We’re right on the cusp of greeting the arrival of sour cherries here in Portland. This event is a monumental one in my book, because with the sour cherries comes a short but treasured period of sour cherry pies, sour cherry galettes, and, if the weather is cooperating, sour cherry and Meyer lemon whiskey sours. The season for sour cherries is a cruelly short one, but I try to make the most of it. In fact, I am going to let you in on a little secret. Sometimes? If I can summon the willpower? I take to hoarding my ration of sour cherries.
It’s not as obsessive a plan as it may seem. I, of course, share whatever I make when the initial sour cherry season comes around, but sometimes, if I am lucky, all my pie-making and galette-fashioning leaves me with not quite enough cherries to fill a new pastry, but certainly enough sour cherries to stick in the freezer and save for as long as I can. Believe it or not, in between last sour cherry season and this year’s upcoming one, I was able to hold onto a good amount of cherries. I’ve been making them into syrups, using them to fill the occasional tiny pastry, and last week, when I reached the end of my stash, I worked them into a new riff on that summertime favorite, pineapple upside down cake. Only in this case I left out the pineapple all together and instead baked a cake atop a bed of sour cherries nestled in a bed of brown sugar and butter.
The result was fantastic, as I hoped it would be. I used the last of the cherries, after all, so if the dessert was a flop, I would have been utterly crushed. But it was not a flop. It was a delight. The sour cherries were the perfect foil for the rich brown sugar topping, and the cake underneath was sturdy enough to hold court against the cherry topping, but light enough to keep the dessert from feeling like a mid-day gut bomb. Oh, don’t get me wrong—this is a sweet dessert indeed, but it’s a far cry from being a double-decker frosted offering (of which, of course, I am also quite fond). It’s a perfect summer cake, and a worthy use of any sour cherries you might have on hand. With a bit of luck, in a few short weeks I might just have some more cherries on my hands.
Last Year: Lemon Cream and Strawberry Trifle
Also last year, I put my ration of sour cherries to good use in a classic sour cherry pie.
Sour Cherry Upside Down Cake Recipe
Inspired by a pineapple upside down cake recipe in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
1 pound pitted sour cherries
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoon pieces
½ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 large egg white, room temperature
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position.
Place pitted cherries in a colander and toss lightly to allow excess juices to drain slightly. Drizzle with almond extract, toss lightly to combine, and set side.
In a 9-inch round cake pan, place 4 tablespoons of butter. Place pan in the oven until the butter has melted, but not browned (this should take about 2 to 3 minutes). Sprinkle the brown sugar into the pan, then gently pat the mixture until it evenly covers the bottom of the pan. Place the cherries in a single layer over the brown sugar mixture, evenly covering the bottom of the pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together on medium speed the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter, along with the granulated sugar, until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until the egg is fully incorporated. Beat in the vanilla.
Beating on low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by half of the milk. Add half of the remaining flour mixture, followed by the rest of the milk. Add the last of the flour mixture, and beat until just combined. The batter should be very thick.
Spoon the batter over the cherries, then gently smooth the top. Gently tap the pan on top of the counter to settle the batter amongst the cherries. Bake the cake in the center of the oven until a cake tester emerges with just a few moist crumbs attached, about 45 to 50 minutes, rotating pan after about 20 minutes.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Place a serving platter on top of the pan, then flip both cake pan and plate over, inverting the cake onto the platter. Allow the pan to rest upside down on top of the platter for 1 minute, releasing both the cake and the cherry topping without assistance. Gently remove the pan, then allow the cake to cool for 2 hours before eating.
Serves 8 to 10 people.