Desserts | Recipes

Sour Cherry Polenta Cake

Apparently picking sour cherries is the latest stay-at-home pandemic hobby. You heard it here first!

No, really. As longtime readers know, every year I rejoice in the fact that we have a semi-local orchard where I can pick my own sour cherries. We make the hour-long trek south to Battleview Orchards and grab 10 pounds in less than an hour.

sour cherry polenta cake
Photo: Casey Barber

Usually on our sunny weekday trips, we’re one of seven or eight groups in the entire cherry orchard.

This year, on a Wednesday afternoon, it was jam-packed. More people than I’d ever seen were lining up and clamoring for buckets. (Most were wearing masks, thankfully.)

sour cherry polenta cake
Photo: Casey Barber

Luckily, the sour cherry orchard is expansive and there’s more than enough fruit to go around. And as long as everyone commits to picking from separate trees, it’s a perfect naturally socially distanced event for all!

As I looked at the overflowing buckets of cherries around the orchard, I wondered if this was a first-time event for many of the couples and families there.

So in the off chance that this is your first year with a sour cherry haul, and you’re not sure what to do with them, I have a couple of suggestions.

sour cherry polenta cake
Photo: Casey Barber

And if, like me, you’re a sour cherry addict who always looks for a new recipe to experiment with as you plow through your bounty, this sour cherry polenta cake is for you too.

This recipe is an adaptation of a classic Italian polenta cake, which blends crunchy, coarse bits of cornmeal in a an olive oil-infused batter.

sour cherry polenta cake
Photo: Casey Barber

It’s typically sweetened with lemon, orange, or vanilla, but here I’m keeping it even simpler to help the tartness of the cherries shine.

Just a little Greek yogurt along with the olive oil makes it light and moist, and the polenta keeps it on the manageable side of sweet. (It also helps use up the five-pound bag of polenta I was given back in May.)

sour cherry polenta cake
Photo: Casey Barber

This is an exquisite snacking cake. Or a breakfast cake. Or an afternoon coffee cake.

And you only need a half pound of fruit for this sour cherry polenta cake, so you won’t burn through your entire stash making it. That means you still have time for pies, ice cream, pierogies, and more!

Oh, and lest you forget, you can totally bake it on the grill.

sour cherry polenta cake
sour cherry polenta cake

Sour Cherry Polenta Cake

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

Sour cherry polenta cake combines crunchy stone-ground cornmeal in a tender batter topped with tart cherries. It's a perfect snacking or breakfast cake alongside coffee or tea.

Ingredients

  • 175 grams (about 1 1/4 cups) stone-ground polenta
  • 1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 packed cup (210 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) plain Greek yogurt (any fat percentage, but I prefer whole milk)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 pound (227 grams) pitted fresh sour cherries

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8- or 9-inch metal cake pan with parchment paper and spritz with baking spray.
  2. Whisk the polenta, flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl for about 45 seconds to 1 minute until fully blended and lightened in color.
  4. Whisk in the brown sugar, working vigorously to break up any lumps.
  5. Whisk in the yogurt, again breaking up any lumps, then the olive oil and butter.
  6. Switch to a silicone spatula and gently stir in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan.
  8. Sprinkle the cherries evenly over the batter—they'll sink in slightly.
  9. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the cake is browned and caramelized on top and a knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  10. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a butter knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it and carefully transfer it to a cooling rack.
  11. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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