Tea and Cherries—a Fleeting Seasonal Indulgence

Spring to early summer calls for eating as many fresh cherries as you can. With their short season of US-grown fruit, cherries beg to be eaten out of hand daily; but making a nice sprightly syrup from the pitted fruit cooked in dark dusky tea with just enough sugar and a spritz of lemon juice gives me a reason to make cake. Pouring this compote of ruby fruit over a lemon-tinged cake is pure indulgence – and easy to make as well. Perhaps you live in a part of the country where fresh cherries have not yet arrived on farmers market stands (or grocery stores) where you are. If so, hold on to this post for the moment when they do arrive. (Side note: California, Washington state, and Oregon are the prime cherry-producing states whose fruits are shipped nationwide to a market near you.) The sweet and tart notes in the cherries are a perfect match for a strong tea. So indulge.

The Cherry Tea Syrup

  • 1 lb pitted fresh sweet cherries (Bing, Chelan, Lapin are the most commonly available varieties—any will do)
  • 8 ounces of brewed black tea (Keemun and most Assams work best here)
  • Sugar to taste—taste the fruit before adding the sugar; my local farmers market cherries require very little, perhaps a couple of tablespoons to round out the flavors)
  • Juice of half a fresh lemon, about 2 T.
Pile of cherries in a bowl
  1. Place the cherries, tea, and sugar into a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook to evaporate half of the liquid. Once evaporated, add the lemon juice (you may not use all of it so taste as you go). Let cool and set aside.
  2. This compote is nice served warm over the cake so if you are making this in advance, simply rewarm it over low heat but do not burn. Watch this carefully. Now make the cake.

The Cake

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, very soft (leave at room temperature for at least an hour—if you’re short on time, microwave the butter in short bursts at medium power just to soften—do not melt)
  • 8 ounces granulated sugar
  • 8 ounces whole eggs (about 5 large eggs at room temperature—if the eggs are cold, simply place them in a bowl of hot tap water for a few minutes and then use)
  • 2 t. real vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 8 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • ¼ t. baking soda
  • 1 t. fine table salt
  1. Butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Line it with strips of baking parchment paper and then butter the paper. Set aside. Set the oven rack halfway up from the bottom of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
  2. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer outfitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter until light in texture and whitened (don’t rush this step as the cake’s characteristic fine-grained texture is dependent on how well the butter has been creamed). Add the sugar and continue mixing to blend well.
  4. Add the eggs, one by one, and then the vanilla and lemon zest and mix to blend well again, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl and the paddle.
  5. Add the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined, scraping the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl to be sure all has been incorporated.
  6. Once the dryness disappears into the batter, the mixture is ready to go into the prepared pan.
  7. Scrape into the pan and bake for about 40-50 minutes. Since every oven works a bit differently, at the 30-minute mark, begin checking the doneness of the cake using a skewer and continue baking as needed until the cake tests as done.
  8. Allow the cake to cool slightly on a rack and then invert. Turn the cake back over onto its bottom and slice as desired when it is still slightly warm. (Room temperature cake is equally wonderful).
  9. Serve with a generous amount of the cherry tea syrup, a bit of softly whipped cream, if desired, and some freshly grated lemon zest (yellow part only). 
  10. Serve with your favorite tea, well brewed.

Photo “Cherries” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License to the photographer Waldo Jaquith and is being posted unaltered (source)