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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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.