Yes, I pitted each and every single one of these cherries myself...with a knitting needle, in fact (the simple reason for which is that I do a lot more knitting then I do cherry pitting, so guess which pointy metal object is more readily available around my house?). It is, I believe, a thing that everyone should sit down and do at least once per cherry season. The rest of the year, you can pull your bag of frosty, pre-pitted cherries from the freezer like everyone else--totally admit to this habit myself--whenever you're in need of a homemade cherry pie, cherry syrup, muffins, an addition to a smoothie. 

But promise me this. 

Promise me that at least once a year, you'll sit down with a bowl of these beauties and work through the meditative act of poking each stone through the fruit by hand, one at a time. And as you pit each stubborn little devil, try to really think about the work itself. Think about how many deft fingertips had to pluck and pluck and pluck to fill this bowl full of juicy red fruits. Think about how many cherries had to first be carefully pitted to create each mouthful of cherry pie you've ever devoured, streaked with marbled scarlet-and-pink swirls of melting vanilla cream. Silently thank every cherry pie baker you've ever known, for their perseverance, for their deeply stained fingertips, for their dexterous way with a cherry pitter or a sharp knitting needle. 

And then do whatever you can to prolong cherry season, and to make the most of each single cherry you hand-pitted for someone's pleasure. If you're looking for suggestions, I'd suggest this recipe for pickled cherries. They're sweet, tart, with a faint background of salt, caramelly tones from brown sugar, nuanced notes of allspice, clove and pepper. These would be equally at home on a cheese plate, a kale salad spiked with goat cheese, or even a tender pulled pork sandwich.

Sweet & Tart Pickled Cherries

Makes about one quart

1 cup water
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
small handful of whole black peppercorns (around 20)
whole cloves (also about 20)
1/2 cup white vinegar
4 cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted

Place water, sugar, salt and spices in a small saucepan, heat just to boiling then remove from heat. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved, let mixture steep for about five minutes. Add vinegar and cherries to mixture.

Let cool completely, then place in airtight container (note: leave whole spices in with the cherries & pickling brine, as they will continue to flavor the mixture. Just be careful to leave them behind when you remove the cherries for eating!) and refrigerate. Enjoy on everything from cheese plates to savory sandwiches within three weeks of pickling. Happy summer, cherry pitters!


[Originally posted on 2/14/15]

As symbols of romance go, some are unmistakable.

A single chocolate smudge clinging languorously to china. The whisper of a kiss etched in lipstick on the edge of a tipped over glass. An abandoned napkin, hastily swept from a lap, cast aside to lie in a mass of wrinkled linen as the main action switches from the dining room to another room entirely. A wisp of sinuous, bluish-grey smoke trailing from the wick of a just blown out candle.

But a single, chocolate-covered cherry may just be one of the most unmistakable edible symbols of all. In super-sized cake form? It might just turn out to be irresistible.

Romance is a difficult subject for some people, especially in this era of instant dating apps and Fifty Shades of Grey nonsense. I'm always all for romance, though, no matter what form it takes in your world. A meaningful gesture (beyond just clicking 'like' and adding a heart emoticon, please) is the very heart and soul of true romance. Stumped for ideas? There are just so many ways to show love. Give a handwritten note, a handful of picked flowers, or just an extra smattering of 'just because' kisses, just above the neckline. Give a freshly baked cake steaming from the oven, a naughty glance, an arched eyebrow. Give a hand-lettered note, give a smudgy and intense pencil sketch, give a heartsick glance, give a low whistle. Go corny, or be original. Just give your sweetheart something, choose to mark this all-too-often-fumbled-and-abused occasion with something more than digital ephemera.

In other words, you can't text your way out of this one, kids.

