Sour Cherry Cake

sour cherry cake

Sour cherries are revered for their tart taste, aroma, and flavor. They're a special fruit with lots of versatility in both sweet and savory recipes. In Hungary, sour cherries are king in early summer. Some find they're too tart to enjoy fresh, which is why they're so popular in recipes for tarts, pies, cakes, compotes, and even soup. In the States sour cherries are harder to find, and their season is short, but they are in season now. If you look hard enough you'll find these red jewels in farmers' markets, especially on the East coast.

I love sour cherries every which way, especially in sweet recipes, like this American sour cherry pie and this Hungarian sour cherry soup. When I was a kid my mom would make sour cherry cakes and tarts, but she almost always used canned or jarred cherries, because it was difficult to find fresh ones. Luckily for me, I'm always able find them at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, and now in Budapest, Hungary. Every time I find them in the market, the first thought that comes to my mind is to bake a sour cherry cake like my mom's.

This recipe starts with a buttery spongecake base that's dense yet fluffy all at the same time. It's just right for encasing the sour cherries, which get scattered on top before baking. Since the cake batter is somewhat denser than typical spongecakes, the cherries don't migrate to the bottom, but stay mostly on the surface. Dusting the cherries in flour first also helps keep them from sinking.

This cake is ideal with coffee or tea, for breakfast or an afternoon delight. Serve it dusted with a little powdered sugar, which helps tame some of the tartness. Or serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. After making this recipe, you'll know how special sour cherries are.

Sour Cherry Cake

Note: The cake may bake faster in a glass baking pan, and slower in a metal baking pan. Your best assurance is to test its doneness with a skewer.

1 cup all purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups stemmed and pitted sour cherries
confectioners sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan, line with parchment paper, and butter again. Sift together dry ingredients: 1 cup flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg yolks and mix until combined. Add dry ingredients, a little at a time, and mix until incorporated. By hand fold in egg whites, a third at a time. Spread batter into prepared pan, smoothing top.

In a bowl, toss sour cherries with 2 tablespoons flour. Scatter over batter, pressing a few down into the batter. Bake until golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Slice into squares and serve dusted with confectioners sugar. Yield: 9 squares.

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