My cherry amour
My Dad pulled the oars of the small, wooden rowing boat. I sat in the prow facing him, with a huge paper bag of cherries in between us. I rolled each smooth globe round my tongue before biting into the sweet flesh, juice exploding into my mouth, before I spat the stones into the lake.
Do you have an early food memory? Cherries remain my favourite fruit not just for the taste. Eating fruit in season is like waiting for a series of Christmases. As June begins I’m keeping my eyes peeled for cherries, knowing that it’s about the second week when small cartons start appearing from Iran, Lebanon and Turkey. As soon as a I bite into the first one I know more than ever that it was worth boycotting the perfect (and perfectly astronomical in cost) ones flown from the U.S. which seem to be available for much of the year.
Going to the commercial fruit and veg market in Al Awir, Dubai, has been on my ‘to do’ list for the longest time. In the meantime, a stroll past Baker and Spice in Al Manzil souk will always bear fruit – the best, seasonal fruit of the region. Last week I left with a bag of nectarines from Lebanon (that rewarded a first bit with a dribble of juice down the chin), some intensely fragrant, white peaches from Saudi Arabia, and a whole carton of Hungarian cherries. Now I know that Hungary is a bit of a stretch if calling them regional but the air miles were considerably less than the bulk of imported fruit here and they are definitely in season. They had that perky, firmness showing they were liberated from the branches a few days ago (rather than weeks or months). Their rich, deep sweetness was balanced with the tiniest spritz of tartness which makes you reach in for just one more… just one more….
I had big plans for at least 5-6 kilos (or maybe more…I didn’t weigh them) of cherries. My shortlist included a cherry slice recipe and cherry maple meringues from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet and an Iranian pickled cherry preserve from Diana Henry’s Salt, Sugar, Smoke. Black Forest combinations were whirling round my head, a compote for dolloping onto overnight oats, claufoutis, a cherry fool….
All this came to nothing as the best thing to do with fruit this good is to eat it as is…. and we did… kilos and kilos of them. Looking at the final small bowlful in the fridge I needed something quick! These muffins are very wholesome in taste and ingredients. Low-gluten due to the spelt (for those who are watching this) and very low in sugar, they make a good, healthy, breakfast muffin. They are mealy, crumbly to the bite with the contrast of the juicy cherries. I might have over-used the word juicy in this post – I just couldn’t help it!
Note: I used a base recipe measured in cups for this and adapted it significantly but retained the proportions. It should have made 12 but the amount was only enough for 9 – which shows the flaw with cup measurements (her cups were obviously much larger than mine!). When I make these again I’ll scale up the proportions and change the amounts below. You’ll want 12 – trust me.
Cherry Almond Spelt Muffins
- 100g ground almonds
- 75g spelt flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- scant 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 45g soft light brown sugar plus about 4 teaspoons extra
- 2 medium eggs
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 2-3 drops of real almond essence
- 55g butter, melted
- 130g natural yoghurt
- 170g cherries
- 9 whole almonds
- icing sugar for decoration (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180 C. Put paper baking cups into a muffin tray.
- Stone and halve the cherries.
- Place the ground almonds, spelt flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sea salt into a bowl and stir lightly to combine. In another bowl, put the sugar (keeping aside the 4 teaspoonsful), eggs, extracts, melted butter and yoghurt and whisk to combine thoroughly. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry being careful not to overmix. Set aside 9 cherry halves and lightly fold in the rest.
- Spoon the mixture evenly into the 9 baking cups (I use an ice cream scoop).
- Top each muffin with a cherry half, an almond and a sprinkling of the reserved sugar.
- Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown. A skewer should remain clean or have a crumb clinging to it if the muffins are cooked. Cool on a rack and serve dusted with icing sugar if you like.
Variations: Substitute the melted butter with raw coconut oil, omit the eggs and increase the baking powder to 2 teaspoons to make them vegan. For a sweeter muffin, coat the cherries in a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup before adding to the mixture.
What’s your favourite fruit? Do you buy fruit in season?