Sunday, July 10, 2011

Homemade spiced cocktail cherries

No Manhattan is complete without a cocktail cherry and a splash of syrup, but those awful corn-syrup-cured pickled things you find on grocery-store shelves are singularly unappetizing. What's a snobbish grad student with too much time on his hands to do?

Make his own, of course!

My fiancĂ©e and I are getting married next summer, and we're planning to feature two 'signature cocktails' rather than offer a complete open bar (since the latter costs roughly the black-market worth of a healthy human kidney). One of these is a Manhattan, a drink we both enjoy greatly but which really does depend on a good cocktail cherry to tie it together. Cheap grocery-store cocktail cherries, which are simply pickled in akalai and sweetened with corn syrup, just don't cut it for us, and good commercial offerings like Maraschino brand would cost hundreds of dollars in the quantities we need. Accordingly, we're going to make our own—in stupendous quantity, of course—allowing us to get the quality we desire without mortgaging my car.

Note that this recipe uses maraschino liqueur. Confusingly, the so-called 'maraschino' cherries you buy at the store have nothing to do with this liqueur or the Maraska cherries from which the liqueur takes its name, the liqueur does not taste of cherries at all—it's made from the pits only—and the extremely-expensive Maraschino cocktail cherries found in good liquor stores are not made with maraschino liqueur—they're just Maraska cherries candied in a spiced syrup. The flavor of the liqueur is sweet, bitter, and complex, with the dominant flavor component resembling almonds more than any fruit. It is, however, an excellent addition to the flavor profile of the syrup we'll use for these cocktail cherries.

Homemade spiced cocktail cherries

  • Lots of cherries (we used five pounds)
  • For each pound of cherries:
    • 1 tbsp. table salt
    • 1/2 c. water
    • 1/2 c. turbinado or demerarra (raw) sugar (if you don't have raw sugar, use white, not brown, sugar to substitute)
    • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
    • 1 inch stick cinnamon
    • 1 pinch fresh grated nutmeg
    • 1 whole clove
    • 1/2 whole star anise (round as necessary)
    • 1/2 c. brandy
    • 1/4 c. brandy-based orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier or Gran Gala)
    • 1/4 c. maraschino liqueur (I prefer Luxardo)
    • 1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract

First, pit your cherries. If you're doing more than a small jarful, you're going to want a cherry stoner. The time required to pit more than a couple of dozen cherries by hand would be absurd. If you are unable to acquire a cherry stoner, just leave the stones in; they won't hurt anything except your teeth. Reserve the pits if you remove them.

We removed and discarded the stems to avoid having to clean them and to make them easier to pack, but you can leave the stems on if you prefer.

Add enough water to a large pot to cover your cherries completely, then mix in 1 tbsp. table salt per pound of cherries. The resulting water should be very salty. Bring the brine to a boil, then add the cherries and cook for four or five minutes; they're done when they have softened slightly and developed a crisp tooth. Strain off the brine and rinse the cherries completely with cold water.

Meanwhile, heat 1/2 c. water per pound of cherries in a large pot. Add the sugar and bring the mixture carefully to a boil, stirring often. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, add the lemon juice, stick cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, star anise, brandy, orange liqueur, and maraschino. Simmer the mixture gently for five minutes, taking care not to inhale the vapors—it will throw off a lot of alcohol during this stage. Remove the syrup from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract, and set it aside.

Transfer the cherries to the container you'll use to store them. A large clamp– or screw-top Mason-style jar is perfect (although you may need more than one if you make a lot of cherries). Pour the syrup over the cherries to cover them, pushing down any bits of whole spice that float up so they're submerged. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, seal it up, and set it aside in a cool, dark place for at least a month or two.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I see you were also horrified by McGee's description of commercially-produced cocktail cherries :). These sound lovely.