Recipe Idea: Chocolate Cake with Tart Cherries

Chocolate Cake with Sour Cherries

Fresh tart cherries are a lot harder to find on the west coast than in some other parts of the country.  We have tons of sweet cherries available, and while I love sweet cherries, I’m always on the lookout for the tarts.  Also known as sour or pie cherries, these beautiful bright red gems are mainly used for cooking and baking.  When mixed with a bit of sugar, they have an extraordinary flavor that outshines all the sweet cherries I’ve encountered.

I had never even tasted a fresh tart cherry before my trip to Michigan last year where I attended the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City.  It was there that I learned about the fantastic nutritional benefits of this antioxident-filled fruit.  I also toured beautiful cherry orchards, ate the best cherry pie I’ve ever tasted in my life, fell in love with tart cherry juice concentrate, and met some of the friendliest people around.  I really can’t wait to get back to that part of the country someday!

But until then, I satisfy my cravings with delicious dried tart Montmorency cherries from Trader Joe’s, smoothies and drinks made with tart cherry juice concentrate (I order it online for now, but am hoping it will become more widely available soon), and the occasional jackpot of fresh tart cherries when I can find them.

I felt like I had struck gold when I found some fresh tart cherries at an international market here in Fresno recently.  They weren’t labeled as tart cherries, but I could tell from the shape that they weren’t the usual sweet cherries I find around here.  I had no clue what variety they were and there was a bit of a language barrier between myself and the woman behind the register, so I never did figure that part out.  I just knew I had to buy some.  They were rather expensive, so I only grabbed about a pound.  While a pound of tart cherries isn’t enough for a pie, I knew I’d figure out something fun to do with them.

What I decided to do was sprinkle them over the top of a chocolate cake batter.  We all know that chocolate and cherries go really well together.  But I feel that chocolate and tart cherries are a match made in heaven.  Remember my tart cherry chocolate chip cookies? I didn’t have any particular recipe in mind, I just wanted to try adding some fresh tart cherries to a basic chocolate cake batter.  I ended up adapting a recipe from Baking Bites and making a plain square chocolate cake.

First I pitted the cherries by squeezing them between my fingertips.  There’s really no need for a cherry pitter, the pit comes out quite easily!  Next, I sliced all the cherries in half.

Fresh Sour Cherries

After adding the cake batter to the pan,  I just sprinkled the fresh cherry halves evenly over the top of the batter.  I didn’t even bother pressing them in.

Chocolate Cake Batter with Sour Cherries

Finally, I just baked the cake as usual.  I was surprised that the batter didn’t rise up and over the cherries much, but I’m kind of glad it didn’t.  I love the way the cake looked with the cherries visible on top.  The cake turned out to be absolutely delicious!  The tart cherries were such a great contrast to the sweet chocolate cake and just as I expected, the flavors were perfect together.

Cut Chocolate Cherry Cake

So as the title of this blog post suggests, this isn’t an actual recipe, just a recipe idea.  If you already have a favorite chocolate cake recipe, I suggest baking it in a sheet pan and sprinkling some fresh tart cherries over the top.  You won’t even need to bother with frosting.  I think it might be fun to try with brownie batter, too, although you might want to actually push the cherries into the thicker brownie batter before baking.

Let me know if you try it!

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  1. Joanne

    I’ve been on the lookout for tart cherries too but they are impossible to find! At least I know what to make when I do finally come across them…what a fabulous idea for a cake!

    2:28 pm  Jul 5th, 2010
  2. DessertForTwo

    It IS hard to find tart cherries on the west coast…I wonder why that is? It’s interesting you found some at the farmer’s market even though they were not labeled as such. I think I’ll look a little more closely at my market next time too. Your tart cherry chocolate cookies are my idea of heaven. I used sweet cherries and one bite made me swoon.

    2:46 pm  Jul 5th, 2010
  3. M @ Betty Crapper

    That would make a great snack cake in my house. I’ve never had a sour cherry. I have hope for one day.

    2:57 pm  Jul 5th, 2010
  4. Stacy

    This sounds so perfect! I love the flavors of sweet and tart together. Please feel free to link up to Meals on Mondays over at my blog –

    I am sure my readers would love this great recipe idea!

    2:58 pm  Jul 5th, 2010
  5. M.C.

    I live in Traverse City! It’s charming, isn’t it? I’m so glad you got to experience the National Cherry Festival. It’s going on right now… I love cherry concentrate in lemonade and any combination of cherries and chocolate, of course.

