When I went to my local farmers market the other day, 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 Upside-Down Cake
- 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 tablespoons almond meal
- 3 tablespoons corn meal
- ¾ cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
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 add 1/3 cup sugar and keep 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, almond extract and buttermilk, beating until combined. Sift the remaining dry ingredients over the batter, then mix until even. 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 over cherries, transfer skillet to oven, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick tests clean, cake slightly bounces back to the touch, and surface is golden brown. Cool at least one hour or overnight, keeping cake at room temperature. Invert on to a plate when ready to serve, heating it 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. 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… If you have an orange on hand, its finely grated zest would be a wonderful addition to this batter, and you can even use its juice in place of the buttermilk. If you don’t care for amaretto essence, freely replace the almond extract with vanilla. To make mock buttermilk, simply add a squeeze of lemon to regular milk – though plain milk will also work fine in this recipe. I’m certain the flour in this cake could be replaced successfully with a gluten-free mix and a scant half-teaspoon of xanthan gum. And perhaps most important: I suggest serving this cake warm with a big scoop of rich vanilla ice cream on top. Whatever you do, enjoy!