Cocktail Cherries

March 6, 2020 Updated: March 6, 2020
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Cocktail Cherries

Why This Recipe Works: The garishly bright-red cherries that garnish everything from ice cream sundaes and fruitcakes to baked hams and cocktails are a far cry from the original maraschino cherry. To make these ersatz maraschinos, sweet cherries are bleached using sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride, then soaked in artificially flavored and dyed sugar syrup. We wanted true maraschinos rather than these chemical bombs.

Maraschinos originated in Croatia in the 19th century, when Marasca cherries were preserved in liqueur. This tradition has been preserved most famously (and literally) in Luxardo’s Original Maraschino Cherries—rich sour cherries in a velvety syrup—but at over $20 for 14 ounces, we wanted another option: a cost-effective homemade version of luxurious cocktail cherries bathed in an ambrosial syrup.

We tested our way through fresh, frozen, jarred, and canned sweet and sour cherries; we preserved them with cherry liqueur, bourbon, brandy, and sugar syrups (including white, brown, Demerara, muscovado, and even caramelized). We hit our sweet (and delicately sour) spot when we soaked jarred sour Morello cherries (similar to but more accessible than Marascas) in a syrup made from unsweetened 100 percent cherry juice and sugar. The key to the syrup was to reduce the juice before adding sugar.

We used Trader Joe’s Dark Morello Cherries in Light Syrup (available for purchase online) to develop this recipe. You can substitute other jarred or canned cherries; their weight after draining should be 12 ounces. You will need one 1-pint glass jar with a tight-fitting lid for this recipe. Alternatively, you may divide the cherries between two 1-cup glass jars.

Makes about 2 cups

  • 8 ounces unsweetened 100 percent cherry juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 (24.7-ounce) jar pitted dark Morello cherries in light syrup, drained

Bring cherry juice to simmer in medium saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until juice has reduced to 4 ounces, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in sugar until dissolved.

Meanwhile, place 1-pint glass jar in bowl and place under hot running water until heated through, 1–2 minutes; shake dry.

Using slotted spoon, gently pack cherries into hot jar. Using funnel and ladle, pour hot syrup over cherries to cover; you may have some leftover syrup. Let jar cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours before serving. (Cocktail cherries can be refrigerated for up to 2 months.)

Recipe reprinted with permission from “How to Cocktail: Recipes and Techniques for Building the Best Drinks” by America’s Test Kitchen. Published by America’s Test Kitchen.