Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Cherry Jubilee

A bowl of cherries by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

We’re told to eat fresh and eat local and some days, that’s really easy. Squash, greens and watermelon are plentiful at local markets. But imagine the things you couldn’t live without, the good fruits and vegetables that don't grow in your climate. For my husband, if we ate local every day, every week of the year, the thing he would miss most would be cherries.

My sweet husband is from Macon, Georgia, known for its cherry trees, some 300,000 trees, that turn the streets to pink every spring. But as spectacular as the trees are to view, they are just the ornamental variety, the Yoshino. We have a few of the trees in our yard, and they are glorious to view, but sadly, not fruit-bearing.

I grew up in peach country, and the only cherries I remember from my red clay South Carolina girlhood are Luden’s Wild Cherry Cough Drops and the cherry on the top of the ice cream sundae from the Little Moo Dairy Barn. These days, eating cherries every May and June when they come into the markets here from Michigan and the Pacific Northwest, is a ritual. I remember in particular an abundant spring a few years ago when the cherries were 99 cents a pound and we loaded up at the store and ate cherries by the handful, like giddy sub-prime mortgage lenders before the bust.
We still eat cherries out of hand, but have a few recipes that showcase their sweetness and substantial texture. For convenience sake, I usually buy frozen, (which can be as expensive as fresh). Here are a couple of recipes, one using fresh and the other frozen.

The cherry focaccia is an adaptation from "Focaccia" by Carol Field. I substituted fresh sweet cherries for the wine grapes in the Schiacciata Bursting with Grapes recipe. Warm from the oven, it makes an indulgent breakfast or rustic dessert.
The cherry soup is appropriate for a first course or dessert, or in my house, breakfast. Chilled fruit soups are great kid-pleasers. Make a big deal out of a rimmed soup plate and real soup spoon and let the kids play little lord and lady with this absolutely yummy soup.

cherry soup
Chilled cherry soup by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Chilled Cherry SoupAdapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons cold water
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 lb. dark sweet pitted cherries (I used frozen)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 ½ tablespoons heavy cream

1. Combine 3 cups water, sugar, zest and cinnamon in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve sugar and boil for two minutes. Add cherries, return to a boil and boil for two more minutes.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons cornstarch, then whisk into boiling cherry mixture. Simmer, whisking all the while, until slightly thickened, about two minutes. Remove from heat, cool completely, then refrigerate for at least two hours. (I like a smooth texture with this soup, so I pureed the fruit and strained out the pulp before serving.)

3. Just before serving, thin sour cream with cream. Pour soup into bowls and drizzle with cream.

cherry focaccia
Cherry Bread by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Cherry FocacciaAdapted from Focaccia by Carol Field

2 teaspoons instant yeast (or active dry)
¼ cup sugar
1 cup warm water
1 cup plus two teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons apple juice (or water)
3 tablespoons warm water
2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into eight pieces

2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved
Demerara sugar

1. To make the sponge: Whisk the yeast and sugar into the warm water in a large bowl and let stand until frothy, about 10 minutes. Gradually stir in flour, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand until doubled, about 30 to 45 minutes.

2. To make the dough: Either by hand or with an electric mixer, add the apple juice, water and salt to the sponge. Gradually add flour. Beat in the butter one piece at a time until fully incorporated. Knead by hand for about five minutes or with a mixer for three. The dough should be smooth, stretchy and elastic.

3. First rise: Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.

4. Second rise: Divide the dough into four equal pieces and roll each into a ball. Place on a lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for one hour. About a half hour before baking time, place a baking stone in your oven and preheat the oven to 425°.

5. Lightly oil two 10-inch metal pie pans or springform pans. Take one round of dough and flatten it so that it fills the bottom of the pan. Cover with a ½ cup of halved cherries and sprinkle with a tablespoon of demerara sugar. Flatten and stretch a second dough ball and cover the cherry layer. Pinch the edges to seal. Cover with a layer of cherries and a final sprinkle of sugar. Make a second bread with remaining dough and cherries.

6. Place the baking pans on the baking stone in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 375° and bake until the top is golden brown, another 18 to 25 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack, but not too much, this is divine when warm. Leftovers should be wrapped tightly and stored in refrigerator.

cherry focaccia halves
Cherry Bread by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Text & Images © 2010, Lucy Mercer.
Cherry soup recipe adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, © 2004.
Cherry focaccia recipe adapted from Focaccia by Carol Field © 1994.

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