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Cherries for Baking

By Cook's Illustrated Published February 2005

What should I substitute for fresh sour cherries in my baking?

Fresh sour cherries may be the best option for baking but they are available only for a few weeks during the summer and regionally at that. What’s the best option at other times of the year when making cherry cobbler?

Should you just use fresh sweet cherries? What about processed sour cherries? We rounded up six contenders—fresh sweet cherries, frozen sweet cherries, canned sweet cherries, jarred sour cherries, frozen sour cherries, and canned sour cherries—and made cobbler fillings with each one.

Although most of these cherry products made a cobbler filling that looked good, only one—jarred Morello cherries from Trader’s Joe—made a filling that tasted good. We loved their deep ruby red color, tart flavor, and plump and meaty texture. In fact, these cherries delivered bracing flavor and a great chew right out of the jar.

The other sour cherries (canned and frozen) landed at the bottom of the rankings. None of the three sweet cherry products (fresh, frozen, and canned) scored all that well either, although tasters felt that fresh Bing cherries were the best sweet option. In the end, tasters concluded that jarred Morello cherries were the only product worth using—cobblers made with the other cherry products were lackluster and bland.

So why did the jarred sour cherries sweep the tasting while the frozen and canned sour cherries couldn’t even beat mediocre sweet cherry products? We have two explanations for these curious findings. First, the jarred sour cherries that we tested were Morellos, an especially flavorful variety. Second, these cherries (unlike the frozen or canned sour cherries) were packed in sugar syrup. The canned sour cherries we tested were packed in water, which seemed to wash away their flavor. The frozen cherries were frozen as is and this delicate fruit just doesn’t freeze all that well. The lightly sweetened packing liquid from the jarred cherries added flavor to the cobbler filling and helped give it a pleasing slightly thickened texture.