On Love & Luxardo Cherries

by kelly vass in ,


Once you've had a taste of love, you shouldn't settle for anything less. 

luxardo cherries

 

Last year, I fell in love pretty quickly. It was a bit of an accident, really. I was at a bourbon bar with my lovely friend Emily, trying to decide what drink to order when my eyes landed on the old fashioned. Was it a complicated drink? Absolutely not. Had I had it before? Sure. Yet despite all the complex and fancy cocktails on the menu, something made me order it... and, looking back now, I'm pretty glad I did.

luxardo cherry

When the bartender came back with our drinks, I noticed that something seemed off with my cocktail. At first, I thought I ordered the wrong thing because my old fashioned was missing the neon glow of the red maraschino sunk in the bottom of the glass. Instead, skewered on top was a dark, almost black cherry. Curiously, I picked up my glass, examined the skewer, and tentatively popped the cherry in my mouth.

Wow. 

From that moment, I was smitten. This was not the overly-sweet, almond-flavored maraschino I had grown up with. This one cherry seemed to erase the memory all of the bright red Shirley Temple Maraschinos of my youth. It was rich, decadent and most definitely, adult. I don't remember much of what was going on around me or what Emily and I were talking about because the world around me seemed to blur and the only thing in focus was the cherry flavor that seemed to be on an intense date with my taste buds. To put it briefly, it was love at first bite.

When I found the Luxardo cherries in a store a week later, I was immediately both excited and disappointed. I had been to several different liquor stores trying to find them, so when I finally saw them on the shelf, I was elated.... until I saw the price tag. $16 for a smallish jar. Sixteen dollars! For cherries! I mean, sure they were the best cherries I'd ever eaten, but were they really worth that much? And, at that price tag, could I ever justify eating them straight from the jar?

sour cherries

It turns out, I totally could (though not without reminding myself how much they cost so I didn't eat the whole jar in one sitting), though once the first jar was gone, I couldn't bring myself to splurge on another one without first trying my hand at making my own version as soon as cherry season rolled around. 

As I started experimenting with different recipes, it became apparent pretty quickly that my cherry standards were at an all-time high. Like real love, once you've had someone treat you with thoughtfulness and the utmost care, you shouldn't settle for someone who doesn't show you respect or can't be bothered to call you. The same went for my cherries. I wasn't going to settle for some lackluster, watery imitation or a corn syrupy mess. I wanted cherry gold. To get there, I did a LOT of research before I actually cracked open the Luxardo. And, like online dating sites, had a lot of misses before finding something close to what originally made my tastebuds swoon.

If these cherries had a match.com profile, their headline would be "Small, Dark & Handsome." Add that to the fact that they're surrounded by a rich, viscous syrup and it makes for one dangerously delicious combination. As I poured through the recipes, I feared that this combo, like real love, would be impossible to replicate. A number of the recipes claiming to produce Luxardo-like cherries yielded a watery cough-drop tasting syrup. Other recipes just submerged the cherries in straight booze. A common caveat was that the cherries would lose shape, color and texture from boiling in the simple syrup, but called for it anyway. The Art of Drink set out to fix these issues with the addition of phosphates and additives, but that was a bit too complicated for me (I'd still suggest reading it if you like geeking out over ingredients and food science!). I set out to produce cherries that wouldn't lose their color, shape or texture, had a thicker syrup and tasted similar to my favorite cherries without verging on cough syrup. Overall, I think I came pretty close!

luxardo cherry

After spending a weekend in my kitchen with several different kinds of cherries and processes, here are the results of my experiments:

Batch 1 - Sweet cherries with a recipe calling for cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, vanilla, etc. The flavor of the cherry didn't stand out and the syrup tasted like cough syrup. I also boiled the cherries for 5 minutes in the syrup and they got too mushy for my liking.

Batch 2 - Hungarian sour cherries (jarred) with just cinnamon stick, vanilla bean and lemon juice (recipe below). I had a jar of sour cherries in my fridge and wanted to use them up.  I added the cherries into the simple syrup right after turning the heat off and gave them a toss. Their color was faded to begin with and would've faded more had I cooked them in the simple syrup. Flavor was better with sour cherries, but the color/texture was still off.

Batch 3 - Fresh sour cherries and the recipe below. This was the winner for sure. I played around with the temperature of the sugar syrup because I wanted to have a slightly thicker syrup but also have enough of the Luxardo flavor without thinning out the syrup (or adding corn syrup). I added the cherries last to preserve their texture/appearance. The syrup isn't nearly as thick as my beloved Luxardos, but it is thicker than the watery recipes I started out with and it doesn't involve corn syrup, so I consider it a happy compromise.

Takeaways? Use fresh sour cherries if you can, jarred sour cherries (or frozen) in a pinch. Obviously if you can get amarena cherries (which are the kind Luxardo uses), they'd be your best bet. I found that I liked adding the alcohol at the end so the flavor doesn't burn off. Additionally, adding the cherries at the end, rather than cooking them in the syrup will preserve their texture, but the flavor will improve the longer they hang out in the jar. So if you want a cherry that tastes boozy all the way through from the get-go, you may want to boil the cherries in the syrup for five minutes and then let them cool so they're good to go immediately. 

