What a beautiful few days we’ve been having here in God’s country.

Clear blue skies, crisp, breathtaking air as sweet and fresh as spring water and some stunning frosts, making the whole area shimmer and sparkle beneath the pale sun. Driving to work has never been more enjoyable.

It certainly makes a change from the New Year, which was as grey, damp and miserable as a wet school gabardine. This fine, crisp weather is my very favourite – I only wish we had a little snow about to make the moors look even prettier. I know, I know! Not many of you like snow, but I do, and I’m not going to apologise! I’m at my happiest when trudging about in deep snow beneath a cloudless blue sky.

Of course, with this cold snap, my mind again leaps to baking, and what cakes I might like to make in the lovely comforting warmth of the kitchen.

Feeling a little lazy, I decided to try to make do with what I had in the house. A quick look around the cupboards brought forth some tinned cherries and a few packets of almonds, plus I had some kirsch left in the drinks cupboard, so the recipe pretty much wrote itself.

The combination of cherries and almonds is one of those that is almost magical in its perfection.

No other fruit and nut combination ever seems to work quite as well. And versatility-wise, you have a huge range of things to make, from simple meringues to elaborate roulades.

One of my favourite childhood treats was a dessert served at Little Chef, whose fortunes were reported as fading this very week – how sad – a classic pudding called Jubilee Pancakes.

This involved a thick doughy pancake folded around a few spoonfuls of sweet cherries in gloopy syrup, topped with vanilla ice-cream. I remember racing through the rest of the meal just to get at those cherries.

The original idea behind the recipe, the classic Cherries Jubilee, is simply a pan of cherries, flambéed (often at the table) with kirsch and a little sugar and lemon juice, usually served over ice-cream. It’s still a beautiful way to end a meal.

Of course, when fresh cherries are about, a classic French clafoutis is just about the best thing you can make, especially if you have some almonds to hand. A light, fluffy batter, baked like a toad-in-the-hole, surrounding fresh pitted cherries, sprinkled with a few lovely toasted almonds. Heavenly.

We’ll get one of those made in the late summer, when our own native cherries are at their best, providing the birds haven’t scoffed them all; this is something we have terrible, frequent trouble with. Curse those birds!

So, we’re going to make a nice, easy cherry almond cake this time, using a little cornmeal to add a slightly unusual and chewy texture to the finished item. Cornmeal makes for a slightly denser cake than most sponges, but it’s incredibly moist and tastes brilliant, especially against tart fruit.

This cake is the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon cuppa, or served ‘fancy’ with a scoop of good ice-cream and perhaps a shot of kirsch for a grand dessert.

It can be eaten cold, or gently reheated, wrapped in foil in a low oven for a few minutes. And if you’re lucky enough to have been given a tin or jar of Italian confiseur Fabbri’s amazing Amarena cherries, these would be amazing in this recipe. Look out for them, they are incredible.

Aprons on!

For the cake:

200g unsalted butter, room temperature

200g unrefined golden caster sugar

200g ground almonds

100g cornmeal or polenta

1 tsp baking powder

3 medium free-range eggs

the zest of 1 lemon

300g tinned cherries (or fresh in season)

50g flaked almonds

For the syrup:

50g unrefined golden caster sugar

the juice of the lemon you use for zesting

2 tbsps kirsch (or brandy / vodka)


A 9-inch loose-bottomed or springform cake tin

A little butter and plain flour for lining the tina little icing sugar


Preheat the oven to 170°C / Gas 3. Grease the tin lightly all over with a dab of butter, and shake a tablespoon of plain flour all round, making sure every corner is completely covered. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale, light and creamy. Add in the eggs one by one, beating in well each time, before adding the next. Mix the ground almonds, cornmeal, baking powder and lemon zest in a bowl, and fold in the egg mixture very gently until completely mixed.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and push the cherries gently into the mixture, spreading them as evenly as possible throughout the cake.

Sprinkle the flaked almonds across the top of the cake evenly. Bake for about 45-55 minutes, until golden and firm, checking that a skewer or thin-bladed knife comes out clean. If not, pop the cake back into the oven, covering the top with a little foil so the almonds don't catch. Whilst the cake is finishing off in the oven, make up the kirsch syrup.

Put the caster sugar, kirsch and lemon juice in a small saucepan and gently heat until the sugar dissolves completely.

Remove the cake from the oven, and pour the syrup over the cake immediately, allowing it to soak in.

Let the cake cool in its tin for half an hour or so, before unmoulding. Sprinkle with a little icing sugar to serve.