Cherries 2010

It’s been a good cherry season here in northern California with plenty of nice looking fruit still for sale. Commensurately, I’ve been busy. Here’s an update on my projects.

Candied Sweet Cherries—Two ways

Back in May I made two separate batches of candied cherries using Bing and some Van, both of which are bigarreau-type cultivars of Prunus avium, the sweet cherry species. These are really fleshy fruit and I wanted to see if I could approximate the texture and taste of candied Italian amarenata cherries (often incorrectly referred to as amarena). Those cherries are very dark and dense inside, almost like a fruit paste. Some folks don’t like ‘em, but I myself am quite fond of them, especially when they’ve had the chance to ‘make friends’ with some rye in a mason jar and loose all of that heavy syrup in which they come packed.

For the first batch I started out by partially cooking 2 lb. of fruit that had been stoned and then macerated for one hour with 1 lb. of organic cane sugar. I added a vanilla bean (split lengthwise), the peel of two Seville oranges, their juice and about half a cup of water. I stirred everything until all the sugar was dissolved and simmered the mixture for about 15 – 20 minutes, as if I was going to make preserves. I then switched over to a ‘classic’ candying protocol, leaving the cherries to sit in the syrup over night, draining them in the morning, re-heating the syrup to which more sugar is then added, and then pouring the enriched syrup over the cherries again. I did this for about five days; fully candied fruit may be processed for two weeks in this manner. I then gave them a final draining (reserving the vanilla-rich syrup, which is totally killer over ice cream) and put the cherries on a baking sheet to allow them to dry. After a few days I deemed them done.

For the second batch I decided to follow the candying protocol more closely, which meant the stoned fruit was barely cooked on the first day and with much less sugar. Once again I added a vanilla bean, orange peel (Sevilles were now gone however) and the juice of a lemon. I enriched the syrup with daily additions of sugar for another full seven days after which I decided they were candied enough. One thing I didn’t want was to wind up with an entirely glaced cherry. As it turned out, this second batch was far closer to that point that I realized. After being stored in a sealed container for 10 days they were in fact showing signs of becoming crystalized.

Of the two batches, the first is clearly the more successful. The flesh of the fruit is very moist and a lot of fresh cherry flavor remains. There’s also no sign of crystallizing, even after a month in the container. The second batch, while tasty, is definitely more sugary and the fruit has begun to show signs of crystallization. I’ve put a bunch of them into my ‘washing jar’ with some rye where I think they will fare better.

I should say that neither batch approximates the jamminess of the Italian amarenata cherries. I am not sure that I will ever be able to do that.

Brandied Balatons

I have waxed poetic before on the Balaton, a cultivar of sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) originally developed in Hungary, established in states like Michigan, Idaho and Utah, and now showing up in commercial quantities here in California. These seem to be easier far to find than the tart standard bearer, the Montmorency. In fact, I’ve never seen these for sale anywhere around here.

I lucked upon Balatons last year as they were more or less fading and just barely managed to get some home before the market scuttled the box as unsalable. (I’d have taken ‘em!) This year I kept my eyes open for them every time I visited Berkeley Bowl. Two days ago they made their appearance, this time pre-packaged in 2 lb. clamshells. This was actually an improvement over the loose boxes in which I found them last year. All the fruit was firm, bright and in good condition. (Note: two days later all the Balatons were gone—sold out. Guess I wasn’t the only one waiting for these.)

Last year I put my Balatons up two ways: one rye (with orange peel and vanilla bean) and one in mixture of cognac and kirsch. I eventually added some sugar to both batches. Of the two, I liked the cognac and kirsch best, so this year that’s all I did. I also bumped the sugar a bit and allowed the fruit to macerate for a couple of hours before adding the spirits. In about a week I will sample and and adjust the sweetness if necessary.

Cherry Noyaux Experiments

My noyaux investigations continue. An abundance of cherries have been stoned in my kitchen over the past two months and I have not been letting the kernels go to waste. Unlike peach bunkers, cherry stones are easily cracked, though you get much less out of each one. For example, two pounds of Balaton cherries yielded just 19 grams of kernels. That’s “kernels,” the bit inside of each stone, not the shells which account for most of the mass.

I have made two distinct experiments using cherry stones at this point.

Experiment #1: Boosting the Peach Noyaux

The first thing I wanted to try was to add cherry kernels to the peach kernel noyaux I made last year. That first product has always felt a bit delicate and subtle to me. My thought was to boost the flavor by macerating some cherry kernels in it. One batch, using Bing/Van kernels, has been macerating for two months and has now been coarsely filtered. The aroma of this noyaux is definitely more intense but it’s the flavor which has really changed: much more marzipan and bitter almond. My current thoughts are to mix in more of the peach kernel noyaux to reduce the bitterness and/or add more sugar.

I also have a second similar batch based on the Balaton kernels in process. It will be interesting to see if it tastes any different than the batch based on Bing/Van kernels.

Experiment #2: Straight Cherry Noyaux

Another idea was to make a new batch of noyaux based entirely on cherries. Since cherry stones contain such small kernels I decided to just crush the stones and add everything—kernels, shells, and any flesh still attached—to a bottle of VS cognac. That batch is about one month old right now and has turned a coppery-red. You can smell the cherry in it and when tasted, it exhibits a light cherry flavor. It will be interesting to see how much more flavor develops in a month and how it tastes after it’s been sweetened. I may also augment this with some of the cherry-boosted peach noyaux.

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