Life is beautifully strange. Though I love being a quintessential Mom to my two girls and pamper their tummies with endless favorites on occasions and otherwise…I miss being that little daughter who, on being treated with the choicest of special foods, would run to her Ma and throw her arms around her waist for a ‘thank you hug’. I still hug her all the time when we meet, but now that I am as tall as she is, my arms go round her neck for those tight squishy cuddles.
The Holiday season is always precious…made special by school’s winter break, Dad’s office holidays, friends, picnics, dinner outings, vacations, fun foods, the cold crisp winter air, foggy mornings and all celebrations. Christmas, New Year and the winter in general, especially remind me of “Ma-er haater khabaar” (‘Ma ke haath ka khana’ said in Bangla). Living half a globe away, I do now what brings me closest to her – make what she made for me…the foods that smell of Ma’s kitchen.
During winter and at other times, Ma lovingly baked her signature cakes for us. And we never had enough of them ever! Though her cakes were superbly all-season appropriate, there’s something about the winter that makes you love your cakes bit more. Don’t you agree? Ma didn’t use any electric blender. She believed that taking a minimal effort to whisk the cake mixture using a large spoon and hands gave the most fluffy, aerated and moist cakes! After her gooey cake batter was ready, she would whisk her mixture for another 1-2 minutes, so as to allow the mixture to fluff up further. Those days, we didn’t have a decent oven in our kitchen. So Ma used the old-fashioned electric round oven, the one that came with a small round clear glass window at the top (to peep-and-see if the bake was ready), a thick plug-in cord for the filament heating coil, and a probably 8×8 round aluminum baking dish resting on a perforated aluminum base-heating disc. It was a primitive oven with a circular temperature regulating knob which allowed baking from about 100°C to 200°C (about 200°F to 400°F). Since the base heated up too much while baking, this oven was meant for operation only in a safe corner of the concrete floor we had in our house. Though this oven used an age-old technology, we could swear by its life…that it stood by Ma through 2 decades even. And no, sadly I do not have a picture of this legendary oven to share with you. But how I wish I did!
Ma loved the 180°C (approx. 350°F ) temperature mark on the regular knob for her cakes. There’s something about this temperature…the slow baking at 180°C…that fortifies the cake with more flavors compared to the bit speedy bake at 190°C (375°F). When she made cakes in the oven, my brother and I weren’t allowed to play in that room for safety reasons. However, after the cake has baked for close to an hour, Ma, Papa, my brother and I would take turns to look at the cake (via the round glass window on the oven) and check it for apparent readiness. We learnt how to tell this from practice. From the perfect brown round cake top, the strong lingering buttery cake-y aroma in the room and the sides of the cake that slowly started to leave the baking dish as it took a perfect shape.
Ma loved to bake her famous Amul butter cakes the most. This world has not seen a better butter than Amul’s after all! Amul butter is dense, very salty, intensely buttery and addictive indeed. “Utterly butterly delicious, Amul!!” Remember their ad punch lines? Ma would buy a small 100 gm packet from the market and use most of it in her cake. She’d save what she called a “2-finger thick” stick of that butter for later, for making the vanilla-buttercream glaze on our cake. Yes, and I’d call her a minimalist home-cook for not being so generous with the butter in my cake. She made several variations of these cakes. She would sometimes use fruits in the cake batter, while she’d put nuts and dried fruits on other occasions.
Cherry cakes were a big favorite in my family. Our friends and relatives who came visiting us adored these cakes as much as we did, if not more! We had some seriously big takers of them at home…out of the oven, post 5 minutes of cooling down, and at least 3 big slices of the still-warm cake would disappear before we even realized. Most of the times, the cake never saw the “buttercream glaze” in its entireness, or got to live a second evening at our’s. This traditional cherry cake is moist, not too sweet, soft yet crumbly, very velvety and has the tenderness of baked cherry pieces thrown in abundance. And the frosting of course tastes buttery sweet and very very cherry. I have occasionally substituted Amul butter with the sweet cream and salted butter that we get at the groceries here, and the cake would just come out perfect (though with a slight difference in taste, but great)!
If you have been following my posts, you would have read about my illustrious “Lokenath Khata“…if not, read it here. Yes, and my khata also shows off this recipe with pride in the way I’d scribbled it down from Ma over phone 1.5 decades ago. And it definitely looks more like a flowchart, than a recipe. The Cherry cake’s is indisputably one of my most treasured heirloom family recipes. I follow this recipe religiously, and make it the way Ma did and taught me, except for the two things that I do slightly differently than Ma. One, (now that I can bake myself,) I use all of that 100 gms Amul butter in my cake (a childhood wish came true!). Two, instead of making a couple tablespoons of glaze, I whip up a whole batch of the vanilla-buttercream frosting using Ma’s recipe and throw in some finely chopped cherries to make it apt for my cherry cake!
