I almost didn’t post this recipe for Italian cherry-chocolate cake, for two reasons: One, it uses a somewhat obscure ingredient. Two, it isn’t beautiful.
But then I did decide to share this dessert recipe with you, for two reasons: One, Rob encouraged me to do so. Two, it’s darn delicious.
The Italians have a phrase, “brutti ma buoni”—which means, “ugly but good.” And here we are. I tried dressing up the top of the cake with a decorative dusting of powdered sugar. Still, she’s not a looker.
What this Italian cherry cake recipe does have going for it is flavor—in spades. And like a good pound cake, this one gets better over time. How many recipes for dessert actually improve with age?
You’ll need to get yourself a jar of Amarena cherries. Amazon sells them. I purchased a jar at my local Sur La Table store. What are Amarena cherries? They’re ruby gems of fruity tartness preserved in a sugar syrup. They’re imported from Italy, and they come in a gorgeous porcelain crock that, when empty, has about a zillion uses in your kitchen and home. Amarena cherries are waaaaaaaaay better than maraschinos for cocktails. They’re unbelievable spooned over vanilla gelato. And they make this Italian cherry-chocolate cake absolutely sing.
A note about the recipe: This is my re-organization of a recipe that came with the jar of cherries. I was concerned about the high ratio of butter to dry ingredients, but my brother, who owns Chicago’s Baker & Nosh, reassured me that the recipe would work out well. It did.
boozy Italian cherry chocolate cake
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
2 Tbsp. Amarena cherry syrup
1 cup Amarena cherries, drained
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut out an 8-inch circle of waxed paper. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan, then place the waxed paper circle into the pan and butter it, as well. Dust the pan with flour, shaking out the excess.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt (if the cornmeal gets hung up in the sifter, just dump it into the bowl). In another large bowl or using a stand mixer, cream together the butter and powdered sugar. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the Grand Marnier and cherry syrup. Add the sifted dry ingredients, stirring to blend completely.
Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer—make sure the bowl is clean and dry. Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks. (You can do this by hand using a balloon whisk and a large bowl.) Fold about 1/4 of the beaten egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it. Then fold the rest of the egg whites into the batter, using large, slow strokes to incorporate the egg whites (there shouldn’t be clumps of egg white in the batter). Gently fold in the Amarena cherries and chocolate chips. Spread the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake for about 35–45 minutes, until the top of the cake is deeply golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out free of crumbs. Remove the cake from the oven and cool for about 30 minutes; run a thin spatula around the perimeter and invert the cake onto a serving plate (removing the waxed paper). Dust with powdered sugar if desired.