Monday, July 13, 2015

Cherry Almond Loaf Cake

I love it when I’m paging through a cookbook, dreaming (or drooling) over a seasonally specific recipe, and then, as if by some sort of suggestive faerie magic, I come across the perfect featured ingredients from a local source. That’s what happened last week when I took notes from the library’s copy of Local Flavors by Deborah Madison just before a trip to the farmer’s market, during which I found some beautiful sour cherries.

Fresh sour cherries need to be purchased near the source, simply because they are so delicate. They also, in my opinion, need a well-sweetened recipe to properly shine. This Cherry Almond Loaf Cake is a great one for just that purpose. It’s not super-sweet, but it’s simple and, except for actually pitting the cherries, quick as well. 

This cake goes together in the food processor, which I found intriguing. First, almonds are ground into coarse meal, then processed with the flour. That dry mixture is removed and the wet ingredients are processed. The dry ingredients go back in and with a few touches of a button, cake batter comes about. That batter is scraped into a loaf pan, covered with cherries and some more almonds, and baked.

While those cherries start off as a great pile on top of the almond-laced batter, that batter rises up and partially engulfs them as it bakes. The resulting loaf cake is slightly dense rather than fluffy, more like a pound cake, and tastes of toasted almonds. The cherries, miraculously transformed into tender, lightly sweetened, fruity gems, stud the top of each slice, making the whole experience moist and delicious.

I will freely admit that pitting cherries is not my favorite kitchen task. With these little, soft, sour ones, my hand-held cherry pitter just wouldn’t do the job, so I attacked them with my fingers and worried about cleaning up later. Such a chore gives me a bit of appreciation for the fact that fresh cherry season is so short, but such deliciousness as a cherry almond cake that comes together so easily turns that chore into a labor of love!

Cherry Almond Loaf Cake
Adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

While I had sour cherries available and used them here, you could use any cherries, or even a combination of different varieties to make this cake.

1 cup slivered almonds, divided
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
¼ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups pitted cherries

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease and flour an 8 x 5-inch loaf pan. Set aside. Set aside ¼ cup almonds.

2. Place the remaining ¾ cup almonds in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely ground. Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

3. Place the butter and sugar in the food processor and process until well-creamed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to process until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, processing until each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the almond and vanilla extract and process until very smooth.

4. Add half of the ground almond mixture. Process until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining almond mixture and process until very smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. The batter will be thick.

5. Add the cherries to the top of the batter to cover. Sprinkle the reserved almonds over the top. Bake at 375 F for about 1 hour or until a tester comes out clean.

6. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Turn the cake out of the pan onto a plate or platter and slice to serve. Keep covered for a few days.

Makes about 8-10 servings.

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