Baking: Inside every stubborn cherry stone lies a hidden gem that imparts an incredible almond flavour to your bakes. Cherry season is fleetingly brief, so get cracking with this elegant clafoutis and a towering chocolate gateau

Cherries are, for me, the most exciting of all the stone fruits. Their season is rather short, but decidedly sweet. Like apricots, the stone contains a kernel with a bitter almond flavour called a noyau (French for kernel or pit).

I learned about noyaux while working at Chez Panisse. It was mainly the apricot pits we bothered to crack open, but I vividly remember making a cherry fruit soup and taking the time to get the noyaux from the cherries. It was a revelation: there is so much flavour in this little stone, but it is usually just tossed away.

The classic clafoutis is made with whole cherries with their stones left in, but I like to make it easier for those eating the dessert by pitting them, cracking open the shells and pulling out the precious cores to sprinkle into the pudding. I just use a tea towel and a regular old hammer to prise them out.

Cherries are also great with dark chocolate. Some chocolates have hints of cherry in their flavour profiles, so taste a couple and see which ones you like and think would go well with sour cherry flavours. My cake this week is a take on the classic Black Forest gateau. Ive made it toweringly tall, and for the topping, Ive used fresh cherries, cooked down and softened, instead of jarred ones.

Look for plump, smooth fruits free from pock marks or bruises. The stems should be fresh and green, never dried-up or brown.

A rich cherry chocolate cream cake. Photograph: Kristin Perers for the Guardian

Cherry chocolate cream cake

Makes a 20cm cake
For the sponge
200g dark chocolate (70%-85%)
185g plain flour
60g cocoa
tsp bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
4 eggs
300g caster sugar
150g vegetable oil
250g plain yoghurt

For the filling
600g fresh red or black cherries (keep 100g aside for the topping)
4 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp maraschino or kirsch
500g double cream
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla

For the topping
80g double cream
100g dark chocolate (70%-85% cocoa), chopped
100g cherries

Adding the icing: if you overwhip your cream, dont panic. You can bring it back by adding a dash of unwhipped fresh cream and mixing it through to loosen it. Photograph: Kristin Perers for the Guardian

1 Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a 20cm/8 inch loose-bottomed tin with baking paper.

2 Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pot of barely simmering water, then leave to cool slightly. Meanwhile, in another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda.

3 On a stand mixer, whisk the salt, eggs and sugar until very light and fluffy. Drizzle in the oil on medium-slow speed as you would for a mayonnaise, until all is incorporated and smooth and shiny. Fold in the cooled, melted chocolate. Fold in half the dry ingredients then half the yoghurt, and repeat again until all the dry ingredients and yoghurt have been added.

4 Pour the mix into the tin, then bake it for 55-60 minutes. Allow it to cool completely, then remove from the tin and split the cake into three layers with a serrated knife. Wash the cake tin and line it with clingfilm.

5 To make the filling, pit and halve the cherries. Put 500g of these into a small saucepan along with 4 tbsp brown sugar and 4 tbsp cherry liqueur of your choice. Bring to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid is reduced and the cherries soften (about 10 minutes). Set this aside to cool. Meanwhile, loosely whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla and set aside.

6 Put one layer of the sponge into the bottom of the clingfilm-lined cake tin. Cover with half the cooked cherries and half of any juice. Cover with half the whipped cream. Put another layer of sponge over this and repeat the layers. Top with the remaining layer and press gently to bring it all together. Chill for 30 minutes to 3 hours.

7 For the topping, heat the cream in a small saucepan and then pour it over the chopped chocolate. Let the mixture rest for five minutes before stirring until smooth. Pit and halve the remaining 100g of fresh cherries.

8 To finish, push the cake out from below. Discard the clingfilm. Put on a nice plate or cake stand and top with the chocolate, smooth it over the top and sprinkle with the fresh cherries.


Serves 6
50g butter
600g cherries, pitted (save about 6 pits for extracting noyaux)
70g flour
tsp cinnamon
150g caster sugar
A pinch of salt
3 eggs
300g milk
Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)

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