For the sake of full disclosure, you need to know that this recipe for sour cherry upside down cake is recycled with only a little modification from last year’s model: a peach cake in the same style. In the previous edition, I claimed that the point of the recipe was to rehabilitate the upside down cake genre, which has been saddled with all manner of unfortunate business like canned pineapple rings, cheapy maraschino cherries, and an aesthetic that screams at the top of its little pastry lungs: I’ve just come from the 1950s, and I’m here to help!
In that post, I said that this cake calls for two key modifications that make it a delight, rather than a chore, to eat: 1) I use real fruit and only real fruit in this recipe, eschewing the canned stuff in favor of whatever is local and in season; and 2) I’ve turned this into a yogurt-based cake, which leads to a texture that is moist but not soggy, and that adds just the tiny bit of creamy tang you need to complement the acidity of the fruit.
Today, I declare upside down cake officially rehabilitated (or at least that my part of that project is complete). And I post this recipe not to highlight the cakey bits, but as an excuse to show you my absolute favorite stone fruit: the small, delicate, delicious sour cherry.
Sour cherries are formerly very popular. According to the (admittedly cursory) research that I’ve done, there were more than fifty widely-grown cultivars of the fruit before World War II, appearing across England and continental Europe, Asia and the United States. They had been a favorite in the time of King Henry VIII (I am, I am), and were among the first trees planted by the colonists at Massachusetts Bay.
Today, according to the Canadians, there are fewer than a half dozen cultivars, the most popular being the Morello, which is very old, of unknown origin, and among the simplest, highest-yield varieties to grow. The problem is that even the highest yield varieties aren’t actually that high yield. Birds adore sour cherries, too, and rain causes them to split much more easily than their sweet cousins. And so they’re fairly rare to find in the market, and they can only be had for a couple of weeks out of the year.
Which makes me sad, because they’re the right fruit for making Kriek lambic (the classic Belgian sour beer), Kirsch (the eye-wateringly strong fruit brandy), and ginjinha (you’ll see when I post a recipe in a couple of weeks). And because they make one mean upside down cake.
Fortunately, I have an in with some of the best, nicest farmers around. And they set three quarts of sour cherries aside for me to fuel this week’s experiment, and the ginjinha that’s still to come.
I have to admit: I actually had a little bit of trepidation about turning sour cherries into an upside down cake. I was concerned before baking that because the cherries have so much juice, the cake would come out soggy. And I was concerned when I first plated the cake that my fears, in fact, had been justified.
But though the upside down cake looked a little wet right out of the oven, it turns out that I had nothing to worry about, after all. It set up very nicely in the end. The cherry flavor blended well, especially with the ginger flavor in the cake. And by the time I got around to serving the thing, it exceeded my expectations.
Of the cake, blog contributor and baker extraordinaire Elizabeth proclaimed: It’s like eating cherry gingerbread! Gingerbread, she said, needs something creamy and something tart to go with it. And this fits on all counts.
I can’t think of a higher recommendation than hers on any culinary matter. And so I think that I’m going to stop while I’m ahead, and simply tell you this: when sour cherries come into season in your area, don’t wait. Buy them right now and make this cake. Because when you go to get them next week, or even in a couple of days, the odds are that they will all be gone. And missing out on sour cherries would be a sad state, indeed.
1 quart Sour Cherries
1.5 cups Unbleached AP White Flour
1 cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter (plus a little more to grease the pan)
1/2 cup Yogurt
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Ginger
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
Preheat your oven to 375F. Wash the sour cherries, pit them, and pat them thoroughly dry with paper towels. Thoroughly grease an eight-inch cake pan, and sprinkle a half cup of brown sugar evenly across the bottom. Then arrange your fruit on top of the sugar.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and the rest of the sugar. Beat in the egg, and then the yogurt. And then, a third at a time, add the flour mixture, beating until it all comes together as a thick batter.
Scrape the batter into the cake pan, and carefully spread it over the top of the cherries with a spatula, being sure to disturb the fruit as little as possible. Then bake for about forty minutes, or until a knife stuck into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
When the cake is done baking, wait five minutes to let it cool just a little. Then run a knife around the edges to separate the cake from the walls of the pan, turn it over onto a plate, and give it a forceful rap on its bottom to dislodge the fruit. Lift, wiggling the pan as you go, and the cake should release.
The key to getting the upside down cake to release from the bottom of the pan is to act boldly. It is possible, however, that despite your bravest efforts, some fruit will stick. When this happens, don’t worry. Pick the fruit out of the pan and place it on the cake manually. Nobody will ever know the difference.