It's cherry season! But it won't be forever. Here's a way to make it last a little longer: Make cocktail cherries.
Luxardo cocktail cherries are in many ways hard to beat -- they're dense, almost raisinlike and totally delicious. But I also like a juicier, fatter cherry for some drinks. Making cocktail cherries at home is fun, and it ends in a drink, which is always a bonus.
I also decided this week to experiment -- the markets are full of both Bing and Rainier cherries. I'd never had Rainiers as a cocktail cherry, so I decided to see what would happen if I brandied those. I tweaked the recipe a tad for the Rainier cherries, for a lighter, more honeyed result. Here's the recipe, with adjustments noted for the Rainier cherries.
Using the honey and omitting the vanilla made for a very cool Rainier cocktail cherry, perfect for drinks that are a little lighter than standard Manhattans. For instance, I made a bastardized version of the Kina cocktail, and it went really well with those flavors (mmmm, Cocchi Americano). You can also add whatever spices you'd like -- cinnamon, cardamom, whatever -- to the Bing cherry recipe. I'd be more careful with the Rainier cherries, as their cherry flavor is far more delicate.
Note: Use Bing or Rainier cherries
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar (for Rainier, try 1/3 cup honey instead)
1 cup brandy
1/2 vanilla bean (omit for Rainier cherries)
1 pound cherries, stemmed and pitted
1. Combine the water and sugar (or honey) in a saucepan. Over low heat, bring to a simmer and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat.
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2. Add the brandy and vanilla bean (if using) and stir to combine. Add the cherries. Stir until the cherries are coated with syrup. Allow them to cool to room temperature.
3. Jar the cherries and refrigerate.