Go with a time-honored symbol of St. Valentine's Day, if you want to keep it classic. Give the waxy but heartfelt mixed chocolates in the red satin box, the dusty-sweet astringent 'conversation hearts'....or perhaps, the rich perfection of one syrupy cherry encased in deep dark chocolate. Love them or hate them, the chocolate-covered cherry is here to stay, and can be found absolutely everywhere--from velvet-draped tables in high end food markets to dusty, forgotten gas station shelves full of last minute gifts--in the days surrounding Valentine's Day. Sometimes they're amazing and sometimes they're truly terrible, especially if high fructose corn syrup doesn't fit with your vision of 'romance'.......but this year, why not re-invent the whole concept?

After all, the rich perfection of one syrupy cherry encased in deep dark chocolate is pretty hard to beat. I decided to expand the idea into one large dream of a cake, made of two shapely bundt layers of rich, sweet cherry-laced cake, draped in dark chocolate ganache. One slice of this will erase the memory of every unworthy chocolate-covered cherry you've ever been given in the past, and make you consider starting a new tradition with your sweetheart......romantic baking? ;)

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake

Makes ever so many more than two servings, so you can just go ahead and keep celebrating Valentine's Day over and over and over again.,...

Although February is a wonderful time for romance, it's not always the best time of year for fresh, juicy summer fruits like cherries and raspberries. I used frozen fruit this time because it's often the best out-of-season option, but if you miraculously happen to find some lovely fresh berries in your local market, I say go for it! Just substitute an equal amount of fresh fruit (be sure to pit the cherries, of course.....pits aren't romantic!).

For the cake:

5 cups flour, plus two extra tablespoons for flouring the pans
6 tsp (1/8 cup) baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
8 egg whites
3 1/2 sticks room temperature, unsalted butter, plus one extra tablespoon for buttering the pans
4 cups sugar
2 cups pureed raspberries (thawed completely if using frozen)
1 1/2 cups pureed dark sweet cherries (thawed)
3/4 cup milk
2 cups dark sweet cherries, halved

For the ganache:

8 oz dark chocolate, chopped (I used Lindt Dark 70%, this is two bars plus a little extra)
1 cup heavy cream
pinch of salt (1/8 teaspoon)

Preheat oven to 350. Melt one tablespoon of butter and, using a pastry brush, cover the inside of one 12-cup bundt pan and one 6-cup bundt pan. Sprinkle the inside of each pan with a tablespoon of flour, tap and rotate pan until inside is evenly, lightly floured. Combine remaining flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl, set aside.

Place egg whites in bowl of a stand mixer (or in mixing bowl to beat by hand), beat on high until they reach the stiff peak stage. Transfer beaten egg whites to another bowl and wipe out bowl of stand mixer. Cream butter and sugar together in stand mixer (or by hand) on medium until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Reduce speed to low and add fruit purees slowly to avoid splattering. Add milk, mix until smooth. With mixer on low, slowly add flour mixture just until thoroughly combined (do not over-beat). Fold in egg white mixture just until combined.

Divide batter between the two pans. Sprinkle halved cherries over the batter, poking them gently down into the cake and smoothing the top of the batter afterward. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 60 minutes for the small pan, 75 minutes for the large pan, or until a knife inserted at the center of each cake can be removed cleanly. Let the cakes cool for 15 minutes, then carefully invert onto plates and remove from pans.

Prepare ganache by breaking up chocolate and placing in a heat-proof bowl. Heat the cream just to a boil, then pour over chocolate and let sit for five minutes, undisturbed. Sprinkle salt over ganache, whisk to emulsify all ingredients. The ganache will at first look streaky, then more homogenous, and will eventually thicken into a creamy chocolate glaze that can be poured or spread over a cake. Be sure to taste some off a spoon first. You know, for science.

Once cakes have cooled completely, stack the small one on top of the larger one. Drizzle ganache slowly over cake. Decorating with candied, edible flowers (Gardenista has a great tutorial for sugared violas exactly like the ones I used) or fresh fruit is optional, but looks gorgeous. Pairs well with flickering candles, pearls, half-full crystal glasses of wine, and moodily draped floral arrangements, of course. Here's to romance! <3