Sep 12, 2010

Cherry Shortbread Cake Squares

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After a crazy two-week blitz of various familial houseguests, I’m happy to say that we are glowing from the enjoyment of lots of great meals (up yours, Calories!), sunny tourist-y outings (Dear San Francisco Weather: thank you for cooperating for once), and hours of laughing so hard that no sound comes out (wine + Taboo + people you’ve known your entire life = OMGAWESOME). Being surrounded by family for so many days is a rare and wonderful thing for us–we are all feeling so loved around here right now, not to mention that Little C finds me especially boring in the aftermath. But with that sort of flurry of activity comes exhaustion of the eye-crossing variety, and the need for insanely simple, but totally comforting and satisfying recipes. I give you Cherry Shortbread Cake Squares. With pie filling from a can. Don’t hate–participate!

I know I’ve told you before about my mom being more of a great creative cook than a baker, but this recipe is one of the few sweet gems she would whip up from time to time. Like her awesome cheesecake that involves Bisquick, this recipe with its canned cherry pie filling may make some upper echelon food people raise an eyebrow. But to them I say, don’t be a jerk. These are amazing.

And unto those food snobs I also say this: If you must, swap out the cherry pie filling for something fresh and seasonal. Like maybe a few slices of the cute little Italian prune plums that are so fleeting and perfect right now. Or gently cook some apple slices with a touch of cider and cinnamon to soften them a bit and use those. But I have to say, when I was tucking these sweet canned cherries and their vibrant, inexplicably satisfying goo into the batter in cheery little threesomes, it made me so flippin’ happy. So I urge you to try that first, before you get all elitist on me. It’s just that good.

However, it sort of doesn’t matter what fruit you use here, because it’s really the tender, buttery cake that’s the star. Dusted with powdered sugar, it’s like a confection meets cake. It makes me die a little just thinking about it. I also die a little when I think about how much walking, drinking and Little C nap-skipping we’ve done in the past two weeks, but that’s neither here nor there.

Cherry Shortbread Cake Squares

I love adding a good dose of lemon extract (or zest) to the batter–the lemon lift goes so fabulously with the cherries. But if you try this recipe with fall or winter fruits, consider omitting the lemon extract and just use a tablespoon of lemon juice to add a bit of dimension without such a forward lemon flavor.

Because I rarely have two weeks worth of houseguests, I tend to halve this recipe and use a quarter-sheet pan (12×9-ish inches) instead of a half-sheet pan and it works beautifully (although you will have leftover pie filling). If you’re making them ahead, dust them with powdered sugar just before serving. These are even better the next day.

Makes 2 dozen 3-inch squares

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract (or 1 tablespoon lemon juice–see note)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a half-sheet pan (about 12×17 inches) with a 1-inch rim, or spray it with cooking spray, line it with parchment paper, and lightly spray the parchment, too.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the lemon extract, vanilla and salt. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the bowl. On the lowest speed, stir in the flour. To avoid overbeating, stop mixing when there’s a few streaks of flour left, and finish stirring the batter by hand.

Scrape the batter onto the sheet pan and smooth it into an even layer. Score the batter into 24 squares with a toothpick (don’t worry about perfectly even squares as the lines will disappear during baking; it’s just to make placing the cherries easier). Place 3 cherries in the center of every square.

Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Just before serving, cut into 24 squares and dust with powdered sugar. Store any leftovers in an airtight container with layers of waxed paper or parchment for up to 3 days.

  • First of all, anyone who would hate on cherries from a can is probably not a very nice human being.
    Especially when on display in such lovely shortbread.
    Dare I say that you have achieved the perfect balance of ease in preparation and deliciousness of final product?
    I think I do dare. I'm a dare-er like that.
    Love the cake, and love you!! Fab all around.

  • That looks soooo good! I almost wish I had a can of pie filling in the pantry right now. It actually sounds better than the fresh huckleberries I just picked!

  • Sounds like you've had a lovely end of Summer!
    If I could even find pie filling in Paris, I wouldn't think twice about making these, but apples and cinnamon are sounding terrific too!

  • Canned cherries are one of those really yummy grandma foods.
    ..and I'm all about cake that you can eat with your hands 😉

  • I am SO not a hater when it comes to these things. I just did a post about how my grandma is the best {home}chef in the world… and she does lots of things that foodie snobs would shun— uses a garlic press, often puts the onion and garlic in after (so it doesn't burn), uses garlic powder, etc. So, this, plus the fact that my mom was a super simple cook, these types of recipes and ingredients simply remind me of them… and in fact- I have a few cans in my pantry that I NEED to use (this same brand as well!) up. This recipe will solve that issue:).

    I'll let you know when I make them!

  • These squares are so lovely and pretty and perfect. What a good idea! I love cherries in all their forms, canned or not.

  • OMG. These pictures make it look like I can just reach in for one of these…who cares about dinner…I want one of these shortbread cake sqaures!

  • These little squares look lovely! I'm not a canned cherry snob at all- I'd love one with a cup of tea right now!

  • my dad made a dessert like this quite often when we were younger, and every last person in our family, at work, or whoever was the fortunate recipient of a plateful, absolutely loved them! no hate here. only love.



  • i would love those especially with vanilla ice cream.

  • These look delicious and I know my boyfriend would love it as he loves canned cherries (thanks to his German heritage and all the baking his Nana did with them). I will have to give these a try. 🙂

  • I have made something similar. However, your look absolutely fab! I happen to adore anything "cherry"! x

  • this is sooo pretty! it's almost too pretty to eat:)

  • Shauna,

    So- I told you I'd let you know when I made them…

    I did – and they were so simple, FUN (like you said), and tasty!!

    I wrote about it, and your blog as well! If you'd like to see – (

  • So easy and yet so beautiful. Love passed down through the generations recipes!

  • Made these for a family lunch on Sunday and everyone loved them. Great recipe!

  • HI,
    Thanks for sharing this recipe..Really very delicious..I like the presentation of the dish.. Really very amazing .

  • I made these today with the intention of melding the idea of a black forest cake into the recipe. After a brief consult (love twitter) with Shauna, I added 1/4c. of cocoa powder with the flour. I thought I had a can of cherries, but didn't, so I used the can of strawberries I had.

    I think it still needs more chocolate character than the 1/4c. I added. I will have to make these again later this week with a can of cherries while upping the chocolate character and post here with the results.

  • […] Cherry Shortbread Cookies —————–(from Piece of Cake) […]

  • I made these dozens of times for Christmas parties and fairs! Wonderful to see this recipe again!

    • Awesome! Nothing beats an old-fashioned classic.

  • I have had this recipe for 60, with one exception…my recipe has 1 tsp baking powder, which results in a much lighter product. I thought I lost my recipe but found it and compared because this was a bit heavier. Thanks tho because I did find this one when needed

  • I made these tonight and they are delicious. I made in a slightly bigger pan (13″ x 9″) and yet they seem quite a bit thicker than yours that were made in a smaller pan. They are very fluffy (not cookie like). Also the cherries kind of sunk in. I wonder what I did wrong.

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