INGREDIENTS FOR CHERRY CAKE ⇒
- 100 gms Amul butter slab or 1 stick of sweet cream salted butter (8 tbsp or 4 oz)
- 6 oz or 170 gms (or about 30 to 32) pitted dark sweet cherries, halved or quartered (I generally use frozen cherries)
- 3 large eggs
- 1.5 cups all purpose flour (or maida)
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 cup sugar
- 0.5 tbsp pure vanilla extract
- light olive oil or spray to grease the baking dish
- Preheat oven to 180°C or 350°F.
- Grease a round cake baking pan.
- Dry mix the 1.5 cups flour with baking powder and keep ready. Ma would use a strainer or a sieve-screen and pass them through together twice, to ensure a uniform mix.
- In a large mixing bowl, melt the butter and whisk the sugar in it till incorporated.
- Add the contents of the eggs and whisk together till mixed. (Add the eggs only when the butter-sugar mix isn’t too warm.)
- Add the flour and baking powder mixture in 2 to 3 installments, mixing well to obtain a smooth mixture each time, before adding the next portion of the flour mixture. When done, whisk for another minute to aerate the cake mixture and allow slight fluffing.
- Add the vanilla extract and mix.
- Add cherries to the cake mixture and fold in.
- Transfer the cake mixture to the well greased cake pan and use a flat spoon/spatula to roughly level the cake mixture. I sometimes cover up my exposed cherry pieces!
- Place the baking pan on the lowest shelf of the preheated oven and bake for about 50 to 55 minutes or till a tooth-prick inserted in center, comes out clean.
- When done, remove cake from oven and allow it to cool for 5 to 10 minutes (cool completely before frosting). Alternatively, after about 10 minutes of cooling on a rack, place the cake in a cake-caddy or slice up and store in an air tight container for up to 3-4 days. Serve oven fresh, when slightly warm or at room temperature. You may also serve it chilled with the cherry frosting. It tastes amazing anyway, but I love it with the real cherry frosting!
**TIPS: This is a traditional old-fashioned recipe that has a thick gooey cake mixture. It comes out just fine. However, for thinning (only when you think the cake mixture is too dry and thick), you could always use some cold milk — use 1 tbsp at a time and mix until you get a desired smooth cake mixture. If you think too many cherries sink at the cake bottom, you could also use a handful of all purpose flour to dust and coat the cherry pieces in a separate bowl, before adding and folding them into the cake mixture. Moreover, if you are too pressed with time, you may add baking powder straight into the cake mixture — mix very well till uniformly blended — then add all the all-purpose flour together and mix thoroughly till you see no lumps and all is incorporated well in the mixture. Though this time saver tip may not result in a very smooth textured cake top, the taste and softness wouldn’t be any different. Don’t worry about the top too much, because we are using the frosting on the cake anyways!!
For the CHERRY BUTTERCREAM FROSTING, you will need ⇒
- 1 stick or 8 tbsp butter, softened at room temperature (or minimally heated to soften, but not melt)
- 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 12 large frozen and pitted dark sweet cherries, thinly and finely chopped
- 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract (yes, I love to use a lot of vanilla!)
- An electric blender
How I make my cherry frosting ⇒
- In a mixing bowl, add the softened butter.
- Using the electric blender, whisk the butter for 5 minutes at a low speed. Then another 1 minute at medium-high speed. By the end of this step, the butter should have lightened in color, fluffed up a little and would’ve smoothed.
- To the glossy butter, now add all of the cherries, vanilla extract and 1 cup of sugar. Guiding the blender’s turbo beater or paddle head (while the blender is switched off) with hand, roughly mix or fold in all the contents together once, to avoid the “sugar cloud splash” in your kitchen!
- Switch on the electric blender and whisk for 1 full minute at low speed. Then mix for 2 more minutes at medium-high speed.
- Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar into the frosting mixture. Yet again, roughly fold in all the contents together before switching on the electric blender (it avoids the sudden sugar splash!)
- Using the electric blender, blend in the ingredients at low speed for 1 minute, followed by 5 more minutes of mixing at a high speed. Mix till all ingredients are incorporated well and the frosting is uniformly pink and smooth. (Don’t worry if you see the butter separate out, they would all come together nicely at the end!)
- When done, you should see stable yet soft frosting peaks on the blender paddle as well as in your frosting bowl!
- Allow about 15-20 minutes of refrigeration for the frosting to set to the desired consistency, and get ready before piping or icing on the cake. Once out of the refrigerator, stir all the frosting once with a spatula.
- Using an angled cake icing spatula, cover the (completely cooled) cake with the frosting and allow refrigeration till the frosting is set. Slice the cake and serve!
**TIPS: For thicker frosting, add more sugar (1 cup at a time) and blend well till mixed/incorporated well. However, I find using 2 cups of total sugar for my real cherry frosting. They taste optimally sweet and super delicious! And I therefore also refrigerate my frosting for a little bit before use, so as to allow the frosting to sufficiently “thicken” (and be icing ready), instead of adding more sugar in my recipe. Moreover, always use small amounts of cold milk (add about 1 tbsp at a time and blend), just in case you’d like to thin the frosting, or lighten it up in consistency.