Happy New Year! I’m offering a sweet antidote to all the New Year cleanses and detoxes dangerously promising to make you once again clean and pure. Something that won't make you feel deprived. Because variety and flexibility - not willpower, perfection and self-criticism- are key values for sustainable health in body and mind. If these values aren't priority, we'll be sucked into the hamster wheel of fad diet and exercise programs that, come February, backfire and leave us feeling emotionally depleted and physically undernourished. If you want to steer toward the middle rather than operate in the extremes, keep reading for the sweet origin story of this crumb cake.
As far back as I can remember, my family has had the tradition of making a Cherry Roll for Christmas breakfast. Passed down by my Aunt Sandra, it's a recipe my mom and Aunt Anna still make for Christmas and other special occasions.
In the original recipe, butter and sugar are creamed together, an egg and almond extract are added, then all-purpose flour is folded in. The thick and sticky almond-scented cake batter is pressed into a large pan, covered with cherry pie filling, and dotted with reserved batter before baking. Once cooked, it's drizzled with an almond-spiked powdered sugar glaze.
The delicious secret to this breakfast is the almond extract and its pairing with cherries. But let's not be mistaken. This is cake. And surprise, there's no rolling involved! Nobody knows why the cake is called a roll. But that's beside the point. Because the bitter irony of this sweet tradition is that my Aunt Sandra, the person from whom the recipe originated, became gluten intolerant and can no longer enjoy it.
I've been wanting to update the Cherry Roll for years. And after a chance discussion about it with my mom and aunts at Thanksgiving, I was given the green light to remake it so all could enjoy, once again. For my version, I've turned to a favorite naturally gluten-free baking duo, almond flour and arrowroot powder. And because of the higher fat content in the nut flour, I was able to cut down on the butter and sugar. The method for making the batter remains the same, but instead of canned cherry pie filling I make my own by cooking down frozen cherries and thickening with arrowroot powder.
Although we enjoy this for breakfast, this would also be great for afternoon tea or to end a light meal. Whatever the occasion, I hope it brings sweetness to your table in 2019 and reminds you that true nourishment is not found in the extremes, but rather in variety and flexibility.
Breakfast Cherry Crumb Cake
Makes 9 squares (serves 4)
Notes: We usually double the recipe so we have leftovers for a second morning.
6 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
1/2 cup coconut sugar (brown sugar or regular cane sugar should also work)
1 large egg
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups (250 gr.) almond flour
1/4 cup (28 gr.) arrowroot powder
Cherry Pie Filling
8 oz (226 gr.) frozen pitted cherries
2 Tbsp. coconut sugar
1 Tbsp. water
1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp. arrowroot powder
1/4 cup (25 gr.) powdered sugar
1 tsp. plant milk
1/4 tsp. almond extract
Preheat oven to 350 F/176 C. Grease an 8x8" (20x20 cm) baking dish with butter.
In a deep mixing bowl, use a hand mixer or stand mixer to cream butter and sugar until smooth. Mix in egg, baking powder, almond and vanilla extracts and salt. Mix in almond flour and arrowroot powder. Once flour is partially incorporated batter will become thick. Remove extra batter from the mixer and continue mixing with a silicone spatula until you have a homogenous batter.
Set aside 3 tablespoons of batter. Dump remaining batter into greased baking dish and spread out evenly.
Place cherries, sugar, and water in a medium sauce pot over medium high heat. Cover, bring to a strong simmer, reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook until cherries are soft and have released their juices (~10 minutes). Use a spoon to halve some of the cherries.
In a separate small bowl, make a slurry by mixing together arrowroot powder and a spoonful of room temperature water. Pour slurry into cherries while whisking the mixture. Turn heat off and continue whisking until slurry is incorporated and mixture thickens.
Pour cherry pie filling onto mixture. You may not use all of it if you prefer a thinner cherry filling. Dot with remaining batter and place in oven.
Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before slicing.
Make almond icing by combining ingredients in a small bowl. Stir until you get a smooth, pourable mixture. Drizzle as much as desired over cake, slice and serve.