Sharon Bowers is the author of Sweet Christmas Homemade Peppermints, Sugar Cake, Chocolate-Almond Toffee, Eggnog Fudge, and Other Sweet Treats and Decorations, the bestselling Ghoulish Goodies (more than 85,000 copies in print), Candy Construction, and is a regular contributor to NBC’s iVillage. She has appeared in the New York Times and People magazine, and on CBS’s Early Show and ABC News Now.
Nearly everyone likes sweet stuff now and then, and lots of people bake. But why don’t more people make candy at home? Well, probably because it always seems to involve a lot of hassle and specialty equipment. Any recipe that requires you to first go buy silicone molds, or glycerin, or various tips and nozzles —anything you can’t get at the grocery store, really—is usually not the first one where you dog-ear the page in a new cookbook. I know because I’m precisely that sort of a lazy cook myself, and if I’m going to bother with a specialty project, it needs to be easy. And fun. Pretty fast. And delicious.
When I started writing SWEET CHRISTMAS, these Chocolate-Covered Cherries were one of the first recipes I developed because the hit all the marks, and they’re still my husband’s favorite recipe in the book. They’re completely kid-friendly, too, and my young sons were thrilled to have their hands in chocolate and sugar every step of the way. Best of all, the results are not only far better than the boxed kind but also much prettier to look at.
I know, I know: maraschino cherries with their neon coloring aren’t standard fare in every fridge. You can readily find them at the grocery store, however, and their acidic tang plays off the syrupy sugar coating. For a milder (and less colorful) approach, try using bottled cherries in syrup, well drained and dried with a paper towel. Funny enough, maraschino cherries are the “real” thing when it comes to this classic holiday treat. Don’t think about how they’re made—focus on using the chocolate you prefer, whether milk or dark. And don’t be surprised when your kids ask why you don’t make candy more often.
Makes about 3 dozen
1 20-ounce jar (about 40 cherries) maraschino cherries with stems, in heavy syrup
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus a little more as needed
3 tablespoons salted butter, softened
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)
3 cups (1 1/2 12-ounce packages) semisweet chocolate chips (or 1 pound dark or milk chocolate)
1 tablespoon solid vegetable shortening or 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (see Note)
1. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the cherry juice and then drain the cherries and pat them dry gently with paper towels, being careful to leave the stems on. Let them sit on paper towels while you prepare the fondant. Line two baking sheets with wax or parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, butter, corn syrup, reserved cherry liquid, and the almond extract, if using. Stir to blend. Turn out onto a clean work surface and knead to until smooth and pliable, adding 1-2 more tablespoons confectioners’ sugar if needed to make a firm fondant. (If your kitchen is very warm, you may need to chill it for 30 minutes in the refrigerator to stiffen it up.)
3. Wrap about 1 1/2 teaspoons of fondant all the way around each cherry, and line them up on the prepared baking sheets. Place in the freezer to firm up, about 30 minutes.
4. While the cherries are chilling, melt the chocolate and the shortening or oil in a double boiler, stirring frequently. Turn off the heat but keep the chocolate over the warm water.
5. Holding each cherry by the stem, dip it in the chocolate, turning to coat all sides. Place the cherry back on the baking sheet, continuing until all are dipped (you may need to tip the chocolate container a bit toward the end so each cherry gets fully covered). Store in a single layer in airtight containers at room temperature for up to a month.
Note: Don’t let the idea of putting a little extra fat or shortening in the chocolate skeeze you out—it’s just a trick to make the finished coating smoother and shinier without complicated “tempering.” Some people use food-grade paraffin instead. You can skip it if you like (but your candy may not be as beautiful).
Sweet Christmas: Homemade Peppermints, Sugar Cake, Chocolate-Almond Toffee, Eggnog Fudge, and Other Sweet Treats and Decorations by Sharon Bowers, photographs by David Bowers (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2012) is available now wherever books are sold!