The holidays are approaching, which means candy-making and baking! The past few years, I’ve made my amazing salted honey lavender caramels. Then I had this great idea that while I’m on maternity leave I’d learn how to make chocolates – really, really good chocolates. So I borrowed a book from the library called Chocolates and Confections, and became fixated with a recipe for cherry cordials. They weren’t the first thing I made out of that book, because I had trouble sourcing one fleeting ingredient – invertase. The other things I tried all turned out better than I expected – honey-lavender truffles, chocolate pecan buttercrunch, dulce de leche chocolates, rum truffles… Luckily my friends are all willing test pilots when it comes to eating the experiments. But it all came down… to the cherry cordial. It was always my (and Mark’s) favourite as a kid. It was the first one I’d go for in the box of Pot of Gold, and I’m sure there were a few fistfights that were had with my brothers over who got the cherry. I searched for about 6 weeks to find invertase – an enzyme that breaks down fondant into liquid sugar (it’s how they make the creamy center in the Creme Eggs), and finally found it at my local kitchen store – victory! I had already decided that plain old maraschino cherries wouldn’t do, so I got a jar of the natural-style maraschinos and soaked them for about two weeks in bourbon. And holy smokes, did that ever work! Gonna be tough to save enough to give away at Christmas!
Bourbon Cherry Cordials (adapted from Chocolates and Confections)
50 stem-on Maraschino cherries (natural, if possible. Hell make them yourself if you like.)
1 1/2 – 2 cups bourbon or moonshine
1 1/3 lb (600 g, or 2 2/3 cups) sugar
4 oz (1/3 cup) light corn syrup
4 oz (1/2 cup) water
1/4 tsp invertase
1 – 2 lbs of the best quality dark chocolate you can find (chips, pastilles, broken-up chocolate bar or finely chopped chunk)
Drain the cherries and put them into a jar (a mason jar works well). Add enough bourbon to cover the cherries. Screw on the lid and store the jar in a cool dark place for at least 24 hours, or up to two weeks. The longer you wait the boozier the cherries will be. (At this point, you could just consider these to be the completed product. They go great in a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned, or on an ice cream sundae. Or you might want to make an extra jar of them, because these chocolates are kind of off the hook.)
To make the fondant, put the sugar, corn syrup and water in a medium saucepan and stir well. Cover and bring to a boil, boil for 4 minutes, covered. Remove the lid and pop in a candy thermometer, and without stirring, cook until it reaches 238°F (soft ball stage – this means that if you take a small spoonful of the syrup and drop it into a glass of cold water, it will hold together in a soft ball.)
Dump the syrup into the bowl of an electric mixer (or a heatproof bowl if you’ll be using a hand mixer) and sprinkle the surface with a bit of cold water, and pop in the thermometer. Leave it alone, don’t even think of stirring it until it cools to 120°F, about 30-45 minutes, depending on how hot your kitchen is. Any movement during the cooling phase will affect the sugar’s crystal structure, so don’t disturb it at all. If you want to cool it quicker, line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and pour in the liquid fondant. Put in the thermometer, splash on some water, and let it sit until it hits 120°F, about 20 minutes.
With the paddle attachment in place (or with your handheld mixer), mix at medium-low speed. The fondant will go from a clear sticky gel to a smooth white goop, and suddenly will change structure and get stiffer and dull looking after about 8-12 minutes (if you’re not sure if you’ve beaten long enough, keep beating. You can’t overbeat it.) You could beat it by hand, but I have no idea how long that would take, so if you’re interested in building some serious muscles while you make your confections, please go ahead. You can make the fondant ahead of time and store it in an airtight container for two weeks at room temperature, or in the fridge for months.
Put a colander in a bowl and dump in the cherries, bourbon and all. Save the bourbon. Dry the cherries well with a towel and set them aside.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust lightly with powdered sugar. Set this aside.
Heat the fondant in the top of a double boiler or a water bath until it reaches 160°F, stirring constantly. It will be very stiff at first, but keep going and it will become creamier, but not quite liquid. Take the fondant off the heat and stir in the invertase.
Holding them by the stem, dip the cherries one at a time into the fondant, almost all the way up to the top. If the fondant is too thick to coat the cherries, thin it with some of the reserved bourbon, a teaspoonful at a time (I ended up using about 1 1/2 tbsp of the bourbon. The rest went into Manhattans.) Stir it well. If the fondant falls off the cherries without sticking, wipe off the excess from the cherry and dry it well (the cherry, not the fondant) with a clean towel. Don’t worry if there’s a bit falling off one side though, it won’t show in the final product (and if it does it will add character). If any cherries are missing the stem, dunk them into the fondant and coat them completely. Use a fork to help you coat them and pull them out. Place the dipped cherries on the parchment-lined pan, stem up. Let the cherries sit for about 10 minutes, or until the fondant dries.
Meanwhile, temper your chocolate. Tempering your chocolate arranges the crystal structure of the solidifying chocolate to change its melting point so that it won’t melt on your fingers right away. It also gives it a nice finish and hard shell. And it’s not much more work than just melting the chocolate.
Dump about 3/4 lb chocolate into a heatproof bowl and set it on top of a pot of very gently simmering water (don’t let the bottom of the bowl touch the water). The idea is to melt the chocolate using as little heat as possible. Stir gently to help distribute the heat, but make sure that no water gets in contact with the chocolate or it will get grainy.
As soon as the chocolate is melted, take the bowl off the heat. Add about 2 oz reserved chocolate and stir until completely melted. Add a bit more chocolate, and stir until completely melted. Keep adding and stirring chocolate, until it won’t melt anymore (about 5-10 minutes). Remove and eat the last unmelted bits from the bowl.
To keep the chocolate at the right temperature while you work with it, prepare a pot of water that is big enough to hold your bowl of chocolate and fill it with water heated to 89°F. The idea is to keep the chocolate at just the right temperature while you work with it. Set the bowl of chocolate into the pot of water, again making sure that the water won’t come in contact with the chocolate. Keep track of the water’s temperature with a probe/instant read thermometer. If the water hits 86°F, bring it back up to, but not exceeding, 89°F. If you have a big enough pot of water, you should be able to do the whole batch of cherries without reheating the water.
Pick up a cherry by the stem and dip it into the tempered chocolate, up to the bottom 1/4″ of the stem. Place it on a clean parchment to set. Repeat with all the cherries. While dipping the cherries, pop any air bubbles with a toothpick and re-dip if necessary to even out the coating.
I found that just one dip didn’t make a thick enough shell and the liquid leaked a bit, so I tempered a second batch of chocolate and double-dipped. They look pretty huge now, but the double-dipping sealed up all the bubbles and cracks, and any remaining leaking ones ended up being eaten up pretty quickly. Now they have a nice crunchy chocolate shell, which will hopefully survive being carted around over the holidays.
Now the hard part – waiting… Once the fondant is covered with chocolate, the invertase will start doing its work. It will take about 7-10 days to convert the fondant to liquid. That may seem like an eternity, but the results will be pretty amazing – liquid cherry-bourbon goodness, with a bit of creamy fondant at the bottom. I’m drooling already. If you can’t wait that long, they will still be delicious right away.
After 1 1/2 weeks, they will look something like this:
If you get a box of these from me this year, try to act surprised.