OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Cherries + tahini + almond flour = atypical cake

Cherry-Tahini Cake (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Cherry-Tahini Cake (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

A cardinal rule of baking is to have all of your ingredients ready before you begin. This is something I've stressed many times over the years. It's right up there with reading all the way through the recipe (thrice) before you gather your ingredients and start cooking.

Another cardinal rule of the kitchen is to always prepare a recipe exactly as written the first time before you go fooling around with changes and substitutions.

Today I broke all three of those rules.

When I was checking my pantry for ingredients, I misread a bag of coconut powder as a bag of flaked coconut. In my rush, my eyes saw "coconut" and I made the mental check mark and moved on to the next ingredient.

When the time came to actually gather my ingredients for my mise en place (and to take the overhead photo that appears in the accompanying video), I already had my heart set on baking a cherry cake. So when I discovered my mistake it was time to improvise.

My substitution book suggested an equal weight of finely chopped macadamia nuts, which I did not have. I did have some almond flour though, and almonds are famously good with cherries. I wasn't sure how the tahini and almond would play together, but there was one surefire way to find out.

The combination — cherries, sesame/tahini and almonds — was rather unusual and quite pleasant. The sesame seeds scattered on top added a toasty, savory touch, while the cherries provided juicy bursts of sweetness.

This isn't your typical sweet dessert cake, if the flavor combination didn't tip you off.

Next time, I think I'll use fewer sesame seeds on top and try vanilla tahini for an extra layer of flavor. And I'll give it a try with flaked coconut.

The recipe is adapted from "A Good Day to Bake: Simple Baking Recipes for Every Mood" by Benjamina Ebuehi (Quadrille, $32), only the second cookbook I've ever found myself wanting to bake cover-to-cover. (The first was "BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts" by Stella Parks released in 2017.)

[Video not showing above? Click here to watch: arkansasonline.com/831burner]

Cherry-Tahini Cake

  • 9 tablespoons butter, softened
  • ½ cup unpacked light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup almond flour OR 2/3 cup unsweetened flaked/shredded coconut
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon fine salt (use a smidgen more if using unsalted butter)
  • ¾ cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved, divided use
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice (from about ½ small lemon)
  • ¾ cup confectioners' sugar
  • Milk, cream or water, as needed for icing

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of a 6- or 8-inch round cake pan with butter and line bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the tahini and beat for 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions, scraping the bowl as necessary with a flexible spatula.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, almond flour or flaked coconut, the baking powder, ground cardamom and salt.

Add the dry mixture to the butter-sugar-egg mixture and mix on low until combined. Finish mixing with a flexible spatula to make sure there are no pockets of dry mixture.

Spoon batter into the prepared pan, smoothing with a flexible spatula.

Scatter ½ cup of the cherries and the sesame seeds on top.

Bake until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean or almost clean, about 35 minutes for an 8-inch pan or 50 to 55 minutes for a 6-inch pan.

Turn hot cake out onto a wire rack and let cool.

To make the glaze, add the remaining ¼ cup cherries and the lemon juice to a small bowl and mash with a fork. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve (strainer), squeezing and pressing to get out as much juice as possible. (I didn't get much juice from my cherries this way, so I transferred the mixture to a food processor and pureed the cherries and lemon juice before straining out the remaining solids.) Add the icing sugar to the juice and mix until you have a smooth, pourable consistency. (I needed to add a couple of tablespoons liquid to get mine smooth and pourable.)

Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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