July 19, 2011
My secret organic produce-wielding friend showed up at my house a couple of weeks ago with a lovely little surprise – a little bag of morello cherries. Morellos are the tiny sour cherries that are traditionally used to make kirschwasser, the german cherry liqueur (literally translated it means “cherry water”).
I have to admit that, though I love the idea of cocktails with their sexy names, their vibrant colors and their seasonal variations, not to mention the adorable glasses they’re served in, it’s not actually what I prefer to drink. I want to sip cosmopolitans but I’m much more in my comfort zone with wine.
I like to keep some homemade liqueurs on hand because I love pulling them out at parties and Sean Timberlake over at Punk Domestics is unintentionally doing his best to convert me to a cocktail girl. That aside, I normally wouldn’t be quite as excited as I was about the prospect of making a liqueur as I was about kirschwasser and that’s because kirschwasser has so many uses beyond the chilled glass.
I first became familiar with the wonders of kirsch, as it’s called for short, when I started throwing fondue parties in New York. Inspired by the gift of some fondue pots from my mom and aunt. The first cheese fondue I ever made called for the liqueur and mentioned its traditional use as a flavor enhancer in gruyere/emmental-based fondue.
It took a few liquor stores to finally locate one that had one very crusty bottle of kirsch hidden on a top shelf. The label was yellowed and crumbling and the bottle was covered in greasy dusk like so many things that have lived in NY too long. It had seen better days, but it seemed like my only option so I shelled out what seemed like a ridiculous amount of money and convinced myself that dust on the bottle was a sign of maturity.
I wasn’t to be disappointed. The kirsch really accentuated the flavor of the swiss cheese and gave the fondue a wonderful taste that you couldn’t quite place. I was sold – for the next ten years, every fondue party I had – and there was a time when they were quite frequent – showcased swiss cheese fondue with kirsch.
Fast forward all those years and a mere two bottles of kirsch later, thanks to its longevity and the small amount required in cooking to make a difference, and I’m still loving the kirsch. Apparently I’m not the only one. In searching for kirsch recipes I found this article by David Liebovitz expounding the virtues of using kirsch to accentuate flavors.
Anyway, back to the kirsch-making. Recipes I could find online disagreed on whether the cherries should be pitted, crushed or left whole, but the basic idea was generally the same. You fill a water-tight container, in my case a quart-sized mason jar with alternating layers of cherries and sugar then you let it mellow in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning you fill the jar with vodka.
What happens after that varies greatly from recipe to recipe as well. Some recipes, such as this one at eHow suggest storing in a closet for 6 months and shaking daily. This one at Buzzle suggests storing for a year and shaking only every few months. Who knows which way is best. I stored my in a dark spot in my dining room where I’ll see it and be reminded to shake it most days. I suppose I’ll taste it in six months and see what I think! (My version of the full instructions below)
After only a few weeks the liquid is really starting to turn pinkish and the cherries, which I left whole, are starting to crack and float. I can’t wait to try it – it sure will be a bummer if I shake it for six months to find I don’t love it!
If this still sounds like too much, Liebovitz does recommend brands of kirsch so you can simply hand over $40 and let someone else do the hard work. If you’re not sure what do do with the kirsch when you’re done, Buzzle offers some suggestions.
Making Kirschwasser….err..cherry bounce
(see comments below about how this recipe is really for a cherry brandy even though I was “tricked” into believing it was kirschwasser!)
1 lb morello cherries
1 lb granulated or pastry sugar
Pint of vodka
Quart jar or other water-tight container with a lid
Rinse cherries and remove the stems. I found removing the stems to be the most tedious part of making kirsch since the cherries are so tiny and there seem to be so many stems! The easiest method I found was to grab a bunch of cherries by the stems with one hand then pluck the cherries off with your dominant hand.
Put one layer of cherries in the bottom of the container.
Pour a layer of sugar over the cherries to cover them.
Continue layering until the jar is full.
After the jar is full, place it in the refrigerator overnight to “mellow”.
In the morning, pour the vodka over the top of the cherries and sugar until you can’t fit any more. You can see I didn’t use a fancy vodka (Vodka of the Gods from Trader Joe’s). We’ll see if I regret it, but I suspect I won’t.
You’ll see bubbles coming up as the vodka settles into place. Keep filling until you can’t add any more.
Now, shake it really well to combine the mixture as best you can. It will start to look grainy, though not yet syrupy – that will come tomorrow.
Place the jar out of direct sunlight but where you’ll still remember to shank it. Continue to agitate the jar every day or so (I suspect you can skip a few days here and there and be fine) without opening it.
After a couple of weeks, the liquid will be turning pink and the cherries will be floating on the top. They’ll begin to crack open eventually too. I’ll be opening and tasting mine in six months!
Has anyone else tried making actual kirsch? I’d love to hear how it turned out!!
UPDATE: Or, if you have a good recipe for using cherry liqueur which this apparently is, let me know!