Everybody's got his or her own favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal and for me -- not counting the desserts, of course, because then I'm not sure I could pick a fave -- it's the cranberry sauce. I love its color on the table, I love its tart-sweetness (as opposed the sweet-sweetness of candied yams) and I love that it's a most play-aroundable dish. While I'm always writing down the recipe, I'm never using the same recipe from one holiday to the next: every year, a new variation seems to pop into my head and I'm hopelessly drawn to it. Where the turkey's a tradition, the cranberry's always an adventure.
And this year, for the first time, I'm making my sauce with jam, apricot jam, and, to keep the cranberries company, little cubes of plump, dried apricots.
An aside on "plump, dried" -- it only sounds like an oxymoron. In fact, it's an important hint about what you want all dried fruit to be like before you add it to any recipe. Fruit that's truly dry and shriveled isn't goint to get puffed up and toothsome in whatever you're making, especially if it's a cake or a batch of cookies. If your fruit's looking wrinkled, toss it into a strainer and run some very hot water over it, then press the fruit to get rid of the water and proceed. Alternatively, you can steam the fruit or dunk it into a measuring cup with a little water and either boil it for a minute on the stove or in a microwave oven. Don't think of it as a fussy little step -- think of it as a cake-saver.
Back to the sauce. I created this year's cranberry sauce for Parade Magazine. It's part of their terrific story, The Best Chefs Create Your Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner. Here's the line-up:
- Turkey -- Bobby Flay
- Stuffing -- Tyler Florence
- Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Casserole -- Katie Lee
- Brussel Sprouts -- Cat Cora
- Cranberry-Jam Sauce -- that's mine
I made a few versions of the sauce before I decided on apricot jam and diced apricots and, since they were all pretty good, I packed them into jars and put them in the fridge. I've been dipping into them for the past couple of weeks and they're all still good, so get a jump on the holidays: Make your cranberry sauce now!
And if you want to play around with the sauce, think about replacing the apricot jam with orange marmalade and adding a little orange zest to the mix, or using ginger marmalade instead and spiking the sauce with some (not lots and lots) candied ginger. I bet it would even be good with raspberry jam.
And if, like me, you can't enough of cranberries, think about making this Cranberry Upside Downer, a soft-crumbed upside down cake bottomed -- and then topped -- with fresh cranberries.
Adapted from BAKING FROM MY HOME TO YOURS
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspooon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 sticks (14 tablespoons; 7 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, do not thaw)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup red currant jelly
Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put an 8-x-2-inch round cake pan on a lined baking sheet and keep it at hand. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and keep these nearby, too.
Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan. Sprinkle over 6 tablespoons of the sugar and cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to the boil. Pour this evenly over the bottom of the cake pan, scatter over the nuts and top with the cranberries, smoothing the layer and pressing it down gently with your fingertips. (Don't be concerned if you've used frozen berries and they've caused the butter to congeal - everything will melt in the oven.) Set aside.
Working in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a bowl with a hand mixer, beat the remaining stick (8 tablespoons) of butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to beat until pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Pour in the extract and then add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add half of the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear into the batter. Mix in the milk, then the rest of the dry ingredients. Spoon the batter over the cranberries and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
Slide the sheet into the oven and bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and run a blunt knife between the sides of the pan and the cake. Carefully turn the cake out onto a serving platter. If any of the berries stick to the pan - as they might - just scrape them off with a knife and return them to the cake.
Warm the jelly in a small saucepan over low heat or do this in a microwave oven. Gently brush the glaze over the hot cake.
Serving: When the situation allows, I like to serve this cake about 20 minutes out of the oven, when it is still warm. However, it's more than fine at room temperature - even the following day. And, it's always good with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.
Storing: The cake is best served the day it is made, but it can be covered and kept at room temperature overnight. Because of the berry topping, it's not a good candidate for freezing.