On a recent visit to my local farmers market, I fell into a familiar rapture. Enjoying the late-day sun and the soft breeze from the bay, I strolled around soaking up the lively chatter, vivid colors, and the fact that I had the evening free. Everyone there seemed to be in a good mood somehow, and I was no exception.
The man selling cherries was particularly kind. His table was full of those square, green berry baskets; they were overflowing with a vivid, burgundy bounty. He poured my basket into a paper bag and, smiling, added an extra handful. At that moment I decided I’d create a new indulgence out of the cherries as soon as I got home. Here’s what I made.
Cherry Skillet Cake (serves 8-10)
- About 1.5 pounds fresh cherries
- 1 cup sugar, divided into thirds
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 eggs, divided
- ¼ cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 3/4 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons almond meal (from skin-on almonds, not blanched almond flour)
- 3 tablespoons corn meal
- finely grated zest of an orange or lemon
Wash, pit, and remove stems from cherries, placing them directly into a 10” oven safe skillet (such as cast iron). Fit them tightly around the edges of the pan; they can be a little looser toward the center if you don’t have enough for a tight fit all the across the pan. Sprinkle evenly with 1/3 cup sugar and pieces of 2 tablespoons butter placed here and there. Place over medium heat and let cook for about 5 minutes, until very bubbly, sugar and butter have disappeared, and a caramely aroma is present. Remove skillet from heat and turn off burner.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer on medium/high until frothy and white, then gradually add 1/3 cup sugar while beating. Continue beating until they’re opaque and hold soft to medium peaks. In a separate bowl, beat ½ cup butter with egg yolks until pale and smooth, then add 1/3 cup sugar, buttermilk, and almond extract, beating until combined.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the batter, and mix to incorporate. In a small bowl, quickly whisk together the almond and corn meals to remove any lumps, then add to batter and beat until evenly distributed. Fold in the citrus zest until evenly scattered.
Gently fold in the egg whites, starting with just one scoop to loosen up the batter, then slowly incorporate it all, stopping just when color and texture are uniform. (Don’t overmix.) Spread batter evenly over cherries, and transfer skillet to oven.
Bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick tests clean, cake slightly bounces back to the touch, and surface is golden brown. Cool at least an hour (or up to overnight) at room temperature. Invert onto plate when ready to serve; heat for a few seconds on the stovetop if it’s stubborn about loosening from the pan.
Moist, soft and light, this skillet cake makes a wonderful dessert or even breakfast. Its flecks of corn and almond offer a remarkable texture alongside the juicy cherry topping, while the citrus zest adds a balance of tangy brightness. Indeed, with their surprising hint of homemade caramel, these tart cherries are sure to remind you of summer’s sweet abundance. They might even lure you to an enchanted farmers market like the one where I found mine, even if imaginary.
Maybe next time… The amount of sugar added to the cooking cherries helps to create a caramely topping on the finished cake, but you can reduce that portion down to as little as 2 tablespoons if your cherries are quite sweet and your priority isn’t the echo of caramel. (Don’t reduce the other amounts of sugar, in the meringue and batter.) If you don’t care for an amaretto essence, freely replace the almond extract with vanilla. To make mock buttermilk, simply whisk a squeeze of lemon into regular milk – though plain milk will also work fine in this recipe. For an extra decadent treat, serve the cake warm with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Whatever you do, enjoy!