Editor’s note: Tart cherries by the glass are available from Natasha’s Fine Food & Liquors at 705 Vandiver Drive, Suite H, in Vandiver Village.
LIPOLIST, Serbia ?? Forty years ago, summer days in early July meant settling down on tall wooden ladders deep in the village’s cherry trees, laden with dark, almost black fruits. Large metal pails with ropes and wooden hooks hung nearby. They filled up quickly as we literally picked a handful of ripe, tart cherries.
That’s where the phrase “ready for picking” got cemented in my culinary brain. At that time we were PhD students with many visitors who we all sent out to bring the cherries ?? sour and the creamy-sweet, pink-red Queen Anne variety ?? before the birds could pluck the trees bare.
Many a guest drank from the latter, juicy balls that descended from the green heights with chins and red-smeared shirts. But I was after the sour red wines that were grown all over Eastern Europe, especially in former Yugoslavia and Austria-Hungary. These are the small, tart cherries used to make Visnjevac, a local liquor, cakes, and flaky phyllo strudel-like confections, a rolled cherry pie.
Back then the process was arduous. After picking and sorting, the pitting came. We did it with a tiny wooden handle device that was a mix of a hairpin and an oversized darning needle.
My husband’s mother, Desanka, and her cook buddy, Nana, turned pounds into fruit in a flash. When I tried it was all the powdered cherries that were layered in frustration.
Now of course there are all sorts of fancy gadgets that make pitting painless.
Never mind. I’ve been making this delicious treat for years, and impressing friends who think anything Phyllo related is too difficult to try. But for a quick summer dessert in a pinch, I’ll use this ?? cake ?? over an American cake with lattice top anytime.
TARTE CHERRY CAKE IN SERBIAN STYLE
If you can’t find fresh tart cherries, check the Middle Eastern or international markets for Montmorency cherries by the glass and at Trader Joe’s. The fruit from the jar must be drained; the juice can be reserved for stirring into mineral water or soda. Even if the glasses are possibly labeled with “cored”? Sour cherries, make sure all pits have been removed.
Like traditional American cherry cake, pita sa visnajama à la mode can be served with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. But that is not the custom in the Balkans.
Go on: the dough can be baked a day in advance, wrapped in aluminum foil, and refrigerated.
48 ounces (5 to 6 cups) fresh pitted tart cherries; can replace two 48-ounce glasses of pitted tart cherries, drained; see top note)
Generous 1 tablespoon of ground tapioca pudding
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 heaping tablespoon confectioners ?? Sugar, plus more for dusting
1 pound thin phyllo batter, preferably Apollo brand
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup mild / light olive oil
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and warm
1/2 cup plain or low-fat sour cream
Dried unsweetened cranberries, currants or raisins (optional)
Put the pitted cherries in a non-staining mixing bowl; Use your fingers to look for pits. Add tapioca, lemon peel and tablespoon pastry chef ?? Sugar; stir to incorporate thoroughly. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, during which time the fruit juices will thicken.
In the meantime, roll out the leaves of the phyllo dough. Immediately cover them with a clean, slightly damp tea towel. Position the oven racks in the upper and lower third of the oven; Preheat 350 degrees.
Combine the vegetable oil, olive oil, and butter in a liquid measuring cup. Drizzle a little of the oil and butter mixture onto a large rimmed baking sheet and then heat the sheet in the oven for 2 or 3 minutes. Position the baking sheet with one wide side towards you and place it between the fruit bowl and the stack of phyllo dough.
Place 2 sheets of phyllo dough on the baking sheet so that the lower one is covered with the oils / butter. Flip them over quickly, then place them on top of 2 more sheets of paper. Drizzle the top layer of the phyllo dough with a little oil / butter mixture.
Leaving a 1 inch margin on the edge, spread 1/4 of the sour cream in a 1 inch wide strip along the edge of the phyllos closest to you, and then spread out 1/4 of the cherry mixture in a parallel line and inch removed from the sour cream. For a change or if you run out of cherries, sprinkle the fruit with dried cranberries, currants, or raisins.
Pick up the corners of the phyllo dough closest to you while carefully making a crease / roll away from you. Brush the top of the roll with some oil / butter mixture, then fold further and roll until you reach the other end of the batter. If the dough breaks, use a little water or some oil / butter mixture to glue it back together.
Repeat the process to make three more filled phyllo rolls using the remaining sour cream and cherry mixture and saving enough oil / butter mixture for a final brushing. Unused sheets of phyllo dough can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated or frozen for up to 2 weeks. Arrange the filled phyllo rolls evenly on the greased baking sheet.
Use the remaining oil and butter mixture (reheat as needed) to coat the tops of each roll. Bake for 15 minutes on the lower rack, then transfer to the upper middle rack and turn the baking sheet from front to back; Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown and crispy around the edges.
Let cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes. Use a thin spatula to loosen the bottoms as needed. Work with one cherry roll at a time and transfer them to a cutting board.
At this point the rolls can be wrapped in aluminum foil and refrigerated for a day. Unpack, place on a greased baking sheet and reheat in a 300-degree oven until it is warmed through.
To serve, cut each cherry roll diagonally into 3 or 4 equal pieces and arrange on a serving tray. Use a fine mesh colander to sift pastry chefs ?? Sugar over each piece.
Servings: 12 to 16