Cherries, chocolate, and almonds are one of those unbeatable flavor combinations, like maple-walnut or cinnamon-apple — and they make a lovely tea cake. Wanting bold flavors and textures in my cake, I opted for maraschino cherries, semisweet chocolate chunks, and a combination of almond paste, almond extract, and sliced almonds (and yes, I realize that almond paste is not the same thing as marzipan, but “Cherry-Chocolate-Almond-Paste Tea Cake” doesn’t sound nearly as appealing, does it?).
If you don’t care for maraschino cherries, which contain red food dye, you can always substitute frozen fresh cherries or canned morello cherries, though the flavors and colors will not be as vivid.
Once I had my key ingredients, the trick was to come up with a cake batter that was substantial enough to hold the cherries and chocolate in suspension without being too dense or dry. After a couple of tries, I had the right proportions. The cake is moist and tender, with all the ingredients distributed evenly.
Serve this tasty cake as a breakfast treat, a midday snack, or dessert.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1/2 cup halved maraschino cherries, drained
1/3 cup chocolate chunks
1 3/4 ounces (about 1 3/4-inch length in a standard tube) almond paste, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3 tablespoons sliced almonds
Preheat the oven to 350° and set a rack to the middle position. Butter and flour a 6-cup loaf pan (8½ by 4½ inches). Set aside.
Combine the butter and sugar in a standing mixer or, if using a handheld mixer, in a large bowl. Using a whisk attachment, cream on high speed until the mixture is pale, very fluffy, and almost mousselike, scraping down the sides periodically. This will take between 6 and 8 minutes. Then add the almond extract and the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
Next, in a medium bowl, whisk together the 1 3/4 cups flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, stir on low speed until mixed, then add half of the milk. Stir until combined. Repeat this process with another third of the flour mixture, the rest of the milk, and the remaining flour mixture. The batter should be smooth (but be careful not to overmix).
In a small bowl, toss the cherries with the remaining 2 tablespoons flour to coat. Add to the batter and stir by hand with a rubber spatula. Add the chocolate chunks and marzipan pieces and stir. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with the almond slices.
Transfer to the oven and bake until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes in the pan. If needed, run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake, then turn the cake out on a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.