Sour cherry cake was the signature dish of my house when I was growing up (apart from burned kettle, which is another story altogether).
We had a small garden and in it a few sour cherry trees. I think it started with just the one tree that my parents had bought when my sister was born, and then another 6 were allowed to grow from fallen fruit or pits. I say allowed to grow because every year for Easter my sister and I would pick up the shoots of sour cherry and linden trees that were growing in our garden (which would not have been able to accommodate any more trees) and we used them as decoration for our dyed Easter eggs. So with these 7 sour cherry trees, we named our garden after Chekhov’s play. Every spring it would become blooming white, and every summer we would climb up the tree (only one was big and strong enough to hold us, the rest were picked in the less exciting way of using a ladder or the fence to stand on) to pick the fruit, then spend hours in the kitchen taking out the pits, taking turns at who would use one of the only two utensils we had at the time. I cannot tell you how red our fingers would be afterwards! And probably our mouths too…
The our mom would make 3 things. The first was definitely our least favourite one and did not always get consumed: sour cherry compote. The second was always a big hit: sour cherry cake with fresh sour cherries. And the third was preserving the rest of the sour cherries for future cakes. The cake that we made with her was using a classic recipe with what I now consider a lot of sugar. I believe the only reason why this wasn’t a huge problem when I was growing up is that we had little to no access to other kinds of junk food and processed stuff, and we didn’t have cake every day either. But today, I wouldn’t use the same recipe anymore.
When we made this cake, my sister and I had designated tasks: she would whisk the egg whites, I would mix the sugar and egg yolks. Since she is older than me, she was also allowed to mix the final bit: The Adding of the Flour (it was kind of a mystical thing for me when I started as assistant laughable baker). As we grew older, I was also allowed to do more and even man the machine (mixer), which was a very big step for me.
So this cake is kind of a big thing for us. And it is one that I would like for my kids to be familiar with. Like I said before, today I do not use the same recipe we used back then, because I find it has too much sugar (surprise, surprise!). So this is what I use instead.
A quick note on sour cherries: I have received all kinds of weird looks for this, as most people I’ve met do not know what they are. They are not unripe cherries, they are a different fruit that is still rather sour when fully ripe. If you can’t get a hold of these, use a sour fruit instead. I tried once with normal cherries, but you need the contrast between the sweetness of the cake and the sourness of the fruit; otherwise, it becomes nauseatingly sweet. I haven’t found a place to buy mine, I have my mom preserve some for me every year. I can’t wait for the new batch!
For the cake:
2 Tbsp honey / maple syrup
5 spoonfuls* whole-wheat flour, sifted
1 tsp ground cinnamon (sifted with the flour)
sour cherries (as many as you wish)
For the cream:
1 Tbsp honey / maple syrup
1 Tbsp raw cacao powder
vanilla seeds (optional)
Preheat the oven at 175° C and line a spring cake tin with baking paper. De-seed the vanilla pod and sprinkle flour over the sour cherries, making sure they are all lightly coated with it.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, honey / maple syrup and vanilla seeds with an electric mixer until they become fairly stiff. This can take a while, depending on the power of the mixer. Either way, be prepared to devote at least 10 minutes to this. Using a spatula, fold in the sifted flour and cinnamon, one tablespoon at a time. Do not over mix, or it will collapse. The same goes when you add too much flour.
Pour the batter in the tin and place it as low as possible in the oven. Leave it in for a couple of minutes, then quickly scatter the sour cherries around the cake. Waiting a little before adding the sour cherries is important, because they are heavy and will drop to the bottom if the cake hasn’t had time to set a little. But if you wait too long, they will just sit on top of it (that is also pretty, but the sour cherries will dry out). Then lower the temperature to 150° C, and let it bake for about 45′, or until lightly golden and a pick inserted comes out clean.
The cream is totally optional, I used it this time to give the cake a more festive air. So if you choose to use it, beat the mascarpone with the honey or maple syrup (and vanilla, if using) for a few minutes while the cake is cooling down . It is important to use a liquid sweetener here to loosen the mixture a little bit. Split the mixture in two, and mix in the cacao to one of them. Use the two to decorate the cake, I had simple mascarpone cream on the sides, the cacao one in the middle and thinly spread on top of the whole cake. But you can let your imagination run wild here…
*The tablespoons here are not the standard measuring units, I will have to convert them one day. This is because the recipes of old times used cups and spoons already in the house, and this is how this recipe has been passed on. I would say, use a medium tablespoon and don’t level it, but don’t try to take as much flour as possible either. I know, very precise. But the batter needs to be airy, so stop adding flour if it looks like it will become too dense if you go up to 5. (mine did get a bit dense, as may be seen in the pictures)