Cherry Christmas! This cherry-almond combo is ideal for holiday treats
Whenever I think of the timeless combo of cherries and almonds, I think of my Grandma Swift.
She always kept a pump-bottle of Jergens in her bathroom and, as a tot, I was mesmerized by what I perceived to be such glamorous and feminine packaging: a curvy, ivory-colored bottle with “Jergens” written in a swirly, ’60s script against a black, teardrop-shaped label. I always snuck a bit of the lotion, just so I could rub it into my chubby little hands and enjoy the cherry-almond bouquet.
To this day, I remember Grandma Swift for five things: white hair tucked neatly into a bun; perfectly pressed kitchen aprons; the world’s most delicate lefse; her ingenious “trick” of telling us we needed to clean our plates so we could flip them over to eat dessert on the other side; and that unmistakably sweet, slightly fruity bouquet of Jergens.
However, I didn’t really grow to appreciate the flavor of almond until I was older. My mom’s favorite birthday cake was angel food with a thin almond-flavored glaze. As a kid, I thought this was rather boring and used to ask for yellow layer cakes with heaps of creamy chocolate frosting — just like they showed on the Duncan Hines commercials.
But when I started favoring the subtler charm of white cake and almond flavors, I knew I’d grown up. As teenagers, we kids were allowed one Pink Squirrel on very special occasions such as Christmas Eve. We all felt very grown-up drinking these frilly cherry-almond concoctions, even though mom used just cherry juice or a teensy fraction of the alcohol called for in the recipe.
And so, as a way to celebrate this timeless flavor-combo, here are two recipes that are quite holiday-appropriate. The first was provided to me by my good friend’s dad, Rich Winning, of Valley City (I pestered him mercilessly for the recipe after sampling these pillowy, rich cookies with the almond-spiked glaze and the hidden cherry center.)
The second is a Swift family favorite. It can easily be adapted to be boozeless, which will produce a drink that is still pretty-in-pink — minus the part that makes us “squirrely.”
Both use maraschino cherries, which I realize can be as polarizing a food as coconut or raisins. If you are an anti-maraschino-ist, you can substitute candied cherries in the cookies (although the thought of that makes me a little sad). Thankfully, I do not have any cookie recipes that call for Jergens lotion, although it remains one of my favorite scents in the world.
Rich’s Cherry Bonbon Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2¼ cups cake flour (may substitute by using 1 tablespoon cornstarch in cup, adding all-purpose flour to make 1 level cup)
½ cup very finely chopped pecans or walnuts
Maraschino cherries, well drained and set out on a paper towel to dry (can also press a paper towel on top to dry completely)
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in nuts and flavoring. Add flour; mix well. Wrap dough completely in waxed paper and chill well (at least 1 hour).
Remove from fridge and divide into 4 equal pieces, shaping each into a roll 1 inch in diameter. Cut rolls into ½- to 1-inch slices, roll and flatten into a disc shape. With clean hands, make a dent in the middle of the dough with your thumb. Place a cherry in the dent and gently roll the dough so it forms a ball around the cherry. (Flouring your hands may make this easier.)
Put on ungreased cookie sheet, and chill for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake cookies at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Remove to racks to cool. Place on waxed or parchment paper.
Make a thin powdered sugar frosting (1/2 cup powdered sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon melted butter and 1 tablespoon cherry juice), and use food coloring to tint it a brighter pink, if you prefer. Cut remaining cherries in half and drain well. Put remaining half of cherry on top of cooled cookie. Drizzle with frosting, allowing it to run down the side.
Store in airtight container. These freeze and ship well, so feel free to send some to me.
1 ounce of Crème de Noyaux (aka Crème de Almond) OR amaretto liqueur*
1 ounce of Crème de Cacoa
Maraschino cherry juice (just a splash)
2-3 large scoops vanilla ice cream
Blend ingredients well and pour into cocktail glass. Garnish with whipped cream and cherry or almonds, if desired.
* To make a Keep-the-Pink-Hold-the-Squirrel version, replace the liqueurs with grenadine or cherry juice and 1 teaspoon of pure almond extract.
* If using amaretto, you may wish to add a drop or two of red food coloring to the “squirrel” before blending, as it will not produce the same rosy hue that Crème de Noyaux does.