Sour Cherry Sweet Rolls

Sour Cherry Sweet RollsI wait all year long for sour cherries. I love their tart flavor and tiny size, and just look at the color! Does a more beautiful food exist?!

Sour Cherry Sweet RollsGetting your hands on sour cherries isn’t easy. Their season is only a few weeks long–blink and you’ll miss them! And you can’t find them just anywhere. I’ve seen them in a grocery store exactly once in the last five years and it was a super pricey specialty foods store. These are basically a farmers market-only find.

Sour Cherry Sweet RollsSour cherries are ideal for pie–I’m not sure I’ve seen them in any other application. Pie requires temperature control though, and the kitchen is the only room of my apartment that can’t be air conditioned 😢 Futzing with sticky pie dough while sweating and cursing whoever decided to put bars on a courtyard-facing second-story window is not my idea of a good time. Instead, I’m looking at the bright side and making something that needs a warm environment to work properly–Sour Cherry Sweet Rolls, y’all!

Sour Cherry Sweet RollsThese rolls are made with my favorite sweet yeast dough, and positively loaded with sour cherries! In fact, the filling is literally just sour cherries, sugar, butter, and a pinch of salt. I considered adding some spices to pep things up, but this perfect seasonal fruit simply doesn’t need any adornment.

Sour Cherry Sweet RollsThese rolls are delicious, but they can be a little tough to handle. Once the dough is rolled out and the filling is piled on, it’s time to roll everything up. This can be near impossible to do evenly, so please don’t stress yourself out about it.

Slicing requires a little more patience than most sweet roll recipes. Instead of slicing all the rolls at once, I recommend slicing them individually, using your free hand to keep them intact as you transfer each one to the pan. This may not go perfectly either, but just know that a rise will make any cosmetic issues disappear. If you have any cherries fall out, just nudge them back in the best you can–again, don’t let this stress you out. Everything is going to be fine. You can’t see it in these photos, but just know that these rolls were truly hideous after slicing. Post-rise and bake though, you’d never know it…

Sour Cherry Sweet RollsSour Cherry Sweet RollsSour Cherry Sweet Rolls…and even if you did, icing would fix it anyway. This quick, five-ingredient icing is the perfect accompaniment to the sour cherry filling. It’s flavored with vanilla and almond extracts, and formulated to be extra thick. Once it’s spread over the top, it melts down and mingles with the filling and it’s just…divine.

Sour Cherry Sweet RollsSour Cherry Sweet RollsSour Cherry Sweet RollsThese Sour Cherry Sweet Rolls are the best kind of mid-summer breakfast treat. Soft pastry, buttery, sweet-tart cherry filling, and delectable vanilla-almond icing–is there a better way to start the day?!

Sour Cherry Sweet RollsNow, run to the farmers market before the season is over! You don’t want to have to wait a year to make these.Sour Cherry Sweet Rolls

Sour Cherry Sweet Rolls
makes 12 rolls

1 3/4-2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bread flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast (I use Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast)
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, beaten, room temperature

2 1/2 cups sour cherries (fresh or frozen), pitted
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
6-8 tablespoons heavy cream

Grease a 9×13-inch rimmed baking pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, bread flour, sugar, instant yeast, and salt. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat whole milk and butter until hot to the touch, about 115F. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to fold in milk mixture, followed by egg and yolk. Add more all-purpose flour until dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Knead 5-6 minutes before forming into a ball and placing in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.

Make the filling. In a small bowl, fold together sour cherries, sugar, and salt.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into an 8×14-inch rectangle. Use an offset icing knife to spread softened butter over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch perimeter on all sides. Scatter cherry mixture over the top, leaving and excess liquid behind in the bowl. Starting with the long edge furthest from your body, tightly roll filled dough toward you, smoothing any seams with your thumbs. Carefully slice dough into 12 rolls–this may be very messy. Place rolls close together in prepared pan. Loosely cover the pan with aluminum foil. Place covered pan in a warm, draft-free place for 60-90 minutes, until rolls have doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375F. Uncover rolls. Bake 25-30 minutes, recovering the rolls with foil if anything begins to brown too quickly. Let cool in the pan on a rack while you make the icing.

In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together confectioners sugar and salt. Whisk in extracts and 6 tablespoons of heavy cream. Mix until smooth, adding more heavy cream by the tablespoon until the desired consistency is reached.

Drop spoonfuls of icing over the warm rolls and spread around with the back of a spoon. Slice and serve.

Rolls are best the day they are made, but will keep covered at room temperature for a day or so.

