The Washington Post

Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser has prepared the same desserts over and over. He started making cherry almond cake for his family when he was only 7 or 8 years old. "It's really simple," he says. "These cakes are so easy, they can't be messed up."

He proved that recently when he made both the cherry cake and apple cake in a single hour at the same time he was being interviewed by The Washington Post Food section.

He'd already sliced the apples and drained the cherries -- before the interview. And he'd buttered two springform pans, surrounded each of them with aluminum foil (to avoid seepage) and set out his ingredients. Most people need to think about what they're doing when they cook or risk making mistakes. He didn't worry at all.

"Even people who can't cook can make this," he says, preheating the oven and getting out an old, food-stained three-by-five recipe card for his apple cake. "I've done them so often, I don't have to measure. And they're great for anyone who's afraid of pastry -- and I'm one of them."

He works through the steps of the two cakes with confidence, demonstrating the difference between the two batters, occasionally looking at his watch to check the timing. For the apple cake, he pats the dough into the sides of the pan.

"You don't want it too thick to cut," he says. The cherry cake is faster to throw together. The only problem, he says, is making sure he can find a 14-ounce can of tart, red pitted cherries. His parents sent these down from New Rochelle, N.Y.

His dessert choices -- and particularly those two recipes -- emerge from the foods he grew up with ("My mother would always bake for company.") "In my family almond extract is like a religion," says Kaiser, whose parents were born in Germany.

This simple cake offers a nice, moist crumb with the surprise of tart cherries buried within the batter. Although almond is a natural flavoring counterpoint for stone fruits such as cherries, you may alter the amount as you see fit.

CHERRY ALMOND CAKE

1 cup flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature, plus additional for the pan

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 to 2 teaspoons almond extract

15-ounce can tart red (Bing) cherries, pitted and drained (do not use cherry pie filling)

confectioners' sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8- to 10-inch springform pan. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing until combined after each addition. Add the almond extract and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture and, using a wooden spoon, mix just until thoroughly incorporated.

The batter should be very thick. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and, using a rubber spatula, smooth the surface. Spread the drained cherries evenly over the batter.

Bake the cake for 60 to 70 minutes, until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes.

Carefully remove the side of the pan and set the cake aside to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature. If desired, dust the top of the cooled cake with confectioners' sugar just prior to serving.

8 to 12 servings

The following layered cake is deceptively simple to mix together and turns out a gorgeous filled cake with a crisp crust, a slightly sweet apple filling and a crumbly topping.

APPLE CAKE

For the filling:

3 pounds apples (mixed varieties)

1 lemon, washed and thinly sliced

1/3 cup sugar

For the crust:

2 cups flour

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces, plus additional for the pan

2 egg yolks

For the topping:

1 cup reserved crust mixture

2 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon sugar mixed with pinch ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8- to 10-inch springform pan.

For the filling: Peel and cut the apples into 1/2- to 3/4-inch slices. As you slice them, add them to a large pot with some cold water and the lemon slices. When all the apple slices are in the pot, add enough cold water to barely cover them, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Drain the apples, discarding the cooking liquid. Remove and discard the lemon slices. Set the apples aside.

For the crust: In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and baking powder. Add the butter and, using a pastry blender, 2 knives held crisscross fashion or a wooden spoon, mix until the crust is crumbly but will stick if pressed together. Add the egg yolks and mix to combine. Transfer 1 cup of the mixture to a bowl and set aside for the topping. Pat the remaining mixture into the bottom and about 1/2 inch up the sides of the springform pan.

Spread the reserved apple slices evenly over the surface of the crust. Set aside.

For the topping: Sprinkle the reserved crust mixture over the apple slices. Sprinkle the butter evenly over the top and then sprinkle with the sugar-cinnamon mixture.

Bake the cake for 45 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the pan, until the topping is lightly golden. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Carefully remove the side of the pan and set the cake aside to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

12 servings

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page C4.