December 6, 2008

Chocolate Cherries

3 cups sugar

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon water

1/4 cup light corn syrup

60 maraschino cherries with stems (do not use fresh cherries)

24 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped, or 24 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Butter or margarine for greasing the pan and the cookie sheet

PREPARING THE FONDANT

Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan and set aside.

Combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy medium saucepan. Using a wooden spoon, stir gently over medium heat until the sugar dissolves completely and the syrup comes to a boil.

Clip a candy thermometer to the inside of the pan and cook the syrup, without stirring, until it reaches 240 F (soft ball).

Immediately pour the hot syrup into the prepared 9 X 13-inch pan. Let the syrup cool undisturbed until the bottom of the pan feels lukewarm to the touch.

Using a heavy wooden spoon, stir the lukewarm mixture -until it forms a ball. Some of this fondant may stick to the 9 X 13-inch pan. The fondant may also seize into a very hard ball that is impossible to stir. In any case, seal the ball of fondant into a 1-gallon plastic Ziploc bag, removing as much air from the bag as possible. Let the fondant rest 1 minute before continuing.

With the fondant sealed in the plastic bag, roll the candy with the heel of your hand, pressing down toward the counter. Continue this light kneading motion until the fondant looks smooth and creamy and feels like a firm cookie dough, about 10 minutes. Set the fondant aside, wrapped in plastic, while you prepare the cherries. The fondant can be made up to a week ahead of time and kept well wrapped in the refrigerator.

FIRST DIPPING

Drain the cherries, reserving the liquid. Place the cherries on paper towels to absorb any excess liquid.

Butter a large cookie sheet. Line it with wax paper and set it aside.

Place the fondant in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water. If you don't have a double boiler, simply place the fondant in a. medium bowl that fits snugly over a pot of simmering water. Stir the fondant until it melts. Rest a candy thermometer in the melted fondant and continue to stir gently, working around the thermometer, until the fondant reaches 150 F. Turn off the heat.

Stir in 2 or 3 tablespoons of the reserved cherry liquid to give the fondant a pink color and a mild cherry flavor. Should the fondant fall below 150 F, turn the heat on low and bring the water back to a simmer just until the temperature of the fondant rises back to 150 F.

To dip, hold one cherry by the stem and quickly dip it into the melted fondant to cover the cherry. Avoid getting fondant on the stem. Place the dipped cherry on the prepared cookie sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining cherries until all are dipped. Stir the fondant occasionally. If the fondant becomes too thick as you dip, add more cherry liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a thinner consistency is reached. Set the dipped cherries aside while preparing the chocolate for dipping.

SECOND DIPPING

Melt 12 ounces of the semisweet chocolate in the top of a clean double boiler set over hot water. If you don't have a double boiler, simply place the chocolate in a bowl that fits snugly over a pot of hot water.

When the chocolate has melted completely, remove the top part of the double boiler or the bowl from the hot water. Add the remaining 12 ounces of semisweet chocolate and stir until all of the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Insert a candy thermometer or chocolate thermometer into the melted chocolate. Its temperature should be 88 to 90 F. If the chocolate is too cold, place it back over the hot water until the temperature reaches 88 to 90 F. If it is too hot, let it cool until the desired temperature is reached.

Hold one fondant-covered cherry by the stem and dip it into the melted chocolate to cover the pink candy coating. Repeat the process with the remaining cherries until all are dipped. Stir the chocolate occasionally.

Let the cherries sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Place them in the refrigerator overnight, and the chocolate will harden while the centers liquefy.

Store the cherries in a single layer in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

VARIATIONS

MILK CHOCOLATE CHERRIES
Substitute 24 ounces milk chocolate for the semisweet chocolate.

WHITE CHOCOLATE CHERRIES
Substitute 24 ounces white chocolate for the semisweet chocolate.

The following variations work with the base recipe or with either of the preceding chocolate variations.

NUTTY CHOCOLATE CHERRIES
Place a small piece of toasted almond inside each cherry before dipping it into the melted fondant. If desired, also add 1/4 teaspoon almond extract to the melted fondant before dipping the cherries.

SPICY CHOCOLATE CHERRIES
Place a small piece of fresh jalapeno pepper inside each cherry before dipping it in the melted fondant.

SPIKED CHOCOLATE CHERRIES
Drain the liquid from the jars of cherries. Refill the jars, covering the cherries with brandy, vodka, or kirsch. Let them soak for at least 24 ours. Substitute the soaking alcohol for the cherry liquid.

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