Sour Cherry Sweet Rolls

Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsWhy is it that I always want to make pie when I simply don’t have the time? I would love to take a week off of work just to make pie and drink cold brew, but I know for a fact that I would make exactly one pie and spend the rest of the week trying to get to the beach.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsI’m looking forward to many adventures this summer, but for now, it’s mostly business as usual: lots of work, lots of baseball-watching, lots of late nights, pounds and pounds of seasonal fruit, and every intention of making pie. But again, there is no time for all the rolling and cutting and chilling that goes with pie. Not this week, anyway. I think I’ll just stick with these Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars instead.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsThese bars have everything you love about sweet cherry pie, but are half the work. Less than half, even. There’s buttery crust and crunchy, nubbly topping. There’s sticky, not-too-sweet cherry filling. And there’s exactly zero chilling, rolling, crimping, and railing at the universe because the heat is melting all the butter in your must-must-must-stay-cold pie dough. That’s my kind of summer day dessert.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread Bars come together fairly quickly and are very simple to make. Leave your mixer in the cabinet–you won’t need it today. Just fold together a couple pounds of pitted sweet cherries (feel free to use frozen), sugar, nutmeg, cornstarch, and salt. I like to add a bit of almond extract too, as it pairs well with cherries, but feel free to leave it out if you don’t have any or are allergic to tree nuts. The filling will look powdery at first, but it will release some liquid as it sits.

The next step is making the shortbread. I freaking love shortbread. It requires minimal ingredients and ability, and is far more than the sum of its parts. Here, it serves as both the crust and the topping. To make this shortbread, just rub cold butter into a mixture of flour, sugar, and salt. A cohesive dough will not form–the mixture will be powdery overall, but should hold together when pinched. Once the butter is broken down in the dry ingredients, set aside a cup of the mixture for topping.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread BarsNext, assemble the bars. Pour the remaining shortbread mixture into a foil-lined square baking dish and press it into an even layer. Then, dock it with a fork.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread BarsTop the crust with the cherry mixture, discarding any excess liquid. Grab that reserved cup of the shortbread mixture. Working with just a little bit at a time, pinch it together and scatter little clumps of dough over the cherries. When that’s done, bake the assembled bars for 40-50 minutes, transferring the pan to the bottom rack at the halfway point. You’ll know they’re done when the filling just barely jiggles when the pan is jostled. Oh, and when your kitchen smells incredible 😊

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsAnd now, for the hard part–cooling. Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars must cool to room temperature before you slice them. It’s the difference between the clean edges you see here and a gooey, crumbly mess. If you are short on time (or just impatient), you may place the pan in the freezer once you can handle it without oven mitts. It’ll bring the bars to room temperature in 45 minutes or so.

Once the bars are cool, use the foil overhang to remove them to a cutting board and peel off the foil. I find this easiest to do by removing the foil on the sides, slicing the bars, and then using a thin spatula to lift them from the foil on the bottom. However you go about it though, you’re in for a treat. 

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsLook at these beauties! That buttery, flaky shortbread and the beautiful cherry filling–I can’t get enough. Who needs pie when you can have Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars?!Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars

Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars
makes one 9-inch square pan, about 9 bars

Cherry Filling:
2 pounds whole sweet red cherries, stemmed and pitted
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes

Place oven racks in top and bottom positions. Preheat oven to 375F. Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil, leaving overhang on two sides. Grease foil with butter. Set aside.

Make cherry filling. In a large mixing bowl, combine pitted cherries, sugar, nutmeg, cornstarch, salt, and almond extract. Fold everything together with a silicone spatula. Set aside, stirring occasionally, while you make the shortbread.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. Add cold butter. Use your fingertips to rub butter into flour until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. It will be powdery, but should hold together when pinched. Set aside 1 cup of the mixture for topping.

Pour remaining shortbread mixture into prepared pan. Spread it around to cover the bottom of the pan before using your hand to pack it down into an even layer. Prick several times with a fork. Pour cherries over the top, discarding any excess liquid.

For the topping, use your fingers to pinch together small portions of the reserved shortbread mixture. Scatter them over the top of the cherry layer.

Bake bars on the top rack of the oven for 20 minutes. Move bars to the bottom rack and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, until the filling just barely jiggles when the pan is jostled. Tent with foil if anything begins to brown too quickly. Let bars cool in the pan on a rack until they reach room temperature.

Use foil overhang to remove bars to a cutting board. Carefully peel off foil (see post above for my method). Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice into nine squares. Serve.

Leftover Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days, or in the refrigerator for up to four.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars

Sweet Cherry Cheesecake Bars

 As far as summer fruit goes, I don’t think anything beats fresh cherries. Not even mango.

When cherries start showing up at the greenmarket, I get a flood of new ideas. Pairing them with rhubarb in pie, making syrup for homemade sodas, rolling them into sweet rolls. There are a million possibilities for every bag! Sometimes though, it’s fun to go with a classic like cherry cheesecake. But my kitchen is a sauna this time of year, and working with a water bath and a full springform pan sounds less than appealing. Plus, there’s the 24 hour chill–who has time for that?!

