I've decided to kick my $20 a jar Luxardo cherry habit (hey it's still cheaper than ordering my Manhattans at a bar! Right?) by making a batch of luxurious homemade cocktail cherries. By week 2 of my project I had procured frozen sour cherries and a bottle of Maraschino liqueur. What was next?
Here's what I did and how I think I may have already screwed it up. Want to reassure me?
Week 2: The Plan
I did a lot of reading before I embarked on my cherry-preserving. I paid especially close attention to these three links:
My goal with these cherries was a crisp cherry, like Luxardo's, and a rich, jammy taste. I was really intrigued by the idea of "curing" my cherries in a salt water bath, which was supposed to fix their color and texture and help them absorb the sugar syrup and liqueur I would be adding. Think of pickling, and how a brine fixes cucumbers' color and keeps them crisp.
The problem is that I was starting with frozen cherries, not fresh, which meant that the cherries were way softer and more flabby to start with. Would a salt water blanch and lots of sugar plump them up?
Week 2: Brining and Making a Syrup
Here's what I did. I made a brine with 6 cups water and 3 tablespoons coarse kosher salt. I brought it to a boil and added about 1 pound of frozen sour cherries. I simmered for four minutes, then drained them and ran them under cool water.
Immediately I regretted simmering the cherries; many of them looked split and they were all wrinkled and a little sad-looking. I wondered if I should have done a cold brine instead, leaving the cherries in a salt water bath in the fridge overnight.
Oooh. My cherries look pretty sad, don't they.
But I forged ahead, making a syrup of 2 cups sugar, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup cherry juice concentrate, and cinnamon, star anise, and green cardamom pods. I simmered these until the sugar dissolved, then turned off the heat and stirred in 1/2 cup maraschino liqueur. I strained out the spices, since I only wanted a subtle hint of spice. I divided the cherries between two pint jars and I poured this syrup over the cherries.
For the sake of experimentation, I put more frozen cherries in a separate pint jar and poured the remaining syrup over them.
Next Week: A Test!
Now the cherries are hanging out in the refrigerator, hopefully soaking up the sugary syrup and liqueur and getting transformed into delicious cocktail cherries. I am wondering, though, if they'll ever become what I was hoping for, or whether they'll turn out to be something different (yet still delicious). Will the brine actually help? Will they plump up in their juicy syrup?
Regardless, I won't know for some weeks. I'll report back next week with an early test, but these really should steep for at least 4 weeks.
Have you ever made cocktail cherries like these? What do you think of my method? Have you found a way to make a really crisp cherry in syrup?
The non-brined cherries in syrup.
(Image credits: Faith Durand)