Every June, the same chorus.
"They were soft little fruits, almost black, and when we ate them our mouths and hands would turn purple. There was juice everywhere."
My mother's poetic wax about her grandmother's cherry tree in the Bernese town of Rüfenacht never changes. She insists that she hasn't tasted a cherry so good in fifty years.
With faint disdain, she eats the supermarket cherries, then sighs, repeats her canto about purple mouths and hands, and smiles at the rosy remembrance of childhood.
"They're just not the same."
"So you're not going to eat them?" I asked her, nodding at the disappointing kilo on her kitchen counter.
"No, take them. Make a cake or something."
So I did.
And as an aside, the cherry tree in Rüfenacht with its purple cherries is gone. After those fifty years, my mum went back to see if her grandmother's farm still stood in the same spot.
Now it's a tattoo parlour.
If you thought she was disappointed about the cherries, well...
But fortunately, she liked this cake.
The Basler Kirschenbrottorte, is just what the German describes—cherry bread cake from Basel. It's basically a big bread pudding, chock full of cherries. There doesn't seem to be much information on its history, but seemingly it was a popular cake to bake in one of Switzerland's most famous cherry producing regions.
The recipe comes from one of my favourite Swiss cookbooks Kochkunst und Traditionen in der Schweiz from Mondo Verlag, which I bought at Bern's Bücherbergwerk (an excellent source for all used books, especially old cookbooks).
I adjusted things slightly (more milk, bigger baking pan and longer baking time), and despite the time consuming work of pitting a kilo of cherries, the end product was seriously delicious and totally worth it.
500 g leftover bread (or around 5 weggli)
400 ml milk
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
800 g to 1 kg cherries
100 g cookie crumbs
120 g butter, soft
200 g sugar
pinch of salt
7 eggs, separated
100 g ground almonds
20 g flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
a shot kirsch
Cube the bread and put it in a big bowl. Heat the milk and vanilla in a pot over the stove or in a microwave. When it's bubbling, add it to the bread. Press the bread down with a fork, so it soaks up the liquid. Let this cool a little.
While you're waiting, pit the cherries.
Preheat over to 180 C / 350 F / gas mark 4.
Line a 26 cm (10 inch) springform pan with parchment. Butter the sides, then sprinkle about half of the cookie crumbs over the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
Once the bread has absorbed the milk, use a fork (or your fingers) to mash it all together.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the salt and vanilla. Beat in the egg yolks a little at a time until everything is incorporated.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the rest of the cookie crumbs, ground almonds, flour, baking powder, and cinnamon.
Using another separate, clean bowl and whisk or mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff and glossy.
Mix the soaked bread into the butter and egg mixture. Add the flour mixture. Stir in the cherries and kirsch. Fold in the egg whites.
Pour into your prepared pan.
Bake in the oven for 1 to 1¼ hours, until the top has browned and the centre is no longer jiggly.
- You could also use ground hazelnuts instead of almonds, or a mix.
- You can always leave out the kirsch, if you like. Or add more.
- Add 100 g chopped dark chocolate if you're feeling decadent.
- I used Bärentatzen cookies that I smushed by hand (see below), but other kinds would work too, and so would stale cake. With firmer cookies you could use a food processor to turn them into crumbs. If you don't want to bother, just replace the crumbs with more ground almonds.