Cherry season has been in swing for a while here in California, and I've had some in my fridge pretty much constantly since they first showed up at the market. I love keeping cherries on hand for snacking, but, of course, that's not all these sweet little stone fruits are good for. While they're iconic in desserts like pies and cobblers, their rich fruit flavor can also do a great job of complementing grilled meats and vegetables, like grilled duck breast with cherry-port sauce or grilled heads of bitter radicchio with a sweet-sour cherry gastrique. And they're perfect for seasonal drinks, like a summery swizzle made with rum and Velvet Falernum. Cherries won't be around much longer, though, so before they start to disappear, make sure you've tried as many of our favorite sweet and savory recipes—14 in all—as you can.
The Best Cherry Pie (With Fresh or Frozen Fruit)
The best cherry pie calls for a little math—use 25% of your cherries' weight in sugar and 5.5% of their weight in tapioca starch to make a light filling that's just thick enough to hold itself together. The tapioca starch also ensures that the filling cooks at the perfect speed, finishing at the same as the flaky crust. We especially love this pie (and all our pies) with Stella's Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Dough, which does an excellent job of staying crisp even under a boatload of juicy fruit.
Cherry Pit Whipped Cream
After prepping a few pounds of cherries for pie, you're going to have a lot of pits on your hands. Don't throw them out—they've still got plenty of flavor to take advantage of! Steeping the pits in cream overnight before straining them out and whipping makes an elegant topping infused with delicate cherry flavor and color. The intensity of both will vary depending on the quality of the fruit, but even a subtle cherry pit whipped cream makes a special accompaniment to cherry pie or chocolate cake.
Chocolate Cherry Layer Cake
More of a cake person? Can't get enough of chocolate-covered cherries? This intense chocolate cake incorporates cherry flavor in two ways: Tart cherry juice in the batter helps bring out the fruity flavor of the chocolate (while its acidity aids in the cake's rise), and a frosting of whipped cream spiked with freeze-dried cherries makes for a pretty pink finish.
Cherry Ice Cream
For the deepest flavor and most vibrant color in cherry ice cream, we start by sprinkling the cherries with sugar and roasting them whole until they're wilted and juicy—keeping the pits in while roasting helps you fortify the cherry-ness in the final ice cream. To make even more use of the whole fruit, we borrow the same trick from our cherry pit whipped cream, steeping the pits in the cream to extract additional flavor. Those steps, plus the absence of milk and eggs, make this the best example of a Philadelphia-style ice cream, one that's dominated by pure, minimally adulterated cherry flavor.
Classic Cherry Clafoutis
As impressive and fancy as clafoutis sounds, it's actually quite easy: Just whip up a simple batter of flour, egg, milk, and butter; pour it into a greased pan over pitted cherries; and bake. More rustic versions of the dish call for whole, unpitted cherries, but we prefer not to run the risk of a chipped tooth. If you have it, a little kirsch (cherry brandy) will enhance the fruit flavor.
Easy Stovetop Cherry Grunt (Stovetop Cobbler)
If you're not up for rolling out a pie crust (or using your oven in the summer heat), a grunt is a much simpler option. The whole dish—a cooked mixture of juicy sour cherries, sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch, topped with dollops of simple biscuit dough—is made on the stovetop. Even in peak season, it can be hard to find fresh sour cherries, but frozen ones will do just fine for this recipe.
Cherry Hand Pies
These little hand pies are made to be individual and portable, so they're perfect for picnic season. To add complexity to the filling of sweet cherries, we mix in lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla extract. Don't feel like making a pie dough (even a 10-minute one in the food processor)? The filling is delicious as a topping for vanilla ice cream, too.
Sweet-Sour Macerated Cherries With Marcona Almonds, Mint, and Ricotta
Straddling the line between sweet and savory, this dish would be just as appropriate for breakfast or a light lunch as for dessert. We give the cherries a sweet-sour pop by macerating them with honey, red wine vinegar, and black pepper, then combine them with good ricotta—use the best you can find, with no gums or stabilizers—Marcona almonds, and fresh mint leaves.
Cherry and Jicama Salad With Lime and Macadamia Nuts
This refreshing side, made by pairing halved cherries with crisp, crunchy jicama and buttery macadamia nuts, is a far cry from your typical fruit salad. Fresh basil and lime brighten it up, and a drizzle of olive oil tempers the acid. The mild flavor of the jicama allows the sweet cherries to shine.
Grilled Radicchio With Cherry Gastrique
Bitter radicchio is delicious when grilled whole, though it has a tendency to get even more bitter prepared this way. It requires an accompaniment that's equally intense, which is why we pair it here with a cherry gastrique—a vinegar-based, sweet-and-sour sauce that's often made with fruit. Those sweet and tart flavors balance out the dark and brooding nature of the vegetable, and it all combines in a colorful side dish that pairs wonderfully with grilled meat.
Peppered Duck Breasts With Cherry-Port Sauce
Rich, fatty duck and sweet cherries are a classic combination. Here, we cook the cherries down with port, balsamic vinegar, and shallots to make a robust sauce that's sweet but balanced. It's cookout season, so it only makes sense to fire up the grill to cook the duck: Start it with the skin side down until it's crisp, then flip over and cook to 130°F (54°C).
Grilled Summer Smash
Even cocktail ingredients can be improved with a stint on the grill, and this is just the cocktail to prove it. It's made with nectarine, lime, and cherries, all grilled until charred and slightly caramelized, which adds a dark, smoky edge and amplifies their sweetness. Rather than a more expected spirit, like whiskey or rum, we mix the grilled fruit with funky aged cachaça.