Thursday, July 1, 2010

Market Report: Cherubs & Cherries

Love is in the air, and cherries are at the market! Amanda flies in next week from LA, and we’re planning to catch up in the kitchen before we both make our way to summertime weddings; she’s off to a lavish affair right here in New York City, while I make my way up north to Vermont to watch my childhood best friend (and former Buffalo neighbor), Carrie, get hitched on a mountaintop in Stowe!

Anticipating that I’ll need a break from baking the massive cupcake tower I’ve been preparing for Carrie’s wedding–a project that can only be rivaled by the 7,000 cookies Erin and I baked for Topshop’s Soho launch­­–I’ve enlisted Mandikins to come keep me company in mia cuncina and taste the cherry pie I have waiting for her in my freezer.

Air, sunlight and heat, coming from someplace other than my oven, were what I needed when I set out for the Union Square Farmers’ Market yesterday in search of cherries. Along with watermelon and tomatoes, cherries are a quintessential summer staple that packs the perfect balance of sweet and sour between bites laced with obvious sexual innuendos. Holding the deeply red, bursting berry fruit by its stem, forcing stem apart from flesh with teeth, the resulting pop it makes upon separation always makes the act of eating cherries vaguely carnal, very sexy, and my favorite redhead’s signature fruit.

While cherries found in supermarkets are typically of one variety and color, the cherries found at farmers’ markets are in every hue from light blush Royal Anns to the almost-purple-they’re-so-dark Stella variety. In Union Square I sampled dark red Lapins, the shape and color of lipsticked lips, letting their dark juices run down my chin. I tasted Rainer cherries, that hybrid cherry with a mild, almost peach-like taste with yellow and red peach-like coloring. These little orbs looked like miniature Tequila Sunrises! Not a bad idea, I concluded, headed home with bags of cherries to bake a pie and garnish my glass.

It occurred to me then that a fresh summer cherry garnish would also make the perfect topping for the Maple Manhattan cupcakes I was assembling for Carrie’s nuptials. Of course, a fresh fruit is always preferable to canned, but this past Valentine’s Day I treated my Tribe to a fat-free cherry angelfood cake made from jarred maraschino cherries in their juice. A suitable substitute come winter, these cherries produced a fluffy pink cake that was as guiltless going down that night, as it was when made into French Toast the next morning. Amanda claims the angelfood was the best part of my love-inspired menu, but I think the cherub I shared breakfast with may have taken the cake.

Photo Courtesty of Max Lau

Guiltless Cherry Angelfood Cake:              (serves a Tribe)

  • 1 ½ cups Egg Whites (about 1 dozen eggs, at room temperature)
  • 1 ¼ t Cream of Tartar
  • 1/2 t Kosher Salt
  • 1 ½ cups Sugar (divided)
  • 1 cup Cherries (halved)
  • 1 TB Cherry Juice
  • 1 bottle Pink Food Coloring
  • 1 t Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1 ¼ cup Cake Flour (sifted)

Glaze (as plate garnish):

  • 1/4 cup Cherry Juice
  • 1 cup Confectioners’ Sugar
  • Squeeze Bottle

Whipped Cream (as plate garnish):

  • 1 tub Heavy Cream
  • ¼ cup Confectioners’ Sugar
  • Cherries or Candy Hearts

To make the cake, first preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or using a hand mixer), whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and salt and continue whipping until soft peaks form. With the mixer running, gradually add 1 cup of the sugar and continue whipping until the peaks turn stiff and the sugar has dissolved, about 30 seconds more. Then mix in a few drops of food coloring (to your desired color preference), cherry juice and vanilla. I like a bright pink color so I add upwards of 12 drops of coloring until I see my desired shade of pink. The cherry juice also adds some natural coloring and flavor; you can either use maraschino cherry juice from the jar, or reduce halved fresh cherries on the stove with a few cups of water and a couple tablespoons of sugar, and strain the flesh from the juice before using.

This next step is annoying, but it’s the key to a light as air angelfood cake; sift the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with the pre-sifted cake flour four times, to aerate the mixture. Then fold the flour mixture into the egg whites in batches. Next, carefully fold in the cherries with as few gentle folds as possible. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 9 or 10-inch tube pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake until light golden brown (about 35 minutes).

Cool by propping the cake upside down (in the pan) on top of a wine bottle for about an hour. Then run a long, sharp knife around the cake to loosen; knock the cake out onto a plate and carefully lift the pan up off the plate. The outside golden crumb of the cake will remain in the pan, exposing the pink layer underneath.

Photo Courtesy of Max Lau

To make the glaze, whisk the ingredients together until smooth. Add more liquid if too thick or more sugar if too thin. Pour glaze through a funnel into a plastic squeeze bottle. Then decorate cake plates with Valentine’s day sayings like, “Be mine” or “You’re Sweet.” You can use my photo of this as a visual guide. Let glazed plates set until hard in the freezer, at least 30 minutes before serving or hours in advance.

To finish you cake whip together some cream and top with cherries or candy hearts. To whip cream, just add the heavy cream and confectioner’s sugar to a standing mixer and whisk until light and fluffy (a hand held mixer works too). Plate the cream and cake on the frozen plates and enjoy!

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