Don’t put that cherry pitter away just yet. Or throw out that stale loaf of bread. Here is a top find for what I call an amiable summer cake. I’ve been on the hunt for a simple cake made with cherries and was ready to pounce on a Hungarian Sour Cherry Cake featured in Saveur a few years ago, when New York Times columnist Martha Rose Shulman (“Recipes for Health”) came to the rescue. She adapted the recipe from a richer version devised by the famed French pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, who runs the French Pastry School in Chicago. It is brilliant and delicious.
You can tell that Chef Pfeiffer is steeped in the tradition of using everything up, down to the last breadcrumb. This, however, is not your standard bread pudding. It hails from Alsace and is known as a “bettelmann,” which means “beggar” in German. I guess because beggars in Alsace ask for and are given yesterday’s spare bread (as opposed to today’s spare change). This is a charming allusion to remember in my waste-not-want-not view of the world of the kitchen and pantry.
This recipe is similar to a chocolate bread pudding that I made last year in that the bread is literally dissolved and you would never perceive it as an ingredient. I wasn’t sure about that at the time but now I’m convinced. The bread soaks in milk for hours, or overnight, and is beaten to a mush along with honey, almond flour, cinnamon, egg yolks and, Shulman suggests, a little kirsch. I had none but I did add a teaspoon of Amaretto left over from an aborted jam experiment. The second brilliant move in the recipe was to make a meringue from the egg whites, and fold it into the bread mixture. The entire batter is then poured over pitted cherries placed in the bottom of a baking dish and topped with toasted almond pieces. I used slivered, Shulman used sliced. This looks like a light batter compared to my standard bread pudding where the cubes of bread remain visible. I am really impressed with the excellent new methods this recipe has taught me.
Cherry “Bettelmann” Bread Pudding adapted from Martha Rose Shulman, NYT Recipes for Health
4 oz stale white or whole wheat bread, crusts removed (measure after removing crusts)
1 c low-fat milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 pt (about ¾ lb) sweet cherries
3 eggs, separated (room temperature)
½ c almond flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp light-flavored honey
1 tsp kirsch or Amaretto (optional)
¼ c granulated white sugar
2 tbsp toasted slivered or sliced almonds
Cut the bread into ¾-inch cubes. Combine the milk and vanilla extract and pour over the bread, mixing well. Set aside in the refrigerator several hours or overnight.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Wash and pit the cherries and place them in the bottom of a buttered 2-quart baking dish (I used a 7×11-inch glass pan.)
Remove the milk and bread mixture from the refrigerator. (It would be helpful to let is swarm to room temperature before proceeding.) With a hand mixer, immersion blender or a whisk, beat the bread and milk mixture until smooth. Add the egg yolks, almond flour, cinnamon, honey and kirsch or Amaretto if using. Mix well.
In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites (using clean beaters) at low speed until frothy. Increase the speed to high and gradually add the sugar, beating until a soft meringue (soft peaks) forms.
Fold a small amount of the meringue into the bread mixture to lighten it, and then fold in the rest. The mixture will resemble a light batter. Pour gently over the cherries and smooth the surface. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds.
Bake 35-40 minutes or until light brown. You can test it with cake tester or trussing needle.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6-8.