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Cranberried secrets: Try a slump, crisp or cheesecake

Time:2016-11-16 14:12wine - Red wine life health Click:

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When it comes to Thanksgiving dessert time, dishes made with pumpkin and apples tend to get all the love.

This makes sense, of course, because both fruits are in season come November, and are inexpensive and standard fare on produce shelves at even the tiniest grocery store. Plus, their preparation is such that even novice cooks find it easy to bake them into pies, cheesecakes and crumbles.

On choosing, storing cranberries

• Look for brightly colored, firm berries; fresh ones bounce when you drop them. Avoid cranberries that look shriveled or have brown spots.

• One 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries yields about 3 cups whole or 2½ cups chopped.

• Don’t rinse until just before using the berries.

• After rinsing, pick out the duds (soft or mushy ones) and remove the stems. White berries are fine to use.

• Store fresh cranberries for up to two months in a tightly-sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator; you also can freeze them for up to a year. 

Yet apples and pumpkins aren’t the only seasonal fruit worth exploring during the holiday season. Fresh cranberries are just as plentiful and equally fabulous in fall and winter desserts. And with their jewel-like ruby hue, they’re exceptionally pretty. 

This year, why not look beyond the jellied sauce you serve with turkey and turn that extra bag of fresh cranberries into a sweet treat that’s worth lingering over with your after-dinner coffee? 

Grown in sandy, acidic soil such as New Jersey’s Pine Barrens region, cranberries are naturally tart. So tart, you can’t really eat them out of hand like other berries without a pucker. Add a spoonful or two of sugar (or maybe a cup, depending on the recipe) and the fruit isn’t just palatable — it’s delicious, like a grown-up, real food version of SweeTarts candy.

One of my favorite ways to serve cranberries is in a slump, or New England’s version of the French clafoutis. The one-pot dish consists of fruit baked on the stovetop, and then topped with pillowy dumplings that melt into one another as they’re first baked and then steamed to a bubbling finish.

I’m also pretty keen on cranberry desserts that involve some sort of buttery crumble on top, and think cranberries cooked in orