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  • Writer's pictureAmy Minichiello

Cherry Red Fingertips & A Culinary Christmas Tradition

Fingertips stained a purple-bluish hue, mouths too. There is no mistaking the tell-tale signs of two cheeky cherry-eating children and that trail of pips that follow suit. Beau may as well have found gold when he spied the festive globular gems in the fridge. All 5kg of them.

A few weeks ago, when Sophie arrived for our Spring Lunch she handed me a box as she stepped into our home, "I'm sorry I could only get seconds." As I lifted the lid I let out a gasp of delight for what looked up at me was a tumble of glistening gems, "these are seconds? They're perfect!"

I recently treated my ears and allowed the visuals to dance around inside my mind as I listened to the mesmerizing voice of Meryl Streep narrate Tom Lake by Ann Patchett. The main character, Lara, lives on a cherry farm in Northern Michigan and I couldn't help but imagine her and her three grown daughters picking the dangling jewels from the trees as their mother told them the story of the moments that made up her life thus far as my fingertips became increasingly more stained as I pitted each taught shiny drupe.

Every year I promise myself I'll invest the small amount of money into purchasing a cherry pitter, and each year I find myself standing at my kitchen bench pressing the pips out with my fingers, dodging juice missiles that evidently leave their mark on all manner of surfaces, including me! Why on earth did I wear a white singlet?

But what to make with these cherries? The culinary possibilities are endless - cherry compote. Cherry tart. Cherry pie. Cherry jam. Cherry strudel. It was Sophie's mention of cherry bread as we sat around the table that piqued my interest. I had sourdough to shape, a bowl full of pitted cherries...I put two and two together and a delightfully festive creation was born. Studded with chopped almonds and a touch of cinnamon for that Christmassy warmth. Thick slices (fresh or toasted) generously buttered then smeared with my spiced cherry jam makes for quite an enjoyable breakfast (or anytime snack) during the month of December. Insert your favourite hot beverage to accompany you and perhaps listen to the marvelous Jeannette Winterson's Christmas Days, 12 stories, and 12 feasts for 12 days. The Snow Mama story is our favourite. And just like that you may find a brand new culinary Christmas tradition is conceived.


Cherry & Almond Sourdough

This quantity of sourdough will give you two loaves of bread. I use one of these for the cherry version and I leave the other plain. I am by no means a master at sourdough baking, but this method always delivers delicious results.

150g ripe sourdough starter

750ml warm water

10g salt

800g bread flour

200g spelt

1 cup pitted cherries

1/4 - 1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped

1-2 tsp ground cinnamon

In a large bowl, mix the starter, water, and salt with your hand. Add the flour and mix until well combined. Cover with a clean tea towel and let rest for 30 minutes. Remove the teatowel and using your hand, stretch and fold the dough 8 times as you turn the bowl in a circle. Cover and rest again for 30 minutes. Repeat this stretching and folding process 3 more times.

Cover with the tea towel and leave the bowl to rest on the bench overnight. The following morning should see the dough having risen to the top. If it hasn't, simply leave it until it has. Sometimes this happens at 6:30 am for me and other times, when the house is a bit cooler, I will have to wait until about 9:30 am.

Dust your bench with semolina. Scrape the dough out onto the bench and using your hand bring up the outside of the dough into the middle as if you are tucking a baby up in a swaddle until you have a nice round. Cut in half, shape again into a round, and leave on the bench, covered with a teatowel for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, you can prepare your banneton baskets. I use round ones, and only one of them is a "proper" one. The other is the green basket from a 1kg tub of ricotta which works just as well. Lay a teatowel in each one, dust liberally with semolina, and set aside.

Shape one of your loaves as per normal and place it into the banneton. With the other, which will be the cherry bread, you want to pat out the dough so it is flat and resembles a thick pizza. Scatter over the cherries, almonds, and cinnamon, and then fold the edges up and over to tuck everything in. Now here you want to sort of knead it all in as you shape it into a round. You may find you need more semolina here. Poke any larger cherries back in using your fingertip if they try and escape and then pop into the banneton. Tuck the teatowel over the top of each one and place it in the fridge. Sometimes I leave mine for an hour and other times I leave them for 7-9 hours. Whatever works for you.

Place a large casserole pot with a lid (or whatever you use to bake your bread in) into the oven and preheat to the highest setting. Mine goes to 250c fan force. When you are ready to bake, rip off a square of baking paper, scrunch it up, and then flatten it out onto the bench. Take your cherry bread from the fridge, invert it onto the baking paper, smooth out the semolina over the top, make a few slashes/scores with a lame, sharp razor or serrated knife, and lower into the casserole/cast iron pot. Pop the lid back on and bake for 22 minutes. Remove the lid, reduce the oven temperature to 200c, and bake for another 20 minutes.

Invert your golden loaf out onto a cooling rack and allow it to rest until cooled. Enjoy any way you desire, but I like to slice mine thickly, lightly toast it, and then spread it with butter and spiced cherry jam (you can find the recipe for the jam here). Eat, enjoy, and be merry!


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