When we think of cherry cordials now, we think of chocolate-covered cherries filled with a sweet syrup. However, the cordial reaches a bit farther back than the tasty treats we associate with the holiday season.
The word “cordial” contains the word “cor,” which means “heart” in Latin. As a noun, cordial can mean medicine or medicinal food or drink and the cordial was originally used as a type of medical tonic. Cordials were believed to stimulate the heart and therefore improve circulation.
The medicinal use of the cordial continued until the 1400’s when it arrived in England. They were “taken” after excessive eating to settle the stomach and aide digestion and became known as “surfeit waters.” Not only that but they were considered aphrodisiacs. By the 1700’s cordials were becoming known for their intoxicating effects as well, which probably helped with the aphrodisiac thing (fewer inhibitions, if ya know what I mean).
Around the same time, a confection called griottes popped up in the Franche-Comté. They were made by enclosing long stalked sour griotte cherries in chocolate with a little kirsch. Both the griottes and the cordial traveled to America where adding a bit of the sweet, aromatic, and alcoholic cordial to the chocolate covered fruit seemed like a great idea.
In America, the term cordial was used to describe a particular type of strong liqueur with a distinctive flavor made by crushing whole cherries (including the pits) and steeping them in a sugar syrup with a bit of alcohol. After the mixture was strained, one was left with a sweet, thick, syrupy alcohol with a strong fruity flavor. This type of cordial is intense and very sweet, so it was (and still is) added to something else to make a mixed drink (kind of like grenadine) or sipped in small amounts as a post-dinner beverage.
Liqueur chocolates, like those made in France, became a popular treat and Americans gravitated towards their own special cordial. Cordial candies could be made with other fruits, but cherries were the most popular and continue to be. While they were originally made with liqueur, they are more commonly made with a sugar syrup flavored with cherries, similar to what maraschino cherries are preserved in. The cherries used in the candy are made by pitting and heating the fruit for a short amount of time in the liqueur and storing it in cans or jars. For the alcohol free version, the pitted cherries are cooked in a sugar syrup instead and then jarred.
Cherry cordials are made in one of three ways. The first is shell molding – pouring liquid chocolate into molds to a form a shell. The shell is filled with cordial or sugar syrup and a cherry. Before the shell hardens completely it is plugged up with a small seal of chocolate, which becomes the bottom.
The second method of making chocolate cherries is called enrobing, meaning the centers of the chocolates are run under a curtain of liquid chocolate to form a shell. In order to accomplish this, the syrup is placed in trays made of starch dotted with small impressions. After a while, the syrup will “crust,” or form a layer of sugar crystals, all around its surface. They can be carefully lifted out of the mold and enrobed in chocolate.
Finally, there is a method, which uses a solid filling enrobed in chocolate. An enzyme called invertase is added which acts on solid sugar centers and reverts them to liquid. Adding invertase can be done after the center has been covered in chocolate, simplifying the whole process. Here’s an example of how it’s done. (For the purposes of this example we’re going to use maraschino cherries and the syrup they’re packed in.)
Add invertase to the cherry syrup. Coat each cherry in several layers of powdered sugar and the enriched cherry syrup. Dip each cherry into a chocolate coating making sure it is thick enough that it will not crack and leak any filling. The invertase starts to break down the sugar immediately and continues even after it’s been enrobed in chocolate. It can take several weeks for the sugar to completely dissolve (up to a month).
There are plenty of confectioners that make cherry cordials, but the three most popular are Cella’s, Queen Anne’s, and Brach’s. Cella’s is the oldest brand. They began making cherries in 1864, but didn’t begin large-scale production until 1929. Queen Anne’s began making their chocolate cherries in 1948.
The Brock Candy Company began making cherry cordials in the 1930’s and the tiny treat helped keep the company afloat during the Depression. The cherries remained popular for the next 60 years when a majority stake in the company was bought by E.J. Brach Corporation in 1994. The name of the company was changed to Brach’s and the cherries became one of the largest selling lines of chocolate cherries.
There are other “knock-offs” of cherry cordials from companies like Hershey’s and Mars. Hershey’s produces Hershey’s Kisses Cherry Cordial, which is filled with thick cherry flavored goo. Mars has M&M’s Cherry Cordials, which are just flavored like a cherry cordial.
Let’s be honest, nothing can beat a real chocolate cherry cordial.
Cherry cordials are available in stores mainly during the holiday season and you’ll be hard pressed to find them after the holidays end. Luckily, Candy Favorites stocks them year round, so if you have that craving you know where to go! But you can worry about that later. It’s almost Valentine’s Day and we’ve got Brach’s Cherries all ready to be shipped to you to give to pretty much everyone you know. It’s the perfect Valentine’s Day gift and we want to share it with you.
~ Created by our special guest blogger, Esther of Why’d You Eat That?
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