Growing up in Maine, summer was always a short season. It tends to sneak up on you in June and then, before you know it, there’s a red tinge to the leaves and a chill in the air. And because summer goes by in a flash, we learn to take advantage of what the season has to offer before it’s too late.
Dark sweet cherries adorn grocery store shelves and farmers markets come summer. Knowing that their availability is limited, it’s easy to go overboard. When you’ve got more cherries than you know what to do with, look no further than this simple Cherry Cake that won’t make you break a sweat.
This is a rich butter cake flavored with almond extract and studded with fresh sweet cherries. It’s wonderful as a snacking cake that can be served for breakfast or dessert, so you can enjoy cherries all day long.
What Makes this Cake Special?
I wanted this cake to have a buttery base dense enough to support the cherries, but still have a soft crumb. It’s a single layer cake, thick enough for a hearty slice, but not so thick that the cherry flavor gets lost in the cake. The cherries don’t sink into the cake because of the thick batter, which leaves the crimson fruit in full display.
The cake is flavored with almond extract rather than the usual vanilla. Almonds and cherries are actually related (genus Prunus), and the robust bitter almond flavor is a natural pairing with juicy stone fruits.
While there is a high proportion of sugar, the cake isn’t overly sweet as it’s balanced by the bitterness of the almond extract and the acidity of the cherries. Sugar acts as a humectant, attracting moisture from the environment. This makes the cake moist and helps it keep longer.
Best Cherries for Cherry Cake
Cherries come in many shades of red, from the pink and yellow Rainier to the almost black Bing.
They can be crisp and firm, soft and juicy, and their flavor ranges from sweet to sour. According to The Oxford Companion to Food there over 1,000 varieties of cherries to choose from, so you may be wondering what the best cherries for baking are.
Save the sour cherries for pie filling and jam. They tend to be too tart to eat on their own and benefit from the extra sweetness of cooking them in a syrup.
Because the cherries are simply pressed into the batter before baking, this cake works best with fresh, sweet cherries such as Bing, Rainier or Chelan. Fresh cherries are preferable because the extra moisture in frozen or canned cherries would water down the batter.
Tips and Tricks for Making Homemade Cherry Cake
While this is a straight-forward cake to bake, there are a few things that will ensure your cherry cake comes out flawlessly.
- Use room temperature ingredients. The moisture in the eggs and fat in the butter form an emulsion. If the eggs or butter are too cold, the emulsion will break and the batter may clump. If the batter does curdle, you can add a couple tablespoons of the flour and mix just until it becomes smooth again.
- Try not to overbeat the eggs. If too much air gets introduced into the batter it can expand too much in the oven, making the cake seem dry. As soon as the eggs are fully incorporated into the butter and sugar mixture and the batter is smooth, continue to the next step.
- To pit the cherries the easiest is to use a cherry pitter. If you don’t have a cherry pitter, there are still a few ways you can remove the pits so they’re ready for baking.
How to Adapt Cherry Cake
It’s easy to make this cake your own by using other fruits and flavorings. Here are a few suggestions:
- Substitute 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract.
- Swap cherries for other stone fruits like peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, or a mix. Slice larger fruits into wedges and arrange the slices on top of the batter before baking.
- Add a little lemon zest to the batter for a zing of citrus.
How to Serve Cherry Cake
This cherry cake is excellent on its own, especially with a cup of coffee for breakfast or for an afternoon break.
If you do want to dress it up, rather than a glaze serve it with a light dusting of powdered sugar so the cherries still stand out. You could also try serving it with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
How to Store Cherry Cake
The cake can be kept for 3 days well wrapped at room temperature, or up to a week in the refrigerator. The cake will soften a bit over time. If stored in the fridge, take the cake out an hour before serving to take the chill off.
The cake may also be frozen for up to 3 months. Let the cake defrost at room temperature before serving.
- 2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (227g) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/4 cups (250g) granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 1/2 cups (394g) fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted
Preheat oven and prepare cake pan:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch springform cake pan with butter. Use your hands to dust the pan lightly with flour, then tap out any excess.
Combine the dry ingredients:
In a medium bowl, add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk until combined.
Beat the butter and sugar:
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Incorporate the eggs and extract:
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated after each addition. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula halfway through. The batter should be smooth, light, and fluffy. If the emulsion breaks after adding the eggs and the batter has separated, you can add a couple tablespoons of the flour and mix just until it becomes smooth again.
Add the almond extract and mix on low speed to combine.
Add the dry ingredients:
Beat in the flour mixture on low speed, or gently fold it in with a rubber spatula, just until combined and no streaks of flour remain.
Transfer batter to cake pan and add cherries:
Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan. Lightly press the pitted cherries into the batter, making a circular pattern. Don’t press them in too deep or the cake will envelop them while baking.
Bake the cake:
Bake the cake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. The cake should be golden and will have risen around the whole cherries, which should still be visible on top.
Remove from the oven. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes before unmolding. Let it cool completely on a wire rack before serving.