When it came to creating a cake to accompany Where the Wild Cherries Grow, I knew I wanted it to contain three things. Cherries – as might be found on Emeline and Aaro’s secret tree – were a must. Almonds too; the medieval Catalan recipe collection The Book of Sent Sovi is full of recipes featuring fragrant almonds, in broths, sauces, creams and puddings…
Last of all, I wanted it to contain a hint of sweet, heady wine, the kind I drank during my visit to French Catalonia. Banyuls is vin doux naturel, a strong dessert wine made in only four places along the Côte Vermeille: Banyuls-sur-Mer, Port-Vendres, Collioure and Cerbère. It’s almost a metaphor for the spirit of the place; the vines have to be hardy to grow in the rocky, arid soil, but they’re helped along by the bright sunlight that ripens the grapes and la Tramontana, the wind from the mountains, that sweeps any pests out to sea. In my memory, Banyuls tastes honeyed and deep, like peaches and apricots baked slowly in a clay pot over embers.
Sadly, Banyuls is notoriously tricky to find outside of France, so I’d suggest using whatever good quality, rich dessert wine you can lay your hands on. Of course, if you do happen to find a bottle, you know who to call if you want to share…
Wild Cherry Cake
For the cherries in syrup:
- 150g morello cherries, fresh or frozen (and defrosted)
- 3 tbsp good quality sweet dessert wine
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tbsp golden caster sugar
For the cake:
- 200g butter, softened
- 200g golden caster sugar
- 3 free-range eggs
- 160g self-raising flour
- 40g ground almonds
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste, or 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
- Large handful dried cherries
- 1 tbsp flour
- Handful flaked almonds
- Icing sugar, to decorate
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease and line a 23cm, 9 inch deep cake tin.
- Place the cherries, wine, cinnamon and sugar together in a bowl and toss gently until combined. Set aside to infuse.
- In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add one egg to the butter mix, along with a tablespoon of the flour (to stop the mixture from splitting) and beat well. Repeat with the rest of the eggs, beating well in between.
- Add the rest of the flour in thirds, folding in gently until it is just combined and no streaks are showing.
- Gently stir in the ground almonds, vanilla and dried cherries.
- Spoon two-thirds of the infusing cherries onto a plate and toss in the remaining 1 tbsp of flour. (This’ll stop them all sinking to the bottom) Put the syrup and remaining cherries to one side.
- Carefully stir the flour-coated cherries into the mixture, making sure they’re evenly distributed. Add a splash of milk if the mixture needs loosening.
- Dollop into the tin, smooth over the top and bake for around 30-35 minutes, or until golden and risen, and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool slightly in its tin on a wire rack.
- While the cake is still warm, prick holes all over the surface with a skewer.
- Spoon the cherry-wine-cinnamon syrup over the top so that it soaks in.
- Lightly toast the flaked almonds in a dry frying pan for 2-3 minutes. Keep your eye on them, because they’ll catch quickly.
- Decorate the cake with the remaining infused cherries, almonds, and a dusting of icing sugar. Eat with a glass of brandy or sweet wine and dream yourself away to a warm summer’s night, outside a seafront café, at the very end of France…