Sweet cherry season is here. It is true that tart cherries are in season as well...but tart cherry season is so brief, so ephemeral, that by the time I finish typing this post, it will be over. Sweet cherries on the other hand have a season that is abundant and long. I look forward to it with anticipation every year and start purchasing them the minute I see them at the store. I love them as a snack, but I also love to tuck them into all kinds of preparations, both savory and sweet.
For several years now I have been teaching a class in June featuring items one might find in a French picnic basket. I have always known that it is most likely that such a basket would include fresh fruit instead of dessert (sweet cherries would be perfect)...but also that a little bite of a sweet baked good wouldn't be out of place. Moreover, that little bite of dessert will make all the Americans who take my classes happy. The chocolate, sweet cherry and almond mini cakes that I have been teaching fill the bill quite well: They are chocolate, loaded with cherries (right in the middle of cherry season), easy to pick up and eat with your hands...and developed by a French pastry chef (Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle et Vanille) to boot.
|Aran Goyoaga's original cake (prepared by me...)|
--a delicious...and cute!...little cake...
I like these little cakes a lot, but have always intended to change the recipe just a bit. Even for my mild chocolate preferences, they are never quite as chocolate-y as I would like. Furthermore, as cute as the whole cherry is—perched jauntily on top of each cake—it always seems to give people pause as they consider how to go about eating it. Since I was scheduled to teach this class twice this year, I thought I would take the time during the interim between the two classes to work on a new version.
My altered recipe needed to meet several goals. First, I wanted to keep all of the things I loved about the original—the method of incorporating the almond paste (more on that later), the use of fresh sweet cherries in combination with chocolate and almond, and the size and nature of the cake (it had to be packable and suitable for eating with your fingers). Beyond all of this I wanted cakes that were more intensely chocolate (but not so overpowering in this regard so as to lose the flavors of the almonds and cherries) and I wanted them to be decorated in some simple way that advertised the presence of sweet cherries.
The cake I made met all of my goals. Using more chocolate to get a deeper chocolate flavor was an obvious move. Then, increasing the butter and adding sugar (the original recipe had no sugar other than what was already present in the chocolate and almond paste) gave a moister, denser texture. The final cake is a bit like a cherry and almond brownie. I'm not sure it would meet with French approval....but for Americans who for the most part are in love with fudgy brownies, the new version will probably seem just about right. As for the garnish, I replaced the whole cherry with a scattering of chopped cherries and a shower of finely minced almonds and Turbinado sugar.
I mentioned that I liked the method Goyoaga used to incorporate the almond paste. If you have ever baked a cake that used almond paste you have discovered that it can be difficult to work almond paste into the batter smoothly. For a creaming method cake you can use the power of a stand mixer to beat the paste with the sugar and some cold butter until the almond paste has thinned and smoothed out a bit...thus enabling you to smoothly cream in the remaining butter. But since this cake uses melted butter, you can't use that method. Instead, a small amount of the egg is worked into the almond paste to let it out.
Once a smooth, thinner paste is achieved, the remainder of the egg and sugar can be smoothly incorporated. This egg-sugar-almond paste mixture is then whipped until light and fluffy. I had never encountered this technique before, and I thought it was pretty great. You can work the initial almond paste/small amount of egg with the paddle attachment of the mixer...or even by hand with a wooden spoon.
I was very happy with the way these little cakes turned out. They taste strongly of chocolate and almond...but the cherry flavor comes through beautifully. They are good warm from the oven...but are even better at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator. They really are perfect for a picnic. And, during the course of my testing, I discovered that the batter bakes up beautifully in an 8-inch square baking pan...producing delicious fudgy-creamy, cherry and almond brownies. So, even if you don't have a set of small ramekins, you can still make these little cakes for your next picnic.
Cherry, Almond and Chocolate Mini Cakes
135 g. unsalted butter (4 3/4 oz., 9 1/2 T.)
170 g. bittersweet (60%) chocolate (6 oz.)
170 g. almond paste (6 oz., 9 T.)
3 large eggs
100 g. sugar (1/2 c.)—see note
30 g. flour (1 oz., 1/4 c.)
1/8 t. salt
100 g. cherries (3 1/2 oz., 3/4 c.), pitted and cut into medium dice
3 T. finely minced almonds (20 g.), lightly toasted
3 T. Turbinado sugar (33 g)
Butter and flour 15 2 oz. ramekins and spread the ramekins on a baking sheet.
Melt the butter and chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the almond paste with one egg with the paddle attachment. When this becomes a smooth mixture, add the sugar and beat until smooth. Add the rest of the eggs and switch to the whip attachment. Whip until light and fluffy—about a minute.
Turn the machine to low and add the melted chocolate and butter. Mix until combined.
Sift the flour over the egg-chocolate mixture, add the salt and scatter 2/3 of the cherries over the dry ingredients. Fold everything together.
Using an ice cream scoop, divide the batter among the 15 prepared ramekins (using about 50 grams of batter per cake). Scatter the remaining cherry pieces over the cakes, dividing evenly.
Combine the toasted almonds and Turbinado sugar and sprinkle a teaspoon of this mixture over each cake.
Place the cakes in a 350° oven and bake until a toothpick inserted at the edge comes out clean, but with a few moist crumbs when inserted in the center—depending on your oven somewhere around 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool in for five or ten minutes before turning out of the ramekins. Cool on a wire rack. (The cakes will sink slightly in the center as they cool.)
The cakes are delicious warm, room temperature, and chilled.
- If you do not have any 2 oz. ramekins, you may bake these cakes in a buttered and floured standard-sized muffin pan. You may also bake all of the batter in an 8-inch square baking pan. Butter the pan, line with parchment. Butter the parchment and flour the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into 16 to 24 bars. To cut, use a thin sharp knife dipped in hot water and wiped dry after each cut.
- If you like your chocolate dessert super moist and fudgy, add another 25 grams (2 T.) of sugar to the batter (for a total of 125 g.)
|The moist, fudgy version (with 25 grams extra sugar)|
...made in an 8-inch square pan