I’ve had a big bowl of cherries sitting in my refrigerator for a week. We have been eating them here and there, enjoying their singular and decadent flavor. It finally occurred to me that if I didn’t do something more ambitious, these lovely jewels were going to start fading. About this time a few thoughts crossed my mind. I remembered a recipe I had seen for a skillet cake that had fresh plums on it. I really loved the idea of making a rustic cake in a cast iron skillet. I figured there was no reason in the world I couldn’t substitute cherries for plums. In fact, when I first saw the recipe, blueberries had been on my mind for the cake. But fresh cherries seemed inspired. Then I was further inspired by my friend Donna, while pondering a top secret recipe that she shared with me, to lace the cake with brown sugar and cinnamon. Well it all worked great and the result was a simple, rustic, delightful cake that highlighted the natural sweetness of the cherries. I was pleased at how light the cake was and how easy.
I don’t eat a lot of cherries. So I knew nothing about how to “pit” cherries. I know there are a million gadgets to perform the work and if I made cherry dishes more than once every few years I would happily grab one. But I chose a low key approach and I was happy about how well it worked. I used a chopstick. OK, it kind of mangled a few of them, and if you aren’t a little careful you could conceivably stab yourself with the chopstick. But with a little care and a firm grip it is absolutely doable. Besides, for this recipe, you will quarter the cherries later so a little mangling will not be a problem. Remove the stem, poke the chopstick through the top of the cherry and pop the pit out the bottom. For stubborn ones you can score the bottom of the cherry with a little knife. Use the large end of the stick for this procedure.
I must add that there is a reason that cherries are so associated with sensual topics. They are juicy and red and they will stain your hands and they are sweet. There is something pleasurable about working with them. It is fun and messy and gorgeous. So don’t recoil at the mess of pitting cherries, enjoy it.
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg
½ cup low-fat buttermilk
1½ cup fresh cherries, pits removed
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon butter, softened
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash, pit and quarter the cherries. Butter an 8 inch cast-iron skillet and dust it with about a tablespoon of flour, tapping out the excess flour. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.
In the bowl of a mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat until it is light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until well combined. Then add the flour mixture and the buttermilk, alternating between the two (a little flour, a little buttermilk, a little flour, a little buttermilk, etc.).
Distribute the cherries on top of the batter. In a small bowl, mash together the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and flour. Distribute the topping over the cherries (I used about half of the topping but wish that I had used all of it).
Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Test with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, remove the skillet from the oven. If not, you can give it a little more time. Please don’t forget that the handle will burn you horribly. I always want to grab a skillet by the handle. I have burned myself several times taking handled skillets out of the oven. Get an oven mitt and put it by the oven. I beg you.