Sour Cream Cherry Cake

When I was growing up we had a pie cherry tree in our backyard.  Today I would be over the moon to have such a treasure in close proximity since I travel far to pick my own pie cherries every summer.  However as a teenager, with picking and pitting cherries being one of my chores, I was tempted to buy a chain saw and do away with the tree on more than one occasion rationalizing George Washington did the same and his life turned out ok.
We are in the heart of cherry season right now.  I find when eating seasonally one is flooded with a given fruit or vegetable, often to the point of overload and then it’s gone.  I’m in the ‘what else can I make?’ phase of cherries.  I’ve made a large batch of gorgeous ruby-colored jam.  I’ve eaten them raw in high volume.  I’ve made Cherry-Blueberry Cloud Pie, tons of fruit salad and I still have 1 ½ gallon-sized Ziploc bags full thanks to a generous friend who bought 20 pounds from a local orchard.
When perusing my vintage recipe boxes I noted Cherry Cake was very popular between the 1930’s and 1950’s in my collection and did not appear following.   Very mysterious.  I tend to go through the recipe collections that are either given to me, I find at thrift stores or on eBay and cull out interesting sounding seasonal recipes using whole ingredients only. 
One recipe stood out for Sour Cream Cherry Cake.  I loved the notion of it though it used white cake mix and canned pie filling.  I decided to reverse engineer the ingredients to use the ‘from scratch’ equivalent of white cake mix, which I did by combining the dry ingredients from two vintage white cake recipes used as guides, and made my own cherry pie filling with my mother lode of fresh cherries.   Despite the convenience of mixes, which I’m sure were truly the hip thing to do at the time of this recipe, I opt for ‘from scratch’ baking.  Funny how trends change over time.
Vintage Cherry Cake recipe
This recipe was in a box I purchased on eBay that has many newspaper clipped recipes from the Missouri area, mostly dating in the 1930’s. I suspect this recipe was written more recently from some sleuthing on the political candidate featured on the notepaper. From the writing and type of recipe I think the recipe is older than the paper it’s written on.


The cake emerged from the preparation the most luscious shade of purpley pink.   Its flavor was of cherries but a natural flavor, not overpowering or overly sweet.   The cake’s consistency is more of sponge cake than a flakey cake which gives it a nice ‘bite’.   The original recipe called to make a sheet cake with no frosting.  I have a soft spot for a layer cake, especially one with a bit of whimsy, and decided to merely use homemade whipped cream with some extra fresh cherries placed between the layers for good measure.  It’s a charming, rustic cake and one that was quickly gobbled up by my taste testers!
One of the best gadgets I’ve purchased has been a cherry pitter.  I have a hand held pitter that worked great for the cherries given to me by my friend which were only slightly smaller than golf balls it seemed.  For regular size cherries my mass-production pitter is perfect.  A cherry is placed in an indentation, the pitter pushes down a lever and the pit is quickly and easily extracted with no muss or fuss.  Had these been around when I was a teen I might not have thought I was working off past life sins with the effort pitting required.    Click here for more info.  I just purchased a similar model by another manufacturer for a friend that can be cranked onto the side of the countertop holding it in place (click here).  Believe me even though it’s only used at this time of year, it’s a life changer.
Cherry Pitter with Bing Cherry
This photo was intended to illustrate my handheld cherry pitter but somehow the photo turned out to look like ‘The Death of a Cherry’ to me. It seems a bit heartless. But the pitter works well, keeping the cherry intact.
Sour Cream Cherry Cake

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 8-10 slices

This vintage recipe for Sour Cream Cherry Cake is a perfect way to use summer's cherries. Adapted to be a full 'from scratch' cake yet still simple to make, your guests will be lining up for a second slice!


    Cake Ingredients:
  • 2 ½ cups of flour (I used King Arthur’s Gluten Free blend)
  • 1 ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • Approximately 12 large cherries, stemmed, pitted and sliced in half
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • Pie filling ingredients:
  • 3 cups, stemmed, pitted cherries rough chopped (I used Bing)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract


    To make Pie Filling:
  1. Combine cornstarch and water and stir to fully combine. In a medium heavy sauce pan, combine cherries, lemon juice, water/cornstarch, sugar; stir to fully combine. Bring the mixture to a boil and lower the heat to low, allowing it to lightly simmer for 10 minutes; stir frequently. While it simmers you may mash the cherries to break them down further with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher. Remove from heat, add almond extract and allow to cool to room temperature.
  2. To make Cake:
  3. Prepare two 9-inch round cake pans by cutting out a circle of parchment paper to line each cake pan bottom. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1 ½ cup of granulated sugar, salt, baking powder, sour cream, eggs and cooled pie filling. Stir by hand to fully combine.
  5. Pour mixture into the cake pans equally and bake on 350 for approximately 35 minutes, until the cake has begun to slightly brown on the top, pull away from the sides and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  6. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack. After 20 minutes turn cake layers out onto cooling rack to fully cool.
  7. To make frosting and assemble cake:
  8. In the bowl of a mixer with a whisk attachment, combine the whipped cream, vanilla and 2 tablespoons of remaining granulated sugar. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.
  9. Place one cake layer on serving plate flat side down. Divide whipped cream into two equal batches. Spread 1/2 of one of the batches onto the top of the cake layer. Place the sliced cherry halves on the whipped cream (note: if you wish them to be smaller, chopped or to have more you can alter them to suit your taste). Spread the remaining ½ of the first whipped cream batch on top of the cherries.
  10. Place remaining cake, flat side down on the whipped cream and frost the top with the remaining batch of whipped cream. Refrigerate until serving.


    • says

      You are welcome Jane. Being gluten free I don't use a ton of cake mixes and frankly for something like this I'd prefer to bake from scratch anyway. I love a bit of learning along the way so it was fun to fill the intent of the recipe out with pure individual ingredients. Hope you'll enjoy some of your cherries in the form of this cake!

  1. says

    I'm amazed that you could look at that recipe (which is really just an early version of the dump cake) and pull off such a beautiful adaptation. I very much prefer a whipped cream frosting to the regular sugar and butter based type so this is right up my alley (plus, there's no chocolate). I also love the fact that you put almond extract in your pie filling.

    • says

      Thank you Christiane. Though cherries and chocolate go well together, chocolate could not be farther from my mind in this heat. The simple whipped cream was really perfect. A bit like a cherry riff on a strawberry shortcake type of thing.

  2. says

    what a beautiful cake, you certainly did a great job recreating that recipe, it looks delicious. And I absolutely love your cherry pitter, mine is Oxo, but one at a time, what a pain! I will have to look into your model for next year!

    • says

      I too love the cherry pitter Dennis. I found the mega cherries were a bit too big to reliably pit. Normally we watch to ensure the pits come out but when I was making jam I powered through and found not all the pits were removed due to the cherries size. With regular cherries it's like an automatic weapon; it's great!

      Thanks for the kudos on the cake. I loved the way it turned out and that I used 3 more cups of my stash of cherries!

  3. says

    Toni I am such a cherry fan I don't know if they would make it to the recipe, but after looking at this gorgeous luscious cake I would have to buy more just to try this! I love it!

    • says

      I agree Claudia however with the volume of cherries I have right now a girl can only eat so many gallons raw a day! I consider it 'parallel processing'! This cake really does flatter the cherries vs. overwhelm them as well. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

  4. Anonymous says

    Cakes, cakes & more cakes. As I was going down my list of “Food Blogs I Read,” there was Westword's Cafe Socety blog announced that Buddy “Cake Boss” Valastero is coming to the Pramount Theater again, along with a photo of him working on an elaborate cake. I relate, because I moved to Colo from Hoboken, where his family bakery is located. Then I got to your blog and read this time-tested cake recipe. I don't have a cherry tree in my yard (never did, but there's one in a nearby alley and the owners of the builing permit neighbors to pick. I'll be back to try one version of this one! Thanks. – Claire at .

    • says

      Hi Claire! I would love a cherry tree now but probably have a romanticized view of it; blocking out any bird issues and mess. I love that you have access to one were you to wish to pick. As an adult I value those places where I can pick and usually exit the summer with a freezer stocked ready for any whims requiring them over the winter. Thanks for reading and commenting! Look forward to seeing you this week.

    • says

      Thank you Medeja! I'd seen a handful of these vintage recipes and realized I've never had a cherry cake myself. Seemed a shame to not give it a whirl. Those who have sampled it have loved it too so it seems a worthwhile adventure.

  5. says

    Tony, I used to have a 'cherry pitter' for ages, but used it mostly to pit olives, because cherries in S. Florida are extremely expensive, but right now they're in season, so its quite affordable…but now, I have no clue where my 'cherry pitter' disappeared to. Guess I'll have to start looking around at Goodwill if they might have one, or buy a new one.

