We should be making the most of the traditionally short cherry season at the moment. These plump, shiny skinned, red to deep purple, round wonders are definitely the superstars of the markets at the moment and make great eating.
There are over a hundred and twenty types of cherries and they are basically divided into two groups. The sweet varieties like Napoleon, Williams and Regina and the sour ones such as Kentish, Morello and Driotte.
In the Jerte Valley in Extremadura, there’s one time of year where a million trees swell with tiny red fruit. These little, shiny cherries are only available from June to the end of July, but they’re some of the best in the World, so much so that they have a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. They are Picota cherries and they are in season right now.
Cherries have been grown in the Jerte Valley for centuries, but since the 1960s they’ve become a tourism attraction in their own right. Much like the Sakura cherry blossom in Japan, Picota cherry trees blanket the valley in white petals, creating a stunning scene that attracts people from across Europe. But what makes them so special?
The first thing you’ll notice is they’re sold without stalks as the cherries are left to ripen fully before being picked by hand, which means the stalks drop off during the harvest. The second thing you’ll notice is the unique shape of the fruit itself. Unlike other cherries, which are round, these ones come to a natural point, hence the name Picota (pico is Spanish for peak, or point). And when you taste the cherries, it’s impossible to ignore the incredibly intense, sweet flavour. This is thanks to how the cherries are grown; they are left to mature for twice as long as usual, basking in the Spanish sun which allows the fruit to develop its flavour and colour.
Fresh cherries are high in energy-giving carbohydrates and are an excellent source of vitamin C. Picota cherries have floral and spicy notes making them perfect partners for sour cream, vanilla and lemons. They also work well with almonds, brandy, coffee, mint and, off course, chocolate. I love to serve them in one of my classic dishes at the restaurant with smoked rice, eel & spiced cherries. A big bowl of fresh cherries are also the perfect accompaniment for cheese and help to cut the richness of wild game, duck and Foie Gras. Preserved cherries are normally horribly sweet and glaceed cherries are possibly one of the most awful ingredients ever invented, so buy them fresh and enjoy the fantastic flavour on offer in the all too short Picota cherry season.
This French classic with cherries is delicious when served slightly warm from the oven.
Ingredients: serves 4-6
450g fresh cherries (stoned)
2 egg yolks
1 vanilla pod
Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Open the vanilla pod and scrape out the black seeds. Add the cornflour, vanilla seeds and cream to the egg mixture and whisk until well blended.
Heat the cherries in an ovenproof dish until they start to soften. Add the batter mix and bake in a hot oven (220ºc/gas7) for 25-30 minutes until golden and firm.
Leave to cool slightly, dust with icing sugar and serve with creme fraiche and chocolate sorbet.
WHITE CHOCOLATE AND LEMON MOUSSE WITH FRESH CHERRIES
Ingredients: serves 4
225g white chocolate
3 large eggs
50g icing sugar
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
300g fresh cherries, stoned
Melt the chocolate in a bowl covered with cling film set over a pan of warm water.
Whisk the egg yokes, lemon juice, lemon juice and sugar in another bowl set over simmering water until light and fluffy.
Carefully fold in the melted chocolate and leave to cool.
Whisk the cream until it forms soft peaks. Then fold into the chocolate mixture.
Divide the cherries between 4 glasses and top with the white chocolate mousse.
Leave to set in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
Black Forest Cake
Prep time: 40 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Ingredients serves 10-12
1tsp baking powder
70g cocoa powder
4 free-range eggs
3tbsp kirsch liquor
100g morello cherry jam
350g fresh cherries, stoned
3tbsp icing sugar
250g dark chocolate, grated
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375F/Gas 5.
Grease a 20cm/8 in loose-based sandwich tins and line the bases with baking parchment.
Place the butter, sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and eggs in a bowl and blend until smooth and thick. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin and spread it out evenly with a spatula.
Bake for 25–30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack. Take off the lining paper and leave the cake to cool.
When the cake is cold, slice horizontally into 3 circles, with a long-bladed serrated knife. Take care to keep the knife parallel to the work surface, to get a good even cut. Place the cakes back on the wire rack or a board, cut sides up.
For the filling, put the jam in a saucepan with the fresh cherries and Kirsch and place over a low heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 6–8 minutes, stirring, until the jam has melted and the cherries are beginning to swell. Leave to cool for 15 minutes.
Divide the cherry mixture between 2 slices of the cake and spread evenly. Make sure that the sponge without the cherry topping is from the top half of a cake. Whip the cream with the icing sugar with an electric hand-whisk until soft peaks form. Transfer one of the sponges (with the cherry topping) very carefully to a cake stand or plate – slide a cake tin base under the sponge to help you. Top the cherry mixture with half of the whipped cream gently on top of the cherry mixture and repeat with the next layer. Place the final sponge on top, with its top surface facing upwards.
For the topping; Warm the cream and butter in a saucepan and add 200g of the grated chocolate. Remove from the heat, stir until well combined and leave to cool for 10 minutes. Using the flat side of a palette knife spread the chocolate cream over the top of the cake, taking it all the way to the edge. Sprinkle with the remaining grated chocolate and dust with icing sugar. Keep the cake cool or chill until ready to serve.
SPICED DUCK BREAST WITH RED CABBAGE, FRESH CHERRIES & GINGER
Ingredients: serves 4
4 Duck breasts
250g fresh cherries (stoned)
2tspn fresh ginger (grated)
100ml chicken stock
For the glaze:
1tspn. Cardamom pods
150ml maple syrup
To make the glaze:Mix all the spices and toast them lightly in a frying pan. Add the maple syrup and water and bring the boil. Reduce to a thickish syrup and remove from the heat.
Heat a small frying pan and season the duck breasts. Place them skin side down and fry gently until crisp and golden. Turn over the duck breasts and place them on a baking tray.
Using a pastry brush, coat the duck skin with the glaze and roast them in a hot oven (200ºc/gas6) for about 4-5 minutes until just cooked and pink in the middle. Remove from the oven and rest in a warm place for 2-3 minutes.
To serve: Place the duck breasts on 4 warm plates.
Heat the cherries in the same frying pan and add the chopped ginger. Pour in the chicken stock and reduce by half. Season with salt and pepper and spoon over the duck breasts.
Serve with braised red cabbage.
BRAISED RED CABBAGE
1 small red cabbage, quartered,
1 green apple, peeled
1 red onion
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp light brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
Use the shredding tool and the Braun Multiquick 5 Compact Kitchen Machine to shred the red cabbage, apple & onion.
Put the cabbage, apple and onion in a large casserole or deep saucepan.
Add the remaining ingredients, season well, cover with a tight-fitting lid and set the pan over a low heat. Cook for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally until the cabbage is tender.
Remove the cinnamon stick and serve.