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Cherries mean summer. 7 easy dessert recipes for pie, cake, clafoutis and more

Sweet cherry pie
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)
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Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. That’s the sound my cherry pitter makes when I’m removing the seeds from the fruit. Every year, I think, “Cherries? Already?” But here we are in full cherry season (the window between blossoms and ready-to-harvest fruit is so short). And I have pounds of them.

One of the great things about cherries (besides their burst of deliciousness and gorgeous garnet color) is that they’re picked when ripe, unlike many other stone fruit, so if you’re buying them at the supermarket, they’re often as juicy and flavorful as ones from farmer’s markets.

Cherry juice squirts as far as the backsplash on my counter, splatters my clothes, stains my fingers. It’s worth it for pie. Or clafoutis. Or pavlova. Or upside down cake. Or brandied cherries. The latter might be one of the easiest ways to use cherries in a spectacular way.

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Cherries, brandy, red wine, Armagnac, orange liqueur, a vanilla pod, a little cinnamon, cracked black pepper and orange zest make these cherries especially delicious (and your kitchen will smell like spiced almond blossoms). Simmer these ingredients until the mixture is syrupy — it takes only about 20 minutes — and the brandied cherries can keep for months in the refrigerator. Use them over ice cream or on top of pavlova or with shortcakes and some whipped crème fraîche.

An easy cherry-dessert recipe is clafoutis. It bakes up like a big, custardy, fruity pancake-meets-flan-meets-soufflé. Remarkably, one traditional way to make cherry clafoutis is by using the fruit with the pits. So you don’t have to remove any seeds (you just have to be careful about them when eating). Come to think of it, you could make the brandied cherries with the pits too.

For clafoutis, fill the bottom of a casserole with cherries in a single layer. Whisk a few eggs, some flour, sugar, a little milk and cream, and pour this over the layer of cherries so that they’re barely covered. Bake until the custard is just set (still jiggly in the center) and golden brown at the edges. Spoon it warm into bowls.

But what’s summer without cherry pie, baked until the fruit is gelled and the crust is crisp and flaky? Make a whole pie with a lattice crust or individually sized hand pies with a little rye flour in the dough for a nutty crust that complements cherries.

Here are several cherry recipes for baking in the coming weeks, while the fruit is still around — the season goes by so fast.

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Sweet Cherry Pie

Juicy garnet cherries make for a luscious pie rich with fruitiness. The texture and flavor of fresh cherries eclipses those of canned. Grand Marnier and vanilla give this filling a little more depth.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 30 minutes. Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.

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Sweet Cherry pie
(Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times)

Pavlova With Vanilla Whipped Cream and Pistachios

This is the pavlova I want to make every summer. A giant meringue filled with vanilla-scented whipped cream and topped with berries. But you could easily substitute some of the berries with cherries, which are just as delicious with pistachios as strawberries or blueberries, if not more.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 20 minutes. Serves 10 to 12.

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Cherry Clafoutis

Clafoutis is a recipe from south-central France that goes back hundreds of years, and the name is derived from the word clafir, to fill — as in fill the batter with cherries.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.

Cherry clafoutis
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Cherry Almond Upside-Down Cake

This is a party cake with a jammy cherry-on-top layer. Almond paste adds sweetness and nutty flavor to boost that of the cherries here. The day before you plan to bake the cake, pit and cook the cherries.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 55 minutes. Serves 8.

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Cherry almond ripple cake.
(Leslie Grow/For The Times)

Cherry Rye Hand Pies

The rye flour in the crust for these hand pies adds a subtle, nutty complexity that complements the brightness of the cherries doused in balsamic vinegar and Madiera wine.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 2 hours. Makes 12.

Rye-caraway-cherry hand pies from pastry chef Sarah Lange.
(Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

Chocolate Shortcakes With Brandied Cherries

These shortcakes are made with cocoa and chopped bittersweet chocolate and a little espresso. Use fresh fruit here instead of dried for the brandied cherries, to poach in Armagnac, orange liqueur, cinnamon, peppercorns and orange zest.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes. Serves 8.

Chocolate shortcakes with brandied cherries
(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

Cherry, Honey and Fennel Bread

Make this whole-grain bread studded with cherries, toasted pine nuts and fragrant fennel seeds. Mix, bake and cool (resist the urge to cut this bread hot) and you’ve got great breakfast bread. Smear it with honey butter and drink with coffee.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes. Serves 12.

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Cherry, honey and fennel bread
(Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)

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