Cherry Brown Butter Tea Cakes

by Susan on August 24, 2010

There are a handful of cooking websites I visit regularly. Sure it’s part market research, but it’s mostly for inspiration. Anyone who loves to cook and/or bake is inspired by what other people are making. It’s why we eagerly await our Food + Wine and Bon Appetit issues every month and why we share the successes and failures that come from our stove tops and ovens with our friends and family. But I digress.

When I visit these cooking websites I’m constantly amazed at how many people (both the bloggers themselves and their commentators) exclaim, “When I saw this recipe I was so excited! I already had all the ingredients!” Who are these people? Are they liars? Farmers? Because even though I keep a decently stocked pantry and refrigerator, rare is the case that I don’t have to run to the store for something.

Sometimes it’s a spice I used up and didn’t replace. Sometimes it’s a new box of brown sugar because the one I keep tucked on the shelf for rainy days has hardened beyond repair. Sometimes it’s an herb. A vegetable. A fruit. Something. Until today.

My in-laws left us with a pound of cherries that we’d never be able to consume before they turned. I decided to bake them. But into what? I didn’t want to make a pie or a crumble where I’d still be faced with leftovers (admittedly, I also was in no mood to tackle crust). My mind turned to bite-sized possibilities.

A few weeks ago, in a moment of culinary brilliance, I prepared my favorite banana bread recipe in a 12-cup muffin tin. They were the perfect grab-and-go breakfast or snack and the friends we offered them to found them too cute to resist. Bite-sized is, after all, so much better. “Cut it up and they will eat it” my savvy Mom used to say to my brother and I while slicing a previously ignored apple or cantaloupe. Within minutes, the very same apple we had shunned, the very same cantaloupe we had said we didn’t want, was gone. I play the same game with my husband and in turn we play it with friends. No one wants that last piece of steak? Cut it into fours and poof! Again, I digress. It must be the weather.

When I stumbled across a tart-already-adapted-to-a-bar recipe on Smitten Kitchen I wasn’t only excited because I had every single ingredient (man, that really does fee great to say), but also because I knew it would be a contender for the muffin tin.

I did not have a cherry pitter, but the task of manually pitting the cherries was much easier than I thought it would be (and not messy at all, which is more than I can say for my last foray with a pitter). I used a small paring knife to cut around the pit and the cherries emerged relatively unscathed.

For those of you who have not browned butter before, do not be intimidated! Do some reading before you get started and be patient. It’s much better to brown your butter on lower heat even if it takes longer. Keep stirring and give it your undivided attention, because the second you turn away Murphy’s Law guarantees it will burn. If you fail the first time, just give it another go. It’s only butter.

I did my best to pour the batter around the cherries, but when they came out of the oven it was clear that such fastidiousness wasn’t required. Next time I’d probably pour the batter in first and then place the cherries.

The muffin tin gives each tea cake a crust on the bottom and around the edges for the ideal crunch-to-cake-to-fruit ratio. The cherries were the star, but the brown butter held its own as a worthy suitor. These pretty little packages weren’t too sweet, and would be ideal for breakfast, brunch or a BBQ. A snack-sized scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dusting of powdered sugar would put them over the top. Yes, the individualized size takes a little more prep time, but the pay off is totally worth it, both in appearance and texture.

Cherry Brown Butter Snacks
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen who adapted from Bon Appetit

I halved this recipe to produce eight snacks. If you’re set on making bars, use an 8×8 baking pan. You can certainly sub in another fruit – whatever you have on hand!

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Pinch of salt

1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 pound sweet cherries should yield 12 ounces of pitted cherries, I used 3 cherries per individual muffin mold, you can use 12 ounces of whatever fruit you like

Crust: Mix melted butter, sugar, and vanilla in medium bowl. Add flour and salt and stir until incorporated. Transfer dough to prepared tin, and use your fingertips to press the dough evenly across the bottom of the molds (about 1 TBSP of dough per mold). While the recipe I adapted from said to use parchment paper, I just greased and floured my muffin tin with great results. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes (they will puff slightly while baking). Transfer crust to rack and cool in pan. Maintain oven temperature.

Filling: Cook butter in heavy small saucepan (a lighter-colored one will make it easier to see the color changing) over medium heat until nutty brown, stirring often and watching carefully, about six minutes. Immediately pour browned butter into glass measuring cup to cool slightly.

Whisk sugar, eggs, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add flour and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk browned butter into sugar-egg mixture; whisk until well blended.

Arrange pitted cherries on cooled crusts. Carefully pour browned butter mixture evenly over the fruit.Bake bars until filling is puffed and golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Remove tea cakes from muffin tin and cool on a rack.

Note: These can be made at least a day ahead, and stored at room temperature. Any longer, keep them in the fridge.

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