On the fourth day of Christmas … my true love gave to me … Maraschino Cherry Butter Cookies.
Okay, I have a confession to make. I LOVE maraschino cherries. They make me happy. There. I’ve said it.
They’re kitschy, cheeky, and not one bit sophisticated; all perfect reasons, in my book, to adore them. Especially during the kitschy, cheeky, magical holiday season.
Maybe it’s all those Shirley Temples my Mom hoisted on me when I was a kid, each with a luminescent cherry and a paper parasol. Maybe it’s the impossible color. Maybe it’s actually the almond syrup flavor. I have no idea why I love them, but MauiJim knows by now that if his Mai Tai or ice cream sundae comes with one of these sticky, chewy, way too sweet cherries, it’s MINE.
For the record, I know maraschino cherries are not a wholesome food, that they taste nothing like real cherries, that they’re full of this bad thing and that bad thing, that no serious food writer should ever stoop so low as to mention them, blah blah blah …
Maraschino cherries have, in fact, all the nutritional benefits of a Lifesaver. I only wish I had thought of that terrific line. It actually comes from Josh Reynolds, vice president and general manager of Gray & Company’s fruit division, which essentially owns the maraschino cherry retail market. The point Mr. Reynolds makes, however, is that maraschino cherries should be thought of as candy, not as food. That seems imminently sensible to me.
If you want to know all about the fascinating history of maraschino cherries, definitely check out The Fruit that Made Oregon Famous. It’s a fun read. Did you know, for instance, that there is an actual class at Oregon State University in Corvallis titled, Maraschino Cherry 102? For real! It makes sense when you discover that Oregon is home to the two largest maraschino cherry producers in the nation.
To confound maraschino cherry snobs everywhere, I purposely made these cookies as elegant and seductive as possible. No identifiable bits of cherries in the dough. No big cherry in the middle of the baked cookie. Just a simple shape with a beautiful snowflake stencil in the center.
Maraschino Cherry Butter Cookies
It’s not unusual to see holiday cookies topped with a colorful bit of maraschino cherry. But in this crisp, light, very buttery cookie, a goodly quantity of cherries are pureed and incorporated into the dough, which gives the cookies a pink hue and lovely almond flavor.
2¼ cups King Arthur’s unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup drained maraschino cherries (20 cherries)
1 cup sugar
1½ cups fresh unsalted butter, at cool room temperature (3 sticks)
1 tablespoon maraschino cherry syrup
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cold water, approximately
luster or fine sanding sugar, optional
- In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Reserve.
- In a processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse the cherries and sugar until the cherries are pureed.
- Add the butter, cherry syrup and almond extract. Puree until creamy, under 1 minute.
- Add the flour mixture and pulse very briefly, just until a dough forms.
- Divide the dough into 3 equal portions and flatten each portion to a ½-inch thick disk on a sheet of plastic wrap. Seal the plastic wrap around each portion of the dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight. (The sealed dough can be refrigerated for 2-3 days if necessary.)
- On a lightly floured pastry cloth, using a covered and floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to a ?-inch thickness. Use a little flour to keep the dough from sticking if necessary, but try not to work too much additional flour into the dough.
- Using a 2½-inch round cookie cutter (or cutter of your choice), cut out the cookies.
- Coat a baking sheet lightly with vegetable spray. Arrange cookies slightly apart on the cookie sheets.
- Bake each sheet of cookies at 350° for 12-14 minutes, rotating the pan at the halfway point to ensure even browning. (If you have a convection oven or setting on your regular oven, by all means use it. Your cookies will be more evenly browned.)
- When the cookies are lightly browned on the edges, remove from the oven, loosen each cookie with a thin spatula and let cool for 3-4 minutes on the pan. Remove cookies from the cookie sheet and place on a wire rack and cool completely.
- To stencil a design on top of each cookie, first practice your stenciling technique on a sheet of parchment paper. Lay the stencil on the paper, scoop a small amount of icing onto the stencil with a small offset spatula, and with the same spatula, firmly drag the icing across the stencil. Carefully lift the stencil and check your design. If the impression is crisp, your icing is the right consistency. If the impression is blurred, your icing is likely too thin. If your impression is blotchy, your icing is likely too thick. Adjust the consistency of the icing and try again. Don’t begin to stencil the cookies until you have perfected your icing and technique.
- Sprinkle icing with luster if desired and set cookies on a wire rack to allow the icing to set.
- When icing is set, store airtight in a cookie tint, in layers separated by wax paper rounds, in a cool, dry place. These cookies improve with age. They keep for 3-4 weeks. Cookies may also be frozen.
Makes 4-5 dozen cookies, depending on size of cookie cutter.
To follow along as we bake our way through this year’s cookie collection, see the kickoff post, Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night.
Also, check out last year’s collection, Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Deck the Halls.