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"Being a native Michigander, I'm legally required to love cherries," Abra Berens writes jokingly in her new, fruit-focused cookbook Pulp. According to the book, Michigan grows over 180 million pounds of tart cherries and roughly 62.5 million pounds of sweet cherries annually, so it's no surprise that the state is so closely identified with the fruit—there's even a dispute over which northern Michigan town baked the world's largest cherry pie.
Despite that appreciation, cherries have started to be viewed as a "loser crop" in Michigan, according to Berens in Pulp: they're difficult to grow, require lots of money and labor, and have a limited market. Berens tries to reveal such economic realities and the challenges facing farmers in both her cookbooks and her cooking at Granor Farms in southwestern Michigan, both of which have garnered her nods from the James Beard Awards.
But she also still understands and relishes the joy that comes from food, and believes it can only be increased by knowing more about food's production. There is "good fun to be had simply eating sweet cherries out of hand and spitting the pits into the summer grass," she writes in Pulp.
While cherry pie is a classic treat, you could amplify the raw sweetness of the fruit by soaking the cherries in coffee and contrasting their brightness with a decadent chocolate pudding, as in Berens' recipe from Pulp, below.
Chocolate Pudding with Coffee-Soaked Black Cherries
This is a very rich chocolate pudding, probably more like a mousse. It isn’t technically a mousse (I’m not really sure why, but a pastry chef once assured me it wasn’t). If it is too chocolaty for you (as it often is for me), whip additional cream and fold it in to thin the chocolate flavor.
Similar to brined cherries, these cherries benefit from a long soak in a coffee syrup to help marry the flavors of coffee, chocolate, and red fruit. Tossing the soaked cherries in the coffee rub ups the ante and gives a good textural difference with the silky pudding. If you don’t have the time or inclination to soak the cherries, simply tossing in the coffee rub adds just that extra something to an already luxurious dessert.
The pudding can be stored refrigerated for up to 7 days.
For the chocolate pudding:
2 cups [480 ml] whole milk
1 cup [240 ml] heavy cream
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup [100 g] sugar
10 oz [280 g] 60 percent dark chocolate
4 tbsp (2 oz [60 g]) butter
1 tbsp rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
For the cherries:
1 lb [455 g] dark, sweet cherries, halved and pitted
1 cup [240 ml] brewed coffee, cold
1/4 cup [50 g] granulated sugar
2 tbsp ground coffee
1 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1. For the pudding: In a medium saucepan, scald (heat to just below a boil) 1 cup [240 ml] of the milk and the cream over medium heat, being sure not to scorch the bottom.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 1 cup [240 ml] of milk with the cornstarch to make a slurry. Whisk in the eggs and sugar until smooth. Temper in the scalded milk mixture, then return to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until it begins to thicken and boil, about 5 minutes. Whisk at a boil for an additional 2 minutes to cook out the cornstarch.
3. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, butter, rum, vanilla, and salt. Whisk until everything is melted and combined, with no streaks.
4. Pour the chocolate mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl or pan. Press plastic wrap or wax paper to the surface of the pudding and chill in the fridge until firm, usually at least an hour but best if overnight.
5. To serve, whip the pudding to make it easier to scoop and transfer to serving dishes. Divide the pudding among four glasses, bowls, or jars and keep cold.
6. For the cherries: Pack the cherries into a jar.
7. In a medium bowl, dissolve the granulated sugar in the coffee and then pour over the cherries and let soak for an hour.
8. Just before serving, drain the cherries, keeping the liquid to serve as a sidecar if you like, and toss with the ground coffee, brown sugar, ginger, and salt in a medium bowl to coat. Divide the cherries evenly among the pudding cups and serve.
Learn more about Berens, her farm-first philosophy, her cookbooks, and her work at Granor Farm.