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Before the turn of the millennium, birthday cakes for children's parties meant layers of thick icing topped with perky red "cherries"—mostly artificial or preserved ones, hard as nuts and flavourlessly sweet. Although they were most sought after by young guests, some of us would wonder what real, fresh cherries tasted like.

Somewhere in the past decade or so, those synthetic varieties were sidelined by fresh-out-of-the-box fruits as supermarkets and hypermarkets proliferated in big and small cities and cherries started showing up in the produce aisles. Nandita Iyer, Mint columnist and author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian, says cherry-picking the boxes with the best fruit involves a bit of a guesswork. Look out for boxes with dark red, evenly coloured cherries and avoid the ones where the fruit is more yellow or has specks of red, she says.

Pitting the cherries is the biggest pain point, says Iyer. When she makes cherry jam, she works with a borrowed cherry pitter. The mind-numbing task can be made mentally stimulating by plugging into a food podcast (Iyer recommends Gastropod, The Sporkful and Home Cooking by Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway).

If baking a cake is not your jam, try making a cherry halwa. Chef Harpal Singh shares a fairly easy recipe on his YouTube Channel with sooji and a hint of fragrant rose syrup. But, if you are short on time or ingredients, a sweet and savoury cherry chutney is the route to take. Look up the recipe of Cherry Ginger Chutney on the blog Indian Simmer. It’s pitted cherries cooked with ginger and spices like bay leaves, cumin and fennel, and can be served as an ice-cream topping.

Last weekend, Mumbai-based gourmet home baker Medha Inamdar bought a few boxes of cherries and blueberries. She had plans to bake a simple tea cake for herself. Moments before prep, she had no time to pit the cherries and opted for the blueberries instead, but the original recipe she had in mind called for cherries (subsequently shared on her Instagram page @MiPieceOCake).

Berry Traybake recipe by Medha Inamdar

Ingredients:

Dry

140 gms refined flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4th tsp baking soda

125 gms castor sugar

Pinch of salt

Wet

60 gms melted butter

15 gms oil

1tsp vanilla paste

2 eggs

1 tsp fresh lemon zest

100 gms Mascarpone (can be substituted with cream cheese or blended paneer)

100 gms sour cream

200 gms pitted cherries

Method

Sieve the dry ingredients together three times. Using a balloon whisk, mix the eggs, mascarpone cheese, sour cream, vanilla and lemon zest until lump free.

Add melted butter and oil and mix until smooth.

Add the dry ingredients and mix lightly.

Gently fold the batter well with a spatula ensuring there are no lumps of flour at the bottom of the mixing bowl.

Take an 8-inch round or square cake pan, butter it and line with parchment paper. Now, pour the batter into it and spread evenly. Arrange the cherries on top.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180 centigrade for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Once the cake is cooled, dust with a some icing sugar and serve.

For more flavour, Inamdar suggests replacing the vanilla paste with an equal quantity of almond extract, and using large dark cherries, if available. Cherries and almond extract are a great pairing, she says. The same recipe can be made by using a cherry compote instead of fresh cherries. This compote can be used instead of the fresh fruits in a swirled pattern for a cherry marble cake as well.

The taste will vary, but you will feel the same sense of deep satisfaction.

Cherry compote recipe

Take 100 grams pitted cherries and 30 grams sugar. If using dark cherries, which are sweeter, reduce the quantity of sugar to 20 grams. Place them in the cooking vessel and allow them to rest for an hour. The sugar macerates the fruits, making them easier to cook. Add one whole star anise to this mix and keep 2 tsp cornflour handy. Now, cook on a low flame and once the cherries feel cooked, add cornflour. If you want a thicker jam-like consistency, add both teaspoons. Let the mixture thicken while gently stirring.

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