Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Vive la Clafoutis!

Ah, the 14th of July! The season of fresh, local cherries. The celebration of Bastille Day. The time to bake a fruity dessert for this week's Dessert Corps project.

Oh, hey... look at that. It's like a cosmic alignment of forces telling me it's time to make a cherry clafoutis, the traditional custard pudding of Limousin in the heart of la belle France.

Rainier Cherry Bowl

As it happens, the fantastic Dessert Corps volunteer crew provided me with a half-dozen eggs and more than a pound of gorgeous, blushing Rainier Cherries — sweet, fragrant and fresh from the Greenpoint farmers' market.

Not familiar with the Rainier? It was developed in Washington state in the 1950s, as a descendant of the big, beautiful Bing Cherry and the smaller, more obscure (but very hardy) Van Cherry.

Apparently the Rainier fetches princely prices because the birds eat about a third of the crop and because they bruise easily, so there's some waste in transit.

By that measure, a Rainier Cherry Clafoutis is a dessert (or brunch treat) that's fit for kings! Or perhaps just recently deposed royalty! Or maybe even friends who happen to be a bit down on their fortunes and need a bit of home-baked comfort.

Rainier Cherry Clafoutis

You choose the audience. I'll provide the recipe:
Golden Rainier Cherry Clafoutis (Makes one 8" dish)
2 1/2 cups (roughly) pitted Rainier cherries
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup toasted almonds
4 large eggs
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup cream (or milk)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1 tsp lemon zest (optional)

Confectioner's sugar (for dusting)

1. Preheat oven to 325°F and butter an 8" round or square baking dish.
2. In a medium bowl, gently toss the cherries with the cornstarch and spread evenly across the bottom of the buttered dish.
3. Blend the flour and almonds in a blender or food processor until nuts are very finely chopped.
4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt. Whisk in flour until just mixed.
5. Blend in cream, melted butter, vanilla (or almond) extract and lemon zest (if using), whisking until smooth. Pour this mixture over the cherries.
6. Bake until the center sets and the top begins to turn golden, about 55 minutes.
7. Cool to room temperature before dusting the surface with powdered sugar. Serve with vanilla ice cream or yogurt, if desired.

Bon appétit, mes amis!
Miss Ginsu

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7.14.2009

The Cocktail Kit: A Sweet Conspiracy

In the last edition of the Cocktail Kit, we took another look at the joy of Homemade Bitters. This time, we're looking at a seasonal cocktail delight that also has uses in number of impressive non-cocktail treats... the preserved cherry.

I posted about maraschino cherries back in '05, gave a bit of history and offered up a DIY recipe, but I didn't give enough thought to one of the dastardly details that surround the maraschino cherry saga...

The fact is, the very first maraschino cherries were preserved with liqueur. This treat lost traction as the temperance movement of the early 1900s came to a head, and by 1920 — the dawn of U.S. Prohibition — maraschino cherries were manufactured without any liqueur at all.

"Less liqueur was used in processing and almond oil was substituted for some of the liqueur. Finally, the liqueur was eliminated altogether. By 1920, the American maraschino cherry was so popular that it had replaced the foreign variety in the United States."

The piece I quoted in my original maraschino post seems to indicate that liquor-soaked cherries simply lost the national popularity contest to sugar-soaked cherries. But the match-up in the date pattern indicates something different: the sugar-soaked maraschino cherry was marched in as a watered-down replacement for a treat that was just too vice-ridden for the dry 1920s to handle.

Bourbon Cherries
Bing cherries preserved in (gasp!) alcohol.

No wonder the maraschino rides high atop ice cream sundaes. No wonder it's a necessary component of that most legendary of the goodie-goodie cocktails — the Shirley Temple.

The maraschino is the bright-red flag of a nation attempting to return to some mythological state of innocence.

It's a sugar-coated conspiracy! A syrupy cover-up!

So what happened to the liquor-preserved cherries of old? Well, other, less puritanical countries continued making them, and they've sustained an underground existence in homes and pantries in the U.S. As it happens, those little demon berries are in my kitchen and in my cocktails right now.

Brandied cherries continue to be popular Southern treats (particularly when they're covered in chocolate), but you can also do what I do: preserve 'em with bourbon.

Cherry season is coming right up, so now's the time to take a Sunday afternoon and make up a few batches. Enjoy some now and save some for the holidays. Little jars of bourbon cherries make great gifts alongside a couple of cool cocktail or dessert recipes.

The biggest part of the task is simply pitting the fruits. Either do it by hand (just cut a 1/2-inch slice into each cherry along the stem end and dig out the pits), or invest in a cherry pitter.
Bourbon Cherries
2 lb sweet cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup bourbon
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
1-2 whole star anise (optional)

1. Wash and pit the cherries.
2. In a large saucepan, combine sugar, water, lemon juice and spices (if using).
3. Bring the mixture to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer. Add cherries and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Remove cherry mix from the heat, and stir in the brandy.
5. Pack the hot cherries and syrup into sterilized jars, leaving some headspace.
6. Cap the jars, and if you're planning to can them, simmer for about 15 minutes in a bath of boiling water. If not, just cool and store the jars in the refrigerator.

Bourbon cherries make punchier stand-ins for their maraschino counterparts, or use them to top ice cream... or even sautéed duck breast.

Cheers!

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6.25.2008

Little Red Zombies

Now that cherry season is in full swing, let's take a gander at this fruit's twisted doppleganger... the unnaturally red, uniformly flavored maraschino.

Like tiny Stepford Wives, maraschino cherries begin life as juicy tree fruits but are turned soulless through a process of bleaching, dying and sweetening. Creepy, right?

Fresh Sour Cherries

A little background:
"Maraschino cherries, the kind most often used in drinks and on ice cream sundaes, are made from sweet cherries. The maraschino cherry originated in Yugoslavia and northern Italy where merchants added a liqueur to a local cherry called the 'Marasca.' This cherry product was imported to the United States in the 1890s as a delicacy to be used in the country's finest restaurants and hotels.

In 1896 U.S. cherry processors began experimenting, using a domestic sweet cherry called the Royal Anne. Less liqueur was used in processing and almond oil was substituted for some of the liqueur. Finally, the liqueur was eliminated altogether. By 1920, the American maraschino cherry was so popular that it had replaced the foreign variety in the United States."

Taking a cue from ancient instructions at Uncle Phaedrus, a self-anointed "finder of lost recipes," I've revamped an version of do-it-yourself maraschinos for a smaller batch that suits the modern kitchen.

As it turns out, maraschino-making is very much like pickling, but instead of brine, we use a sweet, colored syrup as the preservative vehicle. I imagine if you're opposed to dyes, you could just leave out the coloring altogether. You'll simply end up with preserved cherries that have a (far more natural) rust-colored hue.
Homemade Maraschino Cherries
For the brine
1/2 quart water
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp alum

For the cherries
1 lb sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup water
1 lb pitted cherries
1/2 Tbsp almond extract
1/2 Tbsp red food coloring

1. In a saucepan, mix the water, salt and alum and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and soak cherries overnight in this brine.

2. Drain the cherries the following day and rinse them in cold water. Pack in sterilized, sealable jars.

3. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice and water. Bring to a boil and add the almond extract and red food coloring. Remove from heat and pour the mixture into the jars of cherries.

4. If you want your cherries to be shelf-stable, seal in a water bath (about 20 minutes for pints or 25 minutes for quarts). Or simply seal, chill and store in your refrigerator.

Use to garnish your own homespun sundaes, killer cocktails or crazy-good banana splits.

Cheers!

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6.23.2005