1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pat cherries dry with paper towels. Finely chop cherries. Spread chopped cherries on paper towels and pat dry; set aside.
2. In a large bowl stir together flour and the 1/2 C sugar. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs and starts to cling. Stir in chopped cherries, 2/3 C of the white chocolate, and the almond extract.
3. Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet; using bottom of a glass dipped in additional sugar, flatten to 1-1/2- inch rounds.
4. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until centers are set. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.
5. In a small saucepan cook and stir the remaining white chocolate and the shortening over low heat until melted. Dip half of each cookie into melted white chocolate, letting excess chocolate drip back into saucepan. Let stand until white chocolate is set.
An old Christian legend dates back to the eighth or ninth century telling of an event that occurred shortly after Jesus' birth. Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus were traveling in the desert. The couple spied a palm tree and went to rest under its shadow. Joseph worried aobut how they were going to find water. Mary expressed a wish for the dates she saw hanging high above them. Joseph scolded his wife for asking for something so far out of his reach. Then the baby Jesus spoke to the tree, ordering it to bend down so his mother could gather the fruit. The tree obeyed. As the tale passed from one teller to another, many variations occurred. As the tale became popular in Europe, the tree which Jesus commands to bow down changes to species more familiar to Europeans. In Britain, the newer versions of the story feature a cherry tree. Eventually this popular tale was set to music in the Christmas song known as 'The Cherry Tree Carol.'