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One elegant stuffed cherry in chocolate is a satisfying dessert when you need just a little something sweet to end your meal. Photo by Sue Doeden

Stuffed Cherries in Chocolate just might become a new favorite

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Sweet and juicy cherries are one of my favorite summertime flavors. And chocolate has been an obsession of mine for years. A piece of good quality dark chocolate pushed to the roof of my mouth, slowly melting into a buttery mass of rich cocoa flavor, elicits moans of pleasure from my throat.

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Why, then, have I always turned up my nose at Black Forest Cake, the German dessert made of several layers of chocolate sponge cake soaked with kirsch, whipped cream and cherries? I know it's not the calories. And chocolate-covered cherries? No, thank you. If you're having a treat of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream, don't worry. This ice cream monster won't ask you to share.

But now I have discovered the perfect combination of sweet cherries with the soothing influence of dark chocolate. All it takes is stuffing those plump, juicy cherries with cream cheese, toasted almonds and orange zest and spooning them into the mouth with thick, dark chocolate sauce. It's a simple, yet amazing sensual food experience, involving little preparation time and no heat.

Some might say Stuffed Cherries in Chocolate is a healthful dessert. After all, cherries are filled with powerful nutrients and antioxidants that research suggests may help people live a longer, healthier life. In fact, a growing body of science reveals that cherries, when compared to other fruits, have an extremely high level of disease-fighting antioxidants. Cherries also are a source of fiber, vitamin C and other important nutrients.

And then there is the chocolate. Scientific evidence indicates that chocolate contains a host of heart-healthy and mood-enhancing phytochemicals, with benefits to both body and mind. Toss in a little grated orange zest and voila! Health food on a plate. Breakfast maybe!

I'm serious about these little sweeties being served for breakfast. Pull out tiny plates --those from a child's tea set work well. Spoon a pool of chocolate sauce on each plate, nestle a stuffed cherry into the chocolate and set them out at your next brunch.

One elegant stuffed cherry in chocolate is a satisfying dessert when you need "just a little something sweet" to end the meal. But after a light summer salad meal, you'll definitely want to serve three to five cherries to each dessert-hungry diner at your table.

Stuffed Cherries make a delectable appetizer, too. Just blend your favorite blue cheese or goat cheese into the creamy stuffing until it suits your taste buds. Arrange the Stuffed Cherries on a platter and serve with roasted nuts. It's a surprising nibble that will astonish and impress your guests.

For those who have always appreciated the flavor combination of cherries and chocolate, this dessert will become a new favorite. If you are like me, Stuffed Cherries in Chocolate will arouse your disinterested taste buds that have been holding out all this time.

Stuffed Cherries in Chocolate

1/2 pound fresh sweet cherries

1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted and finely chopped

Grated zest from 1 small orange

1 tablespoon half-and-half

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons sugar

3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mint sprigs, for garnish

Rinse cherries. Remove stems and pits. Set cherries on double thickness of paper towels.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, use electric hand-mixer to combine cream cheese, almonds, orange zest and half-and-half.

Combine whipping cream and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat. Add chocolate and cook, stirring until it melts and sauce is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Spoon cream cheese mixture into a decorating bag fitted with No. 10 round tip. Pipe mixture into cherries, keeping index finger over bottom end of cherry so mixture does not come through. Fill the cherries completely, piping mixture out around tops of cherries. Store stuffed cherries in refrigerator until ready to serve, up to a few hours.

At serving time, spoon slightly warm chocolate sauce onto individual dessert plates. Arrange three or five stuffed cherries in sauce on each plate. Garnish with mint sprigs. Makes 3/4 cup chocolate sauce and 20 to 25 stuffed cherries.

Tips from the cook

--Toast slivered almonds, scattered in a single layer on a baking pan, in a preheated 350-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes, until fragrant and just beginning to turn brown.

--Using the steel blade in the food processor works well for finely chopping the almonds. They must be very fine so that they won't get stuck in the round tip when piping the stuffing into the cherries.

--If stuffed cherries don't sit just right on the plate, use a very sharp paring knife to slice a tiny bit from the bottom of the cherry to make it flat.

--To make lovely stuffed cherries to serve as an appetizer, add some goat cheese or blue cheese to the creamy stuffing, creating a blend that suits your taste buds. Serve the stuffed cherries with roasted nuts.

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