Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Valentine's Day Delight: North Star Cherry Upside Down Cake

For Valentine’s Day I always surprise Tom with an exquisite dessert. For the past few years, I’ve used pie cherries, grown and harvested by my friends Liz Eggers and Michael Hampel at Grouse Mountain Farm near Chelan.

Last July, I splurged on these treasures. They glimmer like jewels in the sun and the flavor is so perfect that I can’t imagine not buying them. So, in spite of the high price ($8 to $9.75 a pound last season) I stocked up and froze my favorites (North Stars).

The idea for this recipe sprang from a pineapple upside-down cake recipe plucked from Mom’s old recipe box. Though the card had several cooking stains on it, I can’t ever remember Mom making this cake. The recipe was a simple vanilla cake with baked fruit and as soon as I saw it, I thought that peaches or cherries, not pineapple, would enhance this cake. Who really likes canned pineapple anyway?

When I tried the cake with cherries, I was an instant convert. The flavors can only be described as heavenly--that tingly feeling that only perfect summer fruit delivers.

My cherries lose a little of the summer shine in the freezer but the taste is still complex with tart and sweet cherry tones zinging around my mouth.

This recipe comes from my book: The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook. It's available for pre-order at Timber Press, a long-established Northwest publishing company. The book will be available for sale in May.

Cherry Upside-Down Cake
Pie cherries are the stars of this show. My favorites are North Star pie cherries from Grouse Mountain Farm near Chelan. This recipe is meant for fresh cherries, so when using frozen fruit, increase the arrowroot to 3 tablespoons. If you don’t have arrowroot, you can substitute 1 1/2 tablespoons organic cornstarch. If you don’t have Northwest pie cherries in your freezer, don’t try canned, these are so inferior they're barely worth mentioning. Instead, substitute frozen local berries and adjust the sweetener.

3 cups pie cherries, pitted
1/2 teaspoon chopped lemon zest
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon arrowroot
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1/3 cup milk, or vanilla soy milk
1 3/4 cup Nash’s Soft Winter Wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
1egg, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly oil a 9-inch cake pan. Combine cherries, lemon zest, sugar, arrowroot powder and 2 tablespoons lemon juice in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat until the liquid is clear and thick, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
2. Mix the milk and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice together in a small bowl. Combine the flour, baking powder and baking soda in another bowl. Cream the sugar and butter together in another bowl until soft and creamy. Add the egg and stir until creamy.
3. Make a well in the dry ingredients. Stir in half of the milk, then add half of the egg-butter-sugar mixture. Repeat. The consistency should be on the thick side.
4. Place an even layer of cherries on the bottom of the fake pan. Spread the cake batter on top.
5. Bake until the cake lightly springs back when touched, about 40 minutes. Cool, then cut the cake and flip it over to serve.

North Star pie cherries dominated the scene in this recipe, but Nash's flour transformed a plain cake into a sweet caramelized delight. The edges were slightly crispy. If you don't have access to Nash's flour, get some wheat berries and grind your own wheat flour. You'll taste the difference freshly ground flour imparts right away.

This was all that was left for Finn. He's a little disappointed with one cherry for the kitchen assistant.

I made this dessert early because we had to sample it to see if it was good enough for Valentine's Day. Truth be told, I'm more fond of cherries than Tom and maybe this holiday is just an excuse for my cherry cake. Lucky for me, I discovered two more containers of these seasonal gems in my freezer. Get the candles out, I guess Tom will taste this sweet cake for Valentine's Day after all.

What’s your secret local food desire for Valentine’s Day?


Ivy said...

Raspberries with chocolate!

Debra Daniels-Zeller said...

Love that! Your Raspberry Truffle Cake in your Farm to Table Cookbook was so good!