Pucker Up to Tart Cherries — Especially In Cake

Tart cherries make this streusel-topped yogurt cake extra delightful.

Tart cherries make this streusel-topped yogurt cake extra delightful.


It is not easy to find sour cherries — unless you have a friend with a backyard tree who takes pity on you. In fact, just the other day on Facebook, I saw someone blasting out a plea for a source that sells them, where you don’t have to buy a ton at a time.

Oregon Specialty Fruit to the rescue.

The Willamette Valley fruit company sells canned and jarred locally grown fruits. As luck would have it, I was recently sent samples of its jarred Red Tart Cherries. They feature hand-picked, pitted, non-GMO Montmorency cherries, a tart cherry variety that some studies have found may help lower blood pressure and muscle soreness, and improve sleep.

What’s especially great about these cherries is that they are packed whole in their own unsweetened cherry juice. That’s right, there’s no added sugar. What’s more, you can use that juice. Drink it straight from the jar or add it to cocktails, a glass of sparkling wine or smoothies. Or freeze it for a granita or popsicle.

Tart cherries packed in their own juice -- with no added sugar -- from Oregon.

Tart cherries packed in their own juice — with no added sugar — from Oregon.

The cherries and their juice have a measured sharpness, nothing too wincing and definitely less sour than cranberries. The flavor makes for a nice sweet-tart balance. Plump and juicy with a softer texture than frozen ones, these cherries make a great topping for yogurt, oatmeal or ice cream. They would also be fantastic spooned over roast pork or duck.

They have 135mg of potassium in each 1/2 cup serving that has only 70 calories. A 13-ounce jar is $4.97 at Walmart. A four-pack of jars is also available on Amazon for $34.28.

They also have no fat and no cholesterol. Well, not when I get through with them, though. You see, I used about a jar and a half to make cake. What can I say? I just couldn’t help myself.

A pretty as can be loaf cake.

A pretty as can be loaf cake.

Especially when “Cherry and Poppy Seed Yogurt Cake” beckons from the page of one of my favorite baking books, “Sweeter off the Vine: Fruit Desserts for Every Season” (Ten Speed Press, 2016) by Yossy Arefi, a Brooklyn-based food photographer and creator of the Apt. 2B Baking Co. food blog. It offers up a range of fruit desserts for every season.

Sweeter Off the Vine

You can actually use sweet or tart cherries in this loaf cake, as well as either lemon or lime juice and zest. There are poppy seeds in both the streusel and in the cake — just enough to add a bit of crunchiness between the teeth without overwhelming. The streusel, which is also fortified with a smidgeon of oats, is just enough to cover the top of the cake — without overloading it or weighing it down.

This is everything you want in a tea cake. It’s moist, tender, dimensional in flavor, and quite pretty for something so simple.

And it makes for a grand way to show off some very fine tart cherries.

Poppy seeds and plump cherries throughout.

Poppy seeds and plump cherries throughout.

Cherry and Poppy Seed Yogurt Cake

(Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf cake)

For streusel:

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons poppy seeds

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

For cake:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup canola or grapeseed oil

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice or Meyer lemon juice

2 limes or Meyer lemons, for zest

1 1/2 cups pitted sweet or sour cherries


Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan.

To make the streusel: In a small bowl, stir the flour, oats, sugar, poppy seeds, and salt together. Add in the butter and use your fingertips to mix until small crumbs form. Set aside while you prepare the cake batter.

To make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder, poppy seeds, and salt together in a small bowl. Add the sugar to a large bowl and grate about 1 tablespoon of lime or Meyer lemon zest directly into the sugar. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until evenly distributed. Add the oil, eggs, yogurt, and lime or Meyer lemon juice and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture all at once, switch to a rubber spatula, and stir until just combined. Fold in half of the cherries.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and scatter the remaining cherries over the top. Sprinkle the streusel in an even layer over the cherries. Bake the cake until puffed and golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing. This cake will keep in an airtight container for about three days at room temperature.

Seasonal variations: Substitute just about any berry or chopped stone fruit for the cherries here.

From “Sweeter Off the Vine” by Yossy Arefi


Another Sweet Recipe from Yossy Arefi: Soft Chocolate and Fig Cake

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  • Sour cherries are impossible to find! I see them maybe once every other year, and if you don’t grab them right away they’re gone. Great to know there’s a good canned source. I’ll need to get some — so I can make this terrific looking cake. 🙂 Thanks!

  • I find them every summer and pit and freeze as many as I can. Frozen, they keep their beautiful color. Never understood why there are so many dif frozen fruits available in grocery stores but NEVER have I seen the tart cherries.

  • Sour cherries make incredible pies as well. When I lived in Ohio, we had a sour cherry tree in our backyard. A wonderful memory.

  • Elsie: That is so smart of you to freeze them so you have a steady stash year-round. I sure do wish more stores would carry them frozen. They are just so delicious in so many things.

    Linda: You are so lucky to have had that tree! I love any kind of cherry pie, so a sour cherry one would be right up my alley. 😉

  • Must try this. I’m lucky enough to have access to both tart and sweet cherries handpicked by me in the freezer right now!!

  • Such an interesting looking cake! I don’t know if I’ve had sour cherries. Maybe in a salad? Now I’m intrigued.

  • i get tired of seeing poppy seeds with lemon all the time–this is a fun change! i wish i had a cherry tree. 🙂

  • Would it be OK to use dried Montmorency cherries? They are readily available at Trader Joe’s.

  • Carol: Dried cherries should work just fine. The cherry texture will just be a little different — more chewy, less plump-juicy — but it should still taste wonderful. Happy baking!

  • I’m all about the cherries here! Yum.

  • This was good. Used mostly sour cream as my yogurt supply was low. Maybe a tad more sugar? Nice, different use of sour cherries.

  • Judith: Sour cream is a great way to go, too. And yes, with the sourness of the cherries, this cake is definitely not overly sweet, which is nice for those who prefer their cakes less sugary tasting. Glad you enjoyed it!

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