I don’t like cherries. I never have.
We had two huge, and aesthetically beautiful cherry trees growing in our yard, when I was growing up.
Inevitably, when running around bare-footed, in the summer when the cherries were ripe, I would step on them, and the feeling of them squishing underfoot was akin to stepping on a slug (another thing I always managed to do at least once a year – and we have BIG slugs in British Columbia).
My brother loved the cherries, and along with all the other neighbourhood kids, loved climbing up the massive trunks, and roaming around, balanced on the sturdy and venerable branches, completely hidden from view, and able to eat pounds of the sun-ripened fruit.
My Mum used to complain that the birds got the first and best fruit, which was well out of reach of human climbers (at a height of 20 feet), however young and nimble. They would add insult to injury by dropping the pits on our heads as they flew off.
I was sick of the sight, smell, taste and feel of cherries by the end of summer.
So it’s not really surprising that I have never been a fan of the chocolate covered kind. We have a confection in Canada called the Cherry Blossom.
The cherry-loving people in my life (and of my vintage) are very fond of it. It is a maraschino cherry in cherry syrup, surrounded by a mixture of chocolate, coconut and roasted peanut pieces. I could never understand anyone wanting to buy this, instead of a chocolate bar, as it made a big mess, and you had to eat it in a few mouthfuls to keep the filling from dripping all over the place. It wasn’t even a bar, for Pete’s sake.
“Gee Mom, aren’t you kinda being a Debbie Downer?” I can hear my son saying.
And he’s right.
And to show what an open-minded, generous student of the Ecole Chocolat I am, this week, I am going to delve into the mysterious chemistry of creating chocolate covered cherries. Half of the family is thrilled. My elder son and I (the cherry haters) will have to subsist on leftover Easter chocolate.
I have, in my possession, a small bottle of a magic potion called invertase. This is what I will use to transform solid fondant into the liquid cherry syrup, surrounding the fruit, in chocolate covered cherries.
From the Greenwood Health System website,
“Invertase is a yeast derived enzyme. Invertase splits sucrose into glucose and fructose.”
And from Wikipedia,
“The resulting mixture of fructose and glucose is called inverted sugar syrup.”
And another interesting factoid, which helps to explain something I have never really understood:
“It is also synthesized by bees, who use it to make honey from nectar.”
Apparently, invertase is an inhibitor of mold and bacterial growth, which is important to bees in the production of honey – and also to chocolatiers, who use it to prolong the shelf life of their products.
It makes me feel good to think I have something in common with those hard-working sisters, the bees (I like bees).
My husband is delighted to go off in hunt of suitable cherries.
He arrives back with two bottles: one, a bottle of dark sour cherries which look like cherries, and the other, a bottle of those oh-so-scary electric-red-like-nothing-found-in-nature spheroids.
Yes, maraschino cherries.
A friend of mine worked her way through school at a fruit processing plant . She would shudder dramatically when asked how maraschino cherries were made to have that very bright red colour. She would only whisper, “The first step is to suck out all the natural colour”.
And so, to work.
I get up early on Sunday morning to make fondant, while watching my eldest son have his first “on the road” driving lesson. I become preoccupied, observing how well he is doing, and my fondant goes from clear liquid, to hard and crumbly under my hands, while my eyes are looking out the kitchen window!
I have forgotten what an upper body workout this is, and the last time I made it, my strong and dynamic mother-in-law was at my elbow kneading the unwilling mass into shape.
I finally resort to re-warming it, and slinging everything into my trusty Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, and it gradually turns into the shiny mass I will need to go around the cherries. I set it aside to ripen for the day.
The next morning, as soon as the boys are off to school, I work out the order of steps, and the mise en place (culinary term for everything in its place) of all my components in this “lab”.
I temper the dark chocolate, and hold it in temper over a bain marie – yes, really!
I scoop cherries from both jars into the strainer, and drain them further, on a tea towel. While they are draining, I retrieve my ripened fondant.
Now, I start shilly-shallying.
I don’t know exactly how long I have, once I add the invertase to the fondant, before it starts the chemical process of liquefying it. I have visions of this happening before my eyes, within minutes. I realize I am over-reacting, and add one drop of invertase to the one pound of fondant, and knead it in, well.
The next step reminds me of playing with plasticine, and it takes a process of trial and error to get a good rhythm going. I scoop up a knob of fondant, roll it in my hands, then press it flat between my fingers, thinner and thinner, until I have a piece big enough to drape around the cherry.
My first efforts are not great, and the cherry and fondant separate as I drop them into the chocolate. I retrieve that mess quickly, and set it onto the silicon mat, before it contaminates the chocolate.
I have another go, and this time, I make sure the fondant piece is big enough for me to pinch the edges of the fondant together, to create a seal. A few more disasters with too much handling, after dipping, and I am almost ready to fling everything across the kitchen. I mutter something foul, take a breath and try again.
I try using one dipping fork for this delicate operation, instead of two, and soon I have a “drop into chocolate, roll twice over in chocolate, pick up with the dipping fork, and roll onto the mat” technique. The cherries are retaining a rounder shape, and the fondant is actually staying where it should.
There is just enough fondant to coat 36 cherries, but I am sure it would have stretched further, had my technique been a little more developed. But that is why I must practice!
After cleaning up, I take myself to get the kinks out of my back, with a yoga class, and by the time I return, the cherries have set. There are a few with seepage spots, so I give these another coat of chocolate, and leave the invertase to do its transformation act.
The next day, my younger son burst in the door for lunch, and his first question: “Can I finally try one?”, was the signal my husband had been waiting for. After pleading with them to please be honest in their taste evaluation, I am happy to report, two sets of “Mmmmmmm, oh yeah” drifted up my office stairs, from the kitchen below.
I will have to take their words for it.
I am still an avowed cherry hater.