Food. Story Telling. Discovery.

Cherry Almond Cake

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[NOTE:  Another oldie, but goodie. When I first typed in the title, "cherry" was "cheery" and for once I believe my careless fingers meant this typo for this cake summons up the warmth, sunshine, and pleasant feeling of summer. Which, quite frankly, we could all use considering the wonky state of climactic things around the country. So whether you're shriveling from merciless heat or wondering if fall came early, this cake in its simplicity and straightforward flavor will at least give you the taste of a true summer. Try it with some homemade creme fraiche.]

Yes, I suck at baking. Yes, I've been trying my hand at a few recipes requiring flour, some sort of leavening agent, all manner of seasoning and the suffocating heat of the oven. Call me a masochist, but the last few dishes I've made had me peeking over the oven door to see if things had gotten golden brown.

Sometimes, you have to do things that will hurt. In my case, it involves baking. First, biscuits. Now a cake. The inspiration came from a phenomenal woman I know, Susan Massey. This all-around gorgeous human being and food stylist extraordinaire arrived at a dinner party with this cake. Not just any cake. But a Cherry Almond Cake.

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It was composed so that I thought surely, this required some amount of crying, brow beating and praying. But Susan assured me, soothingly, that the recipe was rather easy. Her friend Tori Ritchie is the source of this easy cake. And I say easy with the utmost confidence. Even smugness.

I like the recipe for its simplicity. A cake batter, rather thick, you beat with sugar and add all the usual suspects. This time around you spike it with almond extract then pour over some pitted cherries for good measure. Another things I love about this cake is that unlike other recipes that usually call for two pounds of fruit, this one only requires 1/4-pound of fresh cherries. That's before they've been pitted with a knife or a fancy contraption. And the frozen cherries I stashed away work beautifully, too. No need to thaw, simply tumble them in, a little less than 1/4-pounds worth.

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As with all recipes, I changed things up a bit. A bit less sugar in the batter. More almonds. More time (my erratic oven requires some extra time). And the sugar sprinkled right at the end, the moment the cake leaves the oven and as it sits quietly to cool. The mosaic of almonds, granulated sugar and fruit is lovely -- almost as if a professional bakery had done the job.

But really, it was just me.

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Cherry Almond Cake  [Serves 8]

Torie Ritchie's site is a wealth of good recipes. I thank her and our mutual friend Susan for the inspiration for this cake. The batter would also be suited to peaches and other stone fruit. Maria at Two Peas and Their Pod recently posted on her delicious peach almond cake -- there's inspiration everywhere.

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened * 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar * 1 cup all-purpose flour * 1 teaspoon baking powder * Pinch salt * 2 eggs * 1 teaspoon almond extract * about 1/4 pound cherries, pitted * 1/4 cup sliced almonds

With a stand mixer or a hand mixer, beat the softened butter with the 3/4 cup of sugar until it has the consistency of a buttercream. It'll be lighter than it was before, fluffy and light. Dump in the flower, baking powder, salt, eggs and almond extract into the butter mixture and mix lightly just until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Scrape the batter into a greased 8-inch cake pan. To grease it, you can melt butter and brush the interior of the pan generously with the melted butter or take a stick of butter, unwrap one end, holding the other wrapped end with your hand. Take the exposed side and rub it vigorously into the pan. Or, you can do what I do by taking some softened butter (sitting out at room temperature) with your fingers and massaging the lot around until every bit of metal surface is glossy with butterfat. The batter will be thick so don't be afraid to spread it around with a spatula. Make an even surface.

Sprinkle over the cherries and almonds. Don't worry about pushing down the fruit -- the batter will puff up and envelop it during baking. Place the pan into a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Place in the middle rack and cook about 50 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool completely.

Once ready, place a plate over the cooled cake pan and invert the cake. You might have to shake it a bit to get the contents out. If it's a bit sticky, use a small paring knife and cut along the edge of the pan to loosen the almond cake. Then try it again. Once the cake has come out of the pan, take another plate and place it on top of the now free cake and invert the plates so that when you're done the cherry-almond mosaic sits upright and stares at you with intense aromas.

Serve as dessert, breakfast or snack. Great with whipped cream scented with herbs or creme fraiche.