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Everybody knows, on the happiest days, what life is just a bowl of. Of all summer's reassurances, cherries always seem the bounciest, the plumpest, the most bursting with flavor. Cherries are candy, the bon bons of summer produce. Sibling rivalry wouldn't be the same without cherries and fighting over whose fruit salad has the most cherries in it; or who gets the most of the double-cherry, the one magically joined at the stem; or who stole from the whole box of assorted chocolates, the one with the gooey cherry center.
The tragedies and comedies of cherries are not limited to childhood. It is said that the great epicure Lucullus, who is credited with having introduced the cherry to Europe around 70 BC, took his life on the day he realized he had only a few thousand cherries left. Possibly to avoid a similar fate, King Charles V of France planted over one thousand cherry trees in his gardens at St. Paul and Tournelle in the mid-1300s. And when it comes to moral allegories, what could be more poignant as a lesson in honesty than having someone admit that he chopped down the cherry tree?
The Romans knew three kinds of cherries and, even today, we know what they called them. Bright red sweets were Apronians, the blunted rounds were Caecilian, the darkest were Lutatians. For practical purposes, we have two categories, the sour or tart cherries used for pies and cooked desserts; and sweet cherries for eating fresh. The former are small and round, ranging in color from yellow and green, to pink and red. They include chokecherries, sand cherries and ground cherries. Most are only available canned or frozen. In addition to the deep maroon Bings and Lamberts, sweet cherries include Vans, Chapmans Burlats, Deacons, Royal Anns, Chinooks, Black Tartarians, Rainiers, and Republicans.
Cherries make excellent liqueurs and brandies, Danish Cherry Herring and the eau de vie called Kirsch or kirschwasser. Early New Englanders developed their own contender in this category, giving it the particularly American sounding name, Cherry Bounce.
Members of the rose family, known as drupes or stone fruits, cherries can be sun-dried and kept for up to a year. Dried cherries make a delicious addition to waffle batter, scones and other baked goods, and brighten up a mouthful of any miscellaneous mix of dried fruits. They even taste pretty good. But they don't taste much like cherries. Ask a kid; any kid.
Cherry Almond Tart
1 recipe Pate brisee (see instructions following tart recipe)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
About 5 tablespoons ice water
2/3 cup almonds
1/3 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon kirsch (cherry liqueur)
1 pound large sweet cherries, pitted
1/4 cup red currant jelly
1 tablespoon kirsch
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Make the pate brisee; roll out the dough to fit a 9- or 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Fit the dough into the pan. Place in the refrigerator while preparing the filling.
Place the almonds and sugar in the bowl of a food processor; process until fine. Add the butter, egg, flour, and kirsch; process until smooth. Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator and spread the almond filling on the bottom. Place the cherries evenly over the filling. Bake for 40 minutes until bubbly. Let cool on a cake rack.
Meanwhile, prepare the glaze: Melt the jelly in a small saucepan and stir in the kirsch. Brush the glaze over the cooled cherries in the tart. Serve at room temperature.
To make pate brisee: In a bowl or food processor, mix the flour and salt. Cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture is crumbly. Add half the water and mix or process just until the dough holds together. If the mixture seems too dry, add the remaining water but do not overprocess. Form into a dish, wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.
Dried Cherry and Chocolate Rugalach
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces (1 stock) butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon sour cream or plain yogurt
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 ounces pitted dried cherries
1 cup walnuts
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
4 teaspoons cherry jam
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a food processor or with a hand-held electric mixer, combine the cream cheese, butter, and sour cream until smooth. Add the flour and salt and process until a dough forms. Divide the dough in half and form two 5-inch disks. Wrap them in plastic and refrigerate while making the filling.
Place all of the filling ingredients except the jam in a food processor and process until finely chopped. (The mixture will form a paste.) Remove the dough from the refrigerator. On a floured surface, roll each disk into a 9-inch circle. Spread each circle with 2 teaspoons of jam. Pat half the cherry mixture onto each circle. With a pastry wheel or pizza cutter, cut each circle into twelve wedges. Starting at the wide end, roll each wedge up and place it, point-side down, on a cookie sheet.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on a cake rack and dust with confectioners' sugar.
Chilled Cherry, Sherry, and Mint Soup
1 1/2 pounds sour cherries, pitted
1/2 pound Bing cherries, pitted
1/2 cup sherry
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 mint leaves, julienned
1 cup sour cream
1 cup plain yogurt
6 Bing cherries for garnish
Place the cherries, 2 cups water, sherry, lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and let simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until the liquid has thickened. Puree in a food processor and stir in the mint by hand.
Chill the mixture and stir in the yogurt and sour cream. Serve cold, garnished with a cherry.
Chicken with Cherries
3 whole skinless, boneless chicken breasts, split
salt and pepper
1/2 cup flour for dredging
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
1/2 pound Bing cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup cherry brandy
1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
12 whole cherries for garnish
Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil. Cook the chicken breasts for 6 minutes per side, or until golden; remove and reserve. In the same skillet, cook the shallot until soft. Add the cherries and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the cherry brandy and wine and cook over high heat until reduced by half. Add the chicken stock and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thick.
Return the chicken to the pan and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Serve chicken with cherry sauce and garnish with fresh cherries.