January 3rd is National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day.
Chocolate-covered cherries, more formally called cherry cordials, are a chocolate shell filled with a cherry and sugar syrup, plain or flavored with alcohol.
The word “cordial” derives from the Latin “cor,” heart, and referred to a medicinal tonic, which was believed to stimulate the heart and improve circulation.
This medicinal use of the cordial continued through the 1400s, when it arrived in England. There, cordials were taken after a big meal to settle the stomach and aide digestion.
Cross back over to France: In the 1700s, a confection called griottes (gree-OAT) appeared in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. Cherries were a local crop, and long-stemmed sour griotte cherries were enrobed in chocolate with some of the local kirsch (cherry brandy).
The concept was brought to America, where the term “cordial” was used to describe a particular type of strong liqueur. It was made by crushing whole cherries, including the pits, and steeping them in a sugar syrup with a bit of alcohol.
The mixture was strained to become a sweet, thick, syrupy alcohol with a strong fruity flavor. Intense and very sweet, it was used (as grenadine is today) to make a mixed drink, or sipped in small amounts as an after-dinner beverage.
However, chocolate lovers were not to be disappointed.
Liqueur chocolate cherries, like those made in France, became a popular treat in America. While cordial candies could be made with other fruits, cherries were—and continue to be—the most popular.
The cherries were pitted and heated in the liqueur for a short period of time.
As the concept evolved, varieties were made without liqueur, substituting a sugar syrup flavored with cherries, similar to modern chocolate-covered maraschino cherries. The pitted cherries were cooked in sugar syrup instead of alcohol.
Today’s chocolate-covered cherries can be made:
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