    I have hand written and scratch paper partially written recipes, as well…got rid of most of them (weird me!)…love, and simply 'in love' with your creation of the amazing cake, with the cherry filling and the frosting is to'die for'…so superb! Your photos are always so lovely; love the natural effect, and not 'staged' 'must be perfect' look. I, myself also… can't go out of my way to buy special props to stage my dishes or desserts to make them look like its from a photo studio…gotta be creative, and use what you have on hand! Kudos to you, you always impress me!

    • says

      Oh Elisabeth! You are always so generous with your comments.

      I did not know about the cherry cost in Florida. We suffere the same here with your lovely mangos. I think cherry pitters are that type of gadget that when you need it nothing else will do! I may go some time without using it but am always glad I bought them when I do have the call. On the photos, I am drawn to things that look like they've 'lived a life' and I think you see that in my photos. I just am not wired to create things that are perfect. I really appreciated your remarks about that.

  6. says

    Most useful cherry pitter … my teeth 🙂
    We asians envy you for your cherries, peaches, plums etc. Not that we can't get them here, it's terribly expensive! And if I'm to go on a splurge and get myself some cherries, I'd be too reluctant to put them in anything other than to savor them slowly on its own. So in the meantime, I'm just gonna salivate here.
    And oh yes, congrats on getting Top 9!

    • says

      I can imagine what you are saying and frankly there are fruits you have which I loved when living in Singapore we either cannot get at all or only in a can. When I made this cake I was feeling as you describe; I did not want to incorporate them into something that would not keep them front and center. Whenever I have coveted fruit I don't want to it to consumed by lots of other ingredients. Thanks also for the congrats Ping!

    • says

      Whether you make this or not, if you are a cherry eater I think you'll find a whole new world opening to you if you get a pitter! No exageration. The cherries are kept perfectly in tact… are one's teeth! Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  7. says

    I love that you bought a box of old recipes on ebay. I love unearthing old recipes that are family favorites – I've been lucky enough to 'inherit' some by my great-grandmother who was a wonderful cook. I have a cherry pitter that I couldn't live without, and love the idea of a cherry sour cream cake. Many congrats on Top 9!

    • says

      I too have a box of recipes in my Grandmother and Great Grandmother's hand. I think that is what sparked my passion for trying and sharing vintage recipes. With the cyber age all those recipes stand to be forgotten. Thank you very much for reading and taking the time to comment.

  8. says

    20 lbs. That is a lot of cherries! I never even thought of buying old recipes on eBay. That's a great idea! I always love old recipes and intrigued to find what has survived time and what hasn't. Congrats on top 9!

  9. Cake Lover says

    I made this cake, and my family loved it! The only thing I would do differently next time is bake the cake in a sheet or loaf. The thick layer of cream made the cake difficult to cut, as it slid, and the layers separated while doing so. Still, a great one! Thank you!

  10. Katie says

    I KNOW this is a horrible question, but can anything be used in place of fresh cherries? They are not in season now, and I have a request for a cherry cake for a birthday this weekend!?! I SOOO want to make THIS one!!! Help!

    • says

      Katie it’s not a horrible question! There is a reason frozen and canned fruit is available, for this very situation! Go frozen and thawed. The structure of the cherries will be most similar to fresh. For the pie filling recipe you could probably used canned cherries too but I’m unsure you can find sweet canned cherries or if they’d have additional sugar which you don’t want. Good luck!

      A funny story: my Great Grandfather worked for the Carneige Institute. A young scientist had an idea and wanted to speak to a housewife about it so my Great Grandfather brought him to meet my Great Grandmother. He had an idea of going into the fields during the harvest to freeze fresh produce for use out of season. Grammy said she did not see much use for that. Fortunately he did not listen to her; he was Clarence Birdseye! Fortunately Grammy did not single handedly ruin your chance of making this cherry cake whenever you choose to!

  11. Katiekatie says

    That is a great story!! And thanks for getting back to me SO quickly! I am ready to make it this weekend and I will post how it turns out in case anyone else wants to make it out of season, too!! 🙂

    • says

      Hi Judy. This delicious cake was on Boulder Locavore before the current recipe format was installed so has not been put into that format yet. However after getting your comment, I just updated it so you can print just the recipe! It should work for you now.

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