the regular cleaning of a pond means a rebirth and new, fresh waters. Some fish are kept to carry on the life in the pond, others are taken to homes around the region to sustain life outside the pond. With a respect for nature and its preservation, as well as the energy that life on earth gives us, fishermen and women do the hard work of transforming fish into our food. 

While at the pond draining party I made my way over to the food counter, where the smell of frying oil and fish were attracting hungry villagers equipped glasses of rosé wine. The plat du jour was friture-  a delicious dish that I had only seen in the South of France, but also totally made sense in this context, as it depends entirely on having access to super fresh fish. A little rosé doesn't hurt, either.

I asked the smiling woman at the frying station if I could watch her make a batch of friture and she kindly agreed, immediately sharing the recipe with me as her hands swiftly prepared the fish, something she had clearly done hundreds of times. Friture is this: small fish, flour, salt, and, of course, oil.  "That's it!” the woman told me, throwing some freshly fried fish into a plastic dish and handing it to me along with a salt shaker. “You can add a little lemon, too” she added, “if you have one.”

Friture

Ingredients

About 1 cup (200 grams) per person of tiny fresh whitebait fish, like gudgeon, smelt, or sperling

Frying oil- something neutral like vegetable oil works well

All purpose flour

Salt

Optional: lemon

Preparation

Fill a large or medium sized pot halfway with oil and bring to a low boil.

While waiting for the oil to heat up, prepare the fish. If you are eeked out by eating fish heads, you can remove them from your fish first- but if you do that know you'll be missing out on the true friture experience, so why not just keep the fish whole? Quickly rinse the fish under cold water in a colander and then shake to remove excess moisture.

Toss fish in flour until lightly covered, then add floured fish to the hot oil- you don't want fish to crowd or stick together, so do this in small batches. Fry for 3-5 minutes, or until fish are golden then remove from oil and place of paper towels to absorb some of the oil. Serve immediately with salt and lemon, if you have it.