If you've made your own cocktail cherries before, leave your own tips in the comments. Happy cooking! :)

Homemade Luxardo Cherries

Ingredients

  • 1 lb sour cherries, washed & pitted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla bean, split but not scraped
  • 1 1/2 T lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup Luxardo liqueur

Directions

Before we begin: We'll be canning these bad boys, so be sure to sterilize two pint size mason jars + lids and metal rings in boiling water for 15 minutes and let them hang out in hot water while you prepare the cherries. If you're new to canning, I suggest starting with this great guide from Marisa at Food in Jars, who explains sterilizing jars way more succinctly than I ever could.

  1. In a medium sauce pan, combine sugar and water. Heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add in cinnamon stick and vanilla bean and continue to heat until mixture reaches 220F.
  2. Turn off heat and remove vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Discard.
  3. Stir in lemon juice and Luxardo liqueur until combined.
  4. Add the cherries to the hot syrup. Gently toss to combine. 
  5. Carefully ladle the cherries and syrup into sterile jars. Wipe off any spillage from the rims of the jars with a paper towel dipped in hot water (go ahead and use the water you boiled the jars in. I won't tell.). Place the lids on and then screw the rings on until they're just tight. 
  6. Allow the jars to cool to room temperature. They should make a popping noise as they seal. Once the jars are cool, check to make sure that they have, in fact, sealed. If for some reason the lid didn't, just put the jar in the fridge and use it within two weeks or so. Sealed jars will keep for a while. 
  7. Serve with homemade bitters and some rye in an old fashioned, spoon over ice cream, or indulge your inner cherry addict and eat straight from the jar. No judgement here :) 

Chocolate Bourbon Maple Bacon Milkshake

by kelly vass in


A rich, boozy milkshake made with chocolate bourbon and maple bacon vodka. Adults only, please.

chocolate bourbon maple bacon milkshake

One of my favorite things about experimenting in the kitchen is the power food has to blend memory and experience together. 

This week on the podcast, Autumn and I were making a special cocktail for longtime listener and fan of the show, Sarah. She's in grad school for her second Master's Degree and wanted a culinary-focused cocktail to get her through long study sessions and the stress that grad school brings. In trying to think of my own grad school experiences, I couldn't help but think of stressful, late-night binge sessions of aged stilton on club crackers and lots of ice cream. 

I don't have much reason for late-night stress-eating these days and thinking back to the all-night paper writing sessions made me glad that chapter of my life (and the anxiety it brought with it!) was over. 

As much as I'm a fan of night cheese and cheese generally, I wasn't about to put it in a cocktail, so I went to my next go-to late-night staple: ice cream. I went with coffee, both because it's a favorite flavor and because it represents the immeasurable amount of caffeine consumed while working on my Master's. In lieu of the guilty pleasure of cheese, I went with maple bacon vodka, which was given to me by Autumn back at Big Summer Potluck last year. And, to blend the flavors together, I brought a little bit of modern me to the picture with chocolate bourbon. Grad school Kelly didn't dabble in brown spirits, but nearly-30 Kelly has an acquired affinity for whiskey, bourbon and rye.

The chocolate bourbon I used was a reject of Whiskey Club, a selection that no one seemed to want to drink on its own. Rather, we best agreed that it would be better baked or blended into something and so here begins my experimentation (more to come soon, I promise!). At 25, I would have never joined a group dedicated to talking about brown spirits because I knew nothing about them and the thought of having to talk about something I knew nothing about scared the pants off of me. But, fast forward a few years and I now find myself joining clubs where I barely know anyone and taking classes on things I'm terrible at. I'm not sure when it took over or how it happened, but I'm thankful for this new-found insatiable urge to learn things I know little about and thankful that this milkshake reminded me of how much I've changed.

Chocolate Bourbon Maple Bacon Milkshake

serves 1 (or two to three shooter-size millkshakes)

Ingredients:

  • 3 large scoops coffee ice cream
  • 1/2 ounce chocolate bourbon
  • 3/4 ounce maple bacon vodka
  • teaspoon of maple syrup
  • splash of milk (optional)
  • chocolate syrup for drizzling

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend according to your blender's instructions. If too thick, add a splash of milk. If too thin, add a bit more ice cream.
  2. Pour milkshake into a martini glass drizzled with chocolate syrup.
  3. Enjoy!

Peach Pegu Club Cocktail

by kelly vass in


A summery twist on a classic cocktail. 

Are you familiar with the Pegu Club Cocktail? I wasn't until last week, when I was trying to find a springtime, gin-based cocktail for my podcast, Alphabet Soup. Each episode, Autumn and I have a segment called Cocktail Memoirs, where we tell stories (both good and bad) about life or our week through an interpretive cocktail. 

peach pegu club cocktail

For tomorrow's episode, we had a listener request that we make a cocktail perfect for spring and all the changes it brings. She also requested that it be ginspirational, meaning gin-based and delicious. 

The Pegu Club Cocktail fits that bill perfectly. It's a combination of gin, orange liquor (triple sec, cointreau), bitters and lime juice. It gets its origins in Burma's Pegu Club, a club outside of Rangoon. Though it's considered a hot-weather cocktail already, I was maybe a little anxious for warm weather and decided to add peach as a nod to summer. 

pegu club cocktail

Want Autumn and I to create a cocktail for you? 

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And be sure to check out our podcast every other Tuesday to hear what cocktails we're mixing up each week. Subscribe in iTunes so you never miss an episode! 

Peach Pegu Club Cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce triple sec or cointreau
  • 1/4 ounce Peachtree
  • dash of Angosturra bitters
  • dash of orange bitters
  • squeeze of lime juice

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously for 1 minute. Strain and pour into a coup glass. Garnish with a lime peel or raspberry.
  2. Enjoy!

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