By Barbara Beltrami
There’s a bowl of cherries sitting on my kitchen counter, and every time I walk by and pop one into my mouth I think of Irving Berlin’s song about life being just a bowl of cherries and I think, “Really?” But then I remember another line from the song that says “…so live and laugh at it all” and I think, “OK, maybe he was right.”
Before I get any more philosophical, let’s talk about those cherries. True, they are wonderful on their own, and oh so nice to look at when they’re fresh and have a nice green stem and an unblemished dark shiny skin. Like most summer fruits, they don’t last long in that condition, but when they start to go, they also make a darn good clafoutis, pie or scone.
This a French skillet dessert with a flan-like filling and pitted or unpitted cherries. It couldn’t be easier or quicker to make unless you insist on pitting the cherries, which I always feel I should do if it’s for company.
YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 tablespoon unsalted butter for greasing
1¼ cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cherry liqueur or brandy
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
Pinch of salt or to taste
¾ cup flour
3 cups pitted or unpitted dark cherries, stems removed
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet or baking dish with butter. In a blender or food processor, combine the milk, sugar, liqueur, extracts, eggs, salt and flour; blend until smooth. Pour into skillet, then evenly scatter cherries on top. Bake until a golden crust has formed on top and bottom (lift gently with a spatula to check) and a sharp instrument inserted in center comes out clean. When cooled to warm or room temperature, dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve with iced coffee or tea in summer and hot coffee or tea in winter or a dessert wine any time.
Forever linked in American lore with George Washington and his honesty, cherry pie is so much more than the subject of a presidential tale. In fact, it may well be the queen of American fruit pies.
YIELD: Makes 8 servings
2 crusts for a 9-inch pie
4 cups fresh cherries, pitted
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
2/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons butter
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 450 F. For the bottom crust, making sure it overlaps the edges, line a 9-inch pie plate with rolled-out dough. Mix cherries with tapioca, sugar and extract. Let stand for 15 minutes. Pour into pie plate. Dot with butter. Cover with a second circle of rolled-out dough (be sure to make slits so the steam can escape) or woven lattice strips cut from the dough. Bake 10 minutes at 450 F, then lower heat to 350 F and bake another 35 to 40 minutes, until crust is golden and cherry mixture is bubbly and thickened. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Serve these cherry scones warm from the oven and your guests are sure to enjoy them. Scones are traditionally served with jam and clotted cream, a British cross between butter and whipped cream; but it’s hard to find, bothersome to make and not for the uninitiated palate anyway. Really good Irish creamery butter is better, I think.
YIELD: Makes about 12 scones
2 cups flour plus 2 tablespoons
1 scant teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons cold butter
¾ cup cream
½ cup pitted chopped fresh cherries
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 450 F. In a food processor, combine the two cups flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Using pulse button, add the butter, one tablespoon at a time until it is completely blended. Beat two of the eggs with the cream and pulse once or twice only to blend with ingredients in processor. Stir in the cherries (do not pulse). Scrape the dough onto a board dusted with the remaining two tablespoons flour. Knead 10 or 12 times, then press into a one-inch thick rectangle. Using a biscuit cutter or glass, cut dough into 2-inch rounds and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Being careful not to overwork it, press the remaining dough into a new rectangle and repeat procedure. Mix third egg with one tablespoon water and brush tops of scones with it. Bake until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Serve with butter and cherry jam, coffee or tea.