On my month long food tour of France this summer, my first stop was in the Mayenne, serendipitously during cherry season. All around the property of the cookery school, cherry trees hung heavy with beautiful ripe cherries – petite, juicy griottines and big round pale reds, almost like a Queen Anne. I picked the fruit straight from the tree and ate it, still warm – what a treat. It then occurred to me that I had never actually seen a cherry in its natural habitat. Blossoming cherry trees grow in these parts but not, as far as I know, fruit-producers. So and most of the cherries we find come from Michigan or Washington state or, for all I know, Mars. And they are usually expensive – $7 to $8 a pound. So faced with this French bounty, I munched my way through the Mayenne and bought bags and bags of ripe cherries in markets in Paris to enjoy while walking through the streets; until the season finally petered out.
When I got home, my first trip to the local grocery offered cherries for $1.99 a pound. I bought a few pounds and actually e-mailed my friends to let them know about the deal. I soon realized that all the stores in town had the same deal, as I have since been informed, cherry growers are having an excellent year with some of the best cherries in memory and lots of them. I have gone a little cherry crazy and found myself with a fridge full, so I pulled out some of my best fruit recipes and used cherries, starting with a good-old fashioned buttermilk cake. This makes a great dessert, served with ice cream or whipped cream, or warm up a slice for a real breakfast treat.
Old Time Cherry Buttermilk Cake
2/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup buttermilk, well shaken
1 cup pitted Bing cherries
1 ½ Tablespoons granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter and flour an 8 inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the extracts, then the egg until well mixed.
Meanwhile, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a bowl and set aside.
Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, ending with the flour, in three additions, mixing well after each addition. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, spreading to fill the pan. Place the cherries over the batter, pressing them down slightly. Sprinkle the top of the cake evenly with the granulated sugar.
Bake the cake until a tester inserted in the center of the batter (not a cherry) comes out clean, 25- 30 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. You can loosely tent the pan with foil if the edges start to darken.
Cake can be eaten warm or at room temperature.