Enter these Sweet Cherry Cheesecake Bars: shortbread crust layered with tangy cheesecake and sweet cherry pie filling, topped with a simple almond streusel. They have all the flavor of the classic cheesecake, no water bath or seemingly-eternal wait required! They still take a little time (they have to chill, after all), but they are far less of a production than a traditional cheesecake–simple enough for a weekend treat, but perfect for parties, too! 

These bars have four layers, but none of them are difficult or time consuming to make. Start by making the shortbread crust. Mix together flour, sugar, and salt before cutting in a cold stick of butter. The mixture will be very dry and seem like it won’t bake up to much, but it will. Pour the mixture into a parchment-lined pan, spread it out to cover the entire bottom of the pan, and then press it down with your fingers until it is one even layer. It will still be powdery-looking, but it will pack down easily and hold together. Bake that for ten minutes–it won’t be fully cooked in that time, but this little step will prevent the crust from getting soggy from the cheesecake and cherry layers.

Once you put the shortbread crust in the oven, use the same bowl you used for the crust to make the streusel topping. No need to wash the bowl–the streusel has all the same ingredients as the crust, plus almonds. Mix together flour, sugar, salt, and sliced almonds, then cut in a stick of butter. Refrigerate the mixture to keep the butter cold while you prepare the cherries and cheesecake.

Remove the crust from the oven and set the pan on a rack to cool while you make the cherry layer. I basically use my favorite cherry pie filling recipe, but cut the quantity in half. Many cherry cheesecake recipes ask for canned cherry pie filling, but this is way better than anything you’ll find in the grocery store. Simply mix three cups of halved, pitted fresh sweet cherries with 1/2 cup of sugar, three tablespoons of cornstarch, a touch of nutmeg, and some salt. The cherries will release some liquid while you make the cheesecake layer.

The cheesecake comes together in less than five minutes. Beat some cream cheese with a bit of sugar. Mix in an egg, followed by a teaspoon of lemon juice and some vanilla. That’s it. It will be smooth, creamy, and absolutely gorgeous! 

By the time the cheesecake is ready, the shortbread crust should be at room temperature and ready for layering. Spread the cheesecake mixture over the crust, and tap the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles. Scatter the cherries over the top of the cheesecake, leaving behind any liquid that has collected in the bottom of the bowl. Press down lightly to sort of nestle the cherries into the cheesecake. Remove the streusel from the refrigerator and sprinkle that over the cherries. Put the full pan in the oven to bake for about 45 minutes.

The last part is the most difficult by far. Let the full pan cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate it for at least four hours. Yes, it’s a long time, but you want that cheesecake layer to be nice and cold when you finally bite in! Room temperature cheesecake? No, thanks! I like to make these bars the night before I need them. That way, they’re thoroughly chilled when I get up, and all that’s left to do is slice them up and grab a fork! 

Look at all those gorgeous layers! The sweet cherries, tangy cheesecake, buttery shortbread crust, and crispy almond streusel are amazing together–the combination of cherries and cheesecake are a classic for a reason. These Sweet Cherry Cheesecake Bars are wonderful the way they are, but if you’re looking for a red, white, and blue dessert for Independence Day, you could swap fresh blueberries for one cup of the cherries. I don’t know about you, but watching fireworks while snacking on patriotic cheesecake bars is right up my alley. 

 Sweet Cherry Cheesecake Bars
makes one 8×8″ pan, about 9-16 bars

Shortbread Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold

Cherry Layer:
3 cups pitted, halved sweet cherries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of Kosher or sea salt

12 ounces (1 1/2 bricks) full-fat brick-style cream cheese
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a 9-inch square pan, line it with parchment, and grease again.

Make the shortbread crust. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. Use a pastry blender or two forks to cut butter into flour mixture until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. Mixture will be dry and crumbly with big pieces of butter, not a cohesive dough. Pour mixture into prepared pan and use clean dry fingers to press it into the pan. Bake ten minutes and then let cool completely.

While the crust is cooling, make the streusel. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and almonds. Use a pastry blender or two forks to cut butter into dry ingredients until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. Set in the refrigerator to chill.

Prepare the cherry layer. Place pitted, halved cherries in a large mixing bowl. Stir in sugar, nutmeg, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.

Make the cheesecake. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in sugar, followed by egg, lemon juice, and vanilla. Spread mixture over the cooled crust. Tap the full pan on the counter five times to release any air bubbles.

Scatter cherries on top of cheesecake layer, leaving any excess liquid in the bowl. Press down lightly to nestle the cherries into the cheesecake. Sprinkle chilled streusel mixture over the top of the cherries. Bake full pan at 375F for 40-45 minutes, tenting with foil at the 25 minute mark.

Let bars cool in the pan on a rack until they reach room temperature. Refrigerate the full pan for at least four hours. Use the parchment to lift the bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Use a chef’s knife to slice them.

Serve immediately, or keep the bars covered in the refrigerator for up to four days.