I’ve been dying to make something with sour cherries while they’re still in season, but for the past few weeks I haven’t really had an occasion to make anything special. Normally I don’t need an excuse to bake, anytime I’m slightly bored and have a half-hour to spare, I’ll use that time to whip up something sweet that I can share with friends or coworkers. But with the recent heat wave, I had a lull in motivation for baking and didn’t really come across anything inspiring enough to face the heat of the kitchen.
My lack of motivation was broken when I went for drinks with my boyfriend and his coworker Lorenzo, a very charming Italian who was raving about his mother’s cooking. He mentioned it was his birthday last week, and I immediately asked him what his favorite sweet treat was, while my mind was running through recipes I could make for him. Lorenzo of course answered as I would have expected, “My favorite is anything my mother makes.” I told him that living up to that would be a challenge, but I’d try my best to make something he liked.
It just so happened that the next day I was strolling through the farmer’s market in Union Square, and there was a whole array of beautiful sour cherries at reasonable prices. It immediately clicked that I’d make something for Lorenzo with sour cherries, a fruit that reminds me of some classic italian desserts that never disappoint. With sour cherries on hand, and a couple hours to spare escaping the heat from the concrete jungle, I scoured the web for a suitable recipe for our Italian friend. There were a few that looked like winners, Sour Cherry Mascarpone Cake, Sour Cherry Pie, but the one that really stood out to me was Cherry Brown Butter Bars from Smitten Kitchen’s website.
Have I told you about my love for Smitten Kitchen? There is no doubt you will see many more recipes from her in the coming months. She has an amazing food blog, turned cook book, with beautiful pictures, heartwarming commentary and delicious, inspiring recipes. She has yet to let me down on a dish, so I decided these bars would be the winner. Her recipe called for sweet cherries, but if you can find sour cherries they will make for a much better contrast with the sweet brown butter. I also changed up the vanilla extract for almond, because I thought it’d be more Italian tasting, and what goes better with sour cherries than a hint of almond? Okay maybe vanilla ice cream, but almond is a close second. These lived up to expectations, and I even got the nicest note from Lorenzo saying that they made him feel like he was back in Italy, perhaps the best complement about my food I have ever gotten.
Note: Pitting cherries can be made much easier by investing in a cherry pitter. But if you’re like me and don’t have a ton of extra equipment in your tiny kitchen, pitting cherries can be easily done using a sharp paring knife. Simply make a slit with your knife at the top of the cherry by the stem, that goes about halfway down the cherry. Remove the pit with your hands, and repeat. Pretty simple (although I may be investing in a cherry pitter in the future). Also, if you don’t have sour cherries, or even cherries for that matter, you can substitute pretty much any berry you want in this recipe, although I’d maybe switch back to vanilla extract for fruit like blueberries, raspberries or strawberries.
Sour Cherry Brown Butter Bars
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen
Makes 25, 1 1/2 inch squares
- 7 tbs butter, melted
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 pound sour cherries, pitted (you may have some extra)
Crust: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper (you can do this by cutting 2, 8 inch wide pieces of parchment and laying them across each other in the pan). Alternatively butter and flour the pan to ensure no sticking. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the sugar and vanilla extract. Add the flour and salt stir until mixed together. Press the dough into your prepared pan, so it is even across the pan. Bake until golden brown (about 15 minutes).
Heat the butter in a heavy sauce-pan over medium heat, stirring constantly until butter has browned and smells a little nutty (this will turn quickly so keep a close eye on it). Pour butter into a separate bowl and allow to cool. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, almond extract and salt. Add the flour and whisk until combined. Slowly whisk in the browned butter until mixture is smooth and all ingredients are incorporated.
Arrange the pitted cherries on the baked crust so they are evenly dispersed. I tried to do this in even rows, but this isn’t necessary as long as they are in a single layer. Pour the filling over the cherries. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool and remove the bars using the parchment paper overhangs. Cut into small bars using a sharp knife. These will keep at room temperature for a day, any longer they should be refrigerated.