Last week, I was walking past the greengrocers and got sucked in by a gorgeous bushy basil plant. I have planted herb seeds in several pots on my terrace, but as all the seedlings looks suspiciously the same, I have a feeling I have a healthy crop of weeds and not basil, coriander, chives and mint. So I needed a basil plant. Of course, once I was there I found many reasons to stay: watermelon, new noirmoutier potatoes, spring onions (which I have never seen in Paris before and now I know what they are called: cebettes). And there was a big basket of dark ripe cherries. Because I was in a greengrocer's, where one is served, instead of a supermarket where I could help myself, I couldn't check whether the cherries were in good condition. I asked for a pound and took them home. And I found, to my great disappointment, that they were mushy and very over-ripe. As our regular readers will know, I am a huge fan of cherries and so it was a pretty bitter pill to swallow.
I was tempted to just toss them, but actually although they were disappointing on their own they weren't spoiled. Just disappointingly soft and sweet. And so I had one of those timely good ideas: I had promised to bake something for the snack table at a local Bring and Buy sale and these would turn chocolate cupcakes into something special. I was right: on their own, the cherries were a bit bland and too soft. Cooked in dark chocolate, they gave a wonderful sweet pocket of fruit in each bite. When topped with a cream cheese frosting, the combination was perfect - a little dark chocolate, a little sharp cheese and a sweet soft cherry flavor. I am really glad I had a place to get rid of the cupcakes or I am sure I would have eaten them all with the Critic's help. (Big brother found the flavours a little too grown up - or maybe he didn't like the texture of the cooked cherries?)
I based the cake in the recipe on the Fannie Farmer recipe for Fudge Layer Cake. It was almost chocolate enough - I think that next time I might experiment with increasing the chocolate or maybe throwing in a handful of small chocolate chips. Fresh cherries and chocolate are a wonderful pairing.
Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes (makes 24 small cupcakes)
4 oz / 115 grams unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 cups / 300 grams sugar
1/2 cup / 115 grams butter (reduce by 10% if using French butter)
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups / 280 grams flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sal
2/3 cup / 150ml milk
1 scant pound / 350-400 grams (weight measured before preparing) of ripe fresh cherries, pitted and cut in 2-3 pieces each
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Place paper liners in your cupcake mold(s). (This is one of the reasons I love cupcakes, by the way - easy to prepare, easy to serve, easy to eat!) Put the chocolate, with six tablespoons of water and 1/2 cup of the sugar in a heavy bottomed small saucepan over a low heat. Melt the chocolate slowing, stirring from time to time until you have a smooth completely liquid mixture. Remove from heat and reserve.
Cream the butter and the remaining sugar. Add the eggs one by one, beating each one in thoroughly. Add the almond extract and mix well. Sift the flour and salt and baking soda together. Add them alternately with the milk, stirring as you go. Mix well, and then stir in the cherries.
Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 of the way with batter and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
For the frosting:
1/2 cup cream cheese or French Laughing Cow cheese
2 Tbs milk
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
a pinch of salt, if using cream cheese (Laughing cow cheese is already fairly salty)
The measurements on this frosting are not very exact: my method of making frosting is to take a certain amount of fat (LC cheese or butter) and add sugar until it tastes more or less right but is perhaps a bit too thick, at which point I add a little milk. That is what I did here and it was perfect. You may have to experiment a bit to get it right, so start with too much of every ingredient and play with it. You want it to be slightly tangy but still distinctly sweet.
Once the cakes have cooled completely, ice them with the frosting. If you happen to have fresh cherries left over they would make a very pretty decoration on the top. I didn't have any, but they still look rather charming, don't you think?