When Life Hands You Cherries ...
[Upside-down cherry cake, May 2007]
I'll just get this out of the way: I love cheese. Love, love, love it. I like a thin slice of cheddar on a piece of crisp apple, smoked Gouda and avocado piled atop toast, or a wedge of creamy brie with fresh bread. My neighborhood deli in Washington made an emmenthaler and avocado sandwich I still dream about. Cheese and me, we're true pals.
However, I realize cheese is not always good for the arteries, and so I look to whole grains, beans, and fresh vegetables for my daily sustenance. I indulge in a grilled cheese once in awhile, but I'm mightily satisfied by a plate of black beans and rice (a dash of apple cider vinegar in those beans in a nice trick I picked up from a Goya can a few years back), sprinkled with lime juice and accompanied by thick slices of avocado (I also love, love, love the avocados, but I'll save that for another time).
This is fortunate for the local vegans in my life, because whenever they come over for dinner I scour my many cookbooks to find dairy-and-egg-free dishes to delight and satiate. Last Saturday, I turned to an old favorite neglected for too long: Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking. It was published over 20 years ago, but the recipes are still fantastic; some incorporate dairy, but the majority are vegan.
So the dinner menu was under control (a cucumber salad, a bulgar wheat pilaf, stewed butter beans and tomatoes, roasted vegetables), but what to do for dessert? I make a very good vegan pie crust, but I just wasn't in the mood for pie. I had come across a great sale on cherries the day before, and bought a few pounds; so naturally (?) my thoughts turned to cherry cake -- cherry upside-down cake, to be precise. And what would go better with cherries than cornmeal? Well ... would it, really? There was only one way to find out: experiment.
Luckily, my oven was fully functioning this weekend, and as I've made my peace with it (as evidenced by my piece today in in the Chronicle), I bravely forged ahead. After plumbing the depths of the Internet, I came up with a (non-vegan) recipe for a sort of cornmeal shortbread cake, and decided to use that as my starting point.
It's annoying to pit cherries by hand, but it's also somewhat soothing -- with the right music (Gillian Welch felt just right on Saturday morn), you can zone out a bit and the time goes by pretty quickly. That's the hardest part of this cake, anyway; the rest is a quick toss of flour, sugar, cornmeal, and vegetable oil whisked with a little lemon and vanilla. The batter was somewhat crumbly, and I was worried the cornmeal might overpower the flavor of the cherries, but luckily all melted and meshed and baked together into a sweetly-scented, slightly lemony, very homey cake.
There was only a little bit left over, so I think they liked it, too.
Cornmeal Cherry Upside-Down Cake, vegan, adapted from an online recipe
1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
6 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
egg substitute for 2 eggs
1/4 tsp. lemon extract
1/2 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups cherries, washed, pitted and halved
1/4 cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with the brown sugar, and scatter the cherries thickly over the top.
In a bowl, stir together the cake flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
In another bowl, whisk the oil and sugar together until well combined. Add the egg substitute (I used 2 T cornstarch mixed with water), whisking well. Add lemon extract.
Combine soy milk and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with milk. Whisk just until blended, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan over the cherries.
Bake until top is golden brown and firm to the touch, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in pan 20 minutes. Invert the cake onto a cake plate and let cool to room temperature before serving.
*I served this with vanilla soy ice cream but it would also taste quite delicious with whipped cream, for those non-vegans.