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. 

In Season: Acacia Two Ways: Beignets & Crêpes

I was de-budding the grapevines in Noëlla's plot Chez Charles, when my neighbor Pierre-Philippe popped over to say hi. Pierre-Philippe and his wife Marie-Claude are a charming couple that moved from Paris to the countryside 20 years ago. They have been extremely generous and welcoming as we settle in to our new home, and some of our first new friends in the village. 

Here's an example of how giving these two are: a few months ago my friend Juliette and I went to Pierre-Philippe and Marie-Claude's house to have a coffee and chat about working for them to prune their small plot of Cabernet vines. An hour later we left their house, not only with a pruning gig, but with a tiny plot of Sauvignon that Pierre-Philippe claimed he "didn't want to deal with anymore." So now you know what kind of people we're dealing with- not only the super-sweet kind, but also the winning-at-life kind. 

So when Pierre-Philippe came up to me in Noëlla's vines (which border his property) and told me he was planning on picking some Acacia bunches from his tree to make Acacia Beignets I knew it was a good idea- before even knowing what they were or how to make them. 

"Pierre-Philippe is going to make Acacia Beignets today," I told my fellow vine worker- with a tone that let on that this was a totally new concept to me. "Oh cool!" she said, clearly aware that this was a thing. Later that night I told Ben about this new-to-me recipe. He knew what these were, too. I felt like that time I listened to a Sparklehorse album for the first time- at least five years later than I should have- and wondered, "Why didn't anyone tell me about this earlier?" 

I wasn't left out of the loop that much longer as Pouillé's most popular beignet started turning up on every table we spent a spell at that weekend. Why, I asked myself, were Acacia Beignets everywhere all of the sudden?

Because, like most things you find in the wild I'm learning, there is a very specific time when Acacia flowers taste just right. It was Acacia time. The lilacs had started to fade and brown at the edges, leaving the stage for the bright white bunches of Acacia flowers, that attracted bees and beignets lovers with their sweet, floral, come-fry-me smell. 

By the time I got back to the Acacia tree, the 120 milliliters of rain we had endured over a period of three days had taken their toll on these fragile flowers- leaving them a little lackluster and less fragrant. Determined to get a second chance at this local specialty, I adapted to the Acacia once I got in the kitchen, making a batch of beignets that fell a little flat, followed by a stack of crêpes that hit the spot. 

You can adapt to the state of your Acacia bunches using either recipe- fresh, sturdy bunches are perfect for beignets*, while late season Acacia harvests seem better suited for crêpes. Below is the crêpe recipe, which I think is advisable for a French late May/early June.

*If you want to make beignets, make the same batter, cover your bunches with the batter (after it's settled) and fry them in about 3-4 cm of neutral oil (canola, vegetable, etc.) Arrange them on paper towels or newspaper to soak up the grease and serve warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar. Any flowers that fall into the batter or off the bunch can be used in crêpes made with left over batter once you've finished the beignets. 

Acacia Crêpes

Makes about a dozen

Ingredients

2 cups (500 mL) milk

2 medium sized eggs

1 cup (135 grams) all-purpose flour

2 tbsps melted butter

1 tbsp orange blossom or rose extract (optional)

3-4 tablespoons butter

About a dozen Acacia bunches

Powdered sugar

Preparation:

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the milk and eggs. Stir in flour until smooth. Add melted butter and orange blossom or rose extract (if using) stir until combined. Let the crêpe batter sit, covered with a dish towel, for at least 20 minutes. 

Melt butter in a pan on medium it, make sure the bottom of the pan is coated (use a paper towel to distribute the butter evenly). While waiting for the pan to heat up, remove the Acacia flowers from their stems and stir them into the crêpe batter. 

Pour batter into heated pan, just enough for a very thin layer- try to only have about 4-6 flowers in each crêpe or else it will be too heavy. Cook for 3-4 minutes on one side then flip and cook until golden on the other side. Continue until all batter is used. 

Serve crêpes warm and sprinkled with powdered sugar. 

 

Foraging in the Grapevines + A Recipe for Poached Eggs & Mâche

One thing I love about life in the countryside is that there's always something new to be foraged. Each season brings its own timely treasures and, by the time you feel like you don't know what else to do with your baskets of walnuts or mushrooms, there's something new to be on the lookout for.

Full disclosure: winter is not my favorite season. I've never enjoyed the cold and while I recognize the importance of winter and I know that everything that grows depends on these colder months in order to do so, it's a time of year that I have a hard time with.

Maybe I should try harder, maybe I should get over the fact that I really hate wearing layers of winter clothes,  maybe my feelings will change next year- but for now all I know is that during these months of the year it is really hard for me to get excited about getting out in the cold. 

 But now that I live in the countryside, it's easier for me to get out into nature. And that's how I'm discovering that winter is different when you're outside. Like, really outside- not walking from the metro to a coffee date, but like in the out-of-doors, like no doors in sight- just trees and leaves and greens and browns. If I can get it together to put on those dreaded layers- my doubled up socks, laced up boots, jacket, scarf, and wool hat and get outside, I realize the december landscape is worth exploring. 

One thing that makes winter worth it to me is wild mâche. Mâche, or Lamb's Lettuce, is a delicate bright green bunch of baby leaves that grows in freshly tilled soil. In the winter, when the earth around the grapevines has been worked to give the plants some space to breathe, wild mâche fills in the cracks, peeking through mounds of dirt. 

Foraging for mâche is like foraging for anything- at first you think you'll never be able to spot it among all the life and richness of a happy vineyard floor. But then you see one, and then two or more bunches of this cheery wild lettuce and all of the sudden you can't stop seeing it.

You get hooked, working against the clock that is run by a swiftly setting sun, digging your fingers into the earth, extracting the small sturdy mâche by its roots, adding it to your list of things that make winter worth getting out of bed for. 

Poached Eggs on Mâche

serves 2

Ingredients:

2-3 handfuls of fresh mâche

2 eggs

For the Vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 shallot, finely chopped

Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

Preparation:

Soak mâche in a bowl of cold water, emptying repeatedly until the water runs clear and mâche is clean. Spin dry and set aside. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, shallots, a dash of salt and a turn fresh ground pepper. Slowly whisk in olive oil in a steady stream. Toss clean mâche in vinaigrette and serve in equal parts on two plates. 

To make poached eggs, bring a medium sized pot of salted water to a light boil. Once you have a steady, low boil crack open your egg and let it slide down the side of the pot into the water (if the pot is big enough you can do both at the same time). Let cook, untouched, for three minutes then remove with a slotted spoon. Place on top of the mâche and top with salt and fresh ground pepper. Serve with bread or toast (goat cheese makes a great toast topping to go with this dish). Serve immediately.