A pretty cherry cake, perfect for afternoon tea in the garden.

There’s something romantic about setting up afternoon tea – with dining chairs, table, tablecloth and all – under shady trees in the garden. What could be more perfect than a pretty cherry cake to go with it? I suggest serving this with a huge bowl of fresh cherries on the side and enjoying a long, lazy afternoon outside.

Cherry, almond and chocolate drip cake with mini meringues (serves 4)

Ingredients
Butter for greasing tins

Cake
250g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
4 eggs
100g ground almonds
150g self-raising flour
1tspn almond essence

Mini meringues
2 egg whites
110g caster sugar
1tspn cream of tartar
Food colouring (optional)

Buttercream icing
250g Philadelphia cream cheese
100g butter, room temperature
600g icing sugar
Food colouring (optional)

Drip ganache
400ml double cream
400g white chocolate
400g cherries, stoned and halved (reserving some for decoration)

Method
Preheat the oven to 180 ̊C/350 ̊F/gas mark 4, then grease three 8in-diameter cake tins with butter and line the bases with baking parchment.

In a mixing bowl—or, ideally, a stand mixer to make light work—cream the butter and sugar together to create a pale and fluffy mixture, then drop in the beaten eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Pour in the almond essence and mix again, before gently folding in the ground almonds and self-raising flour until just mixed. Divide the mixture between the three tins and bake for about 30–35 minutes—I suggest rotating the tins at half time and waiting until a fork comes out clean—then turn out onto wire racks to cool.

Whisk the egg whites with an electric whisk and add the sugar just before the mixture begins to resemble stiff peaks. Spoon into a piping bag and pipe small, peaked circles onto a lined baking sheet. Bake the meringues for 45–50 minutes at 140 ̊C/275 ̊F/gas mark 1, then set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, make the buttercream icing by mixing together the icing sugar, cream cheese and butter and a little red food colouring if you want. Then, making sure to reserve a handful of whole cherries with which to decorate the top of the cake, stone and halve the rest of the fruit.

To assemble the cake, spoon some of the icing onto the first layer and scatter with a handful of chopped cherries. Repeat with the next layer, then place the final cake on top and spread buttercream, as evenly as possible, all over the entire cake with a palette knife. Refrigerate for a few hours (or overnight), before applying another layer of icing and returning it to the fridge.

To make the drip ganache, heat the cream to near boiling, then pour it into a deep bowl—over the broken pieces of white chocolate—and stir until melted. Remove your cake from the fridge and spoon evenly spaced amounts of icing around the top so it drizzles down the sides.

Finally, cover the top of the cake with more icing and decorate with fresh cherries, mini meringues and a few (insect-free!) flowers from your garden. Serve with copies of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.

More ways with cherries

Cherry, almond and chocolate drip cakeCherry ice-cream sodas (left)
Allow a tub of vanilla ice cream to melt until half soft, stir some cherry essence and freshly chopped halved and stoned cherries through it, then freeze it again. To serve, pour Coca-Cola into some glasses and top each with a scoop.

Old-fashioned cherry pie with amaretto whipped cream
Line a tart tin with a pre-rolled sheet of shortcrust pastry and scatter with ground almonds. In a separate bowl, mix together 2 generous handfuls of halved and stoned cherries with a few tablespoons of sugar and a tablespoon of cornflour and pour into the tart tin. Top the tart with a second sheet of pastry, either plain or decor- atively in plaits, brush with beaten egg and bake for about 35 minutes in a moderately hot oven. Serve with whipped cream, laced with a little amaretto and icing sugar.

Coconut panna cotta with cherries
To make the panna cotta, heat 400ml coconut milk and 300ml double cream to a near boil, then add a teaspoon of vanilla-bean paste and 100g caster sugar. Spoon a couple of tablespoons of the hot mixture into a bowl and mix in 2 x 12g sachets of powdered gelatine, before returning to the rest of the milk in the saucepan, stirring well and pouring into moulds. Halve and stone 200g cherries and cook with a scatter- ing of caster sugar until the liquid looks syrupy, then serve the panna cotta with the cherries on the side and some almond biscotti.