    5:21 pm  Jul 5th, 2010
  6. Phoo-D

    This looks wonderful! If we are lucky enough to have a stash of Trader Joe’s items on hand I often will combine their Triple Fudge Brownie mix with the dried Montmorency cherries for a quick dessert fix. It’s a deadly combination. I can only imagine how much better it would taste with fresh cherries and homemade cake!

    6:26 pm  Jul 5th, 2010
  7. JennyG

    Whole Foods carries the most delicious tart cherries in their frozen section.
    I used them all the time to make tart cherry desserts and the best thing is that they’re already pitted and they keep their bright red color.

    8:21 am  Jul 6th, 2010
  8. Nicole

    JennyG: Thanks for the heads up about the frozen cherries at Whole Foods. It seems like I had looked for frozen cherries there in San Diego with no luck, but I’ll try again!

    9:40 am  Jul 6th, 2010
  9. Tammy

    Thanks for sharing a cherry recipe! My in-laws own a sweet/sour cherry orchard about 30 miles north of Traverse City and I am always looking for a new cherry recipe! What fun to see you mention T.C. in your blog! =) Love reading your blog and especially your “to die for ” photos of your delights that you’ve made!

    2:51 pm  Jul 6th, 2010
  10. sawyer

    i like this idea very much. i’ve never made a chocolate cake although it’s my favorite cake, and this seems like a really interesting combo. i’ve had choc. covered cherries before, but didn’t really like it because it wasn’t fresh. there’s a strawberry stand that sells cherries as well and i’ll have to ask them what kind of cherries they are. awesome post! =)

    3:40 pm  Jul 6th, 2010
  11. my spatula

    this looks fantastic..and perfect flavors for a summertime dessert. love it!

    5:16 pm  Jul 6th, 2010
  12. Maytina

    Hold up. There’s a National Cherry Festival? I just looked it up and Canada has one too! I love fresh cherries, and I bake with the tart ones every year. Loads of pies annd tarts, I’ve only put them in cake once but it wasn’t half as pretty as this one!

    8:02 pm  Jul 6th, 2010
  13. ?????

    I like this.I have hope for one day.

    1:35 am  Jul 7th, 2010
  14. Chocolate Cake Addict

    That’s such an interesting combination of flavors I never thought about before. I’m betting it tastes something like a cherry cordial. Definitely something I’m going to try one day.

    1:05 pm  Jul 7th, 2010
  15. Betsy

    I live amidst the cherry orchards of Traverse City, and tonight I picked the 36 cherries from a tiny tart cherry tree in my yard. I was looking for something to do with so few cherries and found this blog suggestion. What a delicious cake! By the way the National Cherry Festival is going on this week.

    7:46 pm  Jul 7th, 2010
  16. joyce

    Yummy! I make a chocolate chip and cherry brownie that is really similar to this!

    9:13 pm  Jul 7th, 2010
  17. Patricia Scarpin

    Saving the recipe for December – I love the idea of pairing chocolate and cherries!

    8:29 am  Jul 8th, 2010
  18. Janeanne

    I had a big harvest of (sweet) cherries from my backyard tree. This weekend I combined this idea with a recipe I found for brownies made with almond butter + almond extract. Thus: Cherry Chocolate Almond Brownies. Yum!

    11:21 am  Jul 12th, 2010
  19. Amanda

    It wasn’t until last summer that I realized just how lucky I really am. I have a neighbor, just a few houses down, that has a wonderful sour cherry tree. He lets me pick and pluck to my heart’s content, otherwise the birds will be the ones enjoying them! I picked 9 pounds this year, his father in laws picked probably 5 or 6. Amazing that such a small tree can produce so many cherries! I canned 9 pints of cherry pie filling (I blogged it) and have basket full in my fridge I want to bake with and make jam from. Love this cake idea, it turned out so beautifully! It’s very similar to a sour cherry almond cake I have posted as well. I agree, sour cherries ROCK! 🙂

    10:05 am  Jul 13th, 2010
  20. Avanika (Yumsilicious Bakes)

    Looks delicious. I’ve never tried tart cherries!

    10:20 am  Jul 14th, 2010
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  22. Lisa Johnson

    Nice shortcut! I did this last night with cherries and pecans and it was delicious. Just a little note that it did take longer to cook by about 10 minutes for 2 9″ rounds, I did one straight up chocolate (for those with boring tastebuds) and one this way … it was a hit.

    6:03 am  Dec 15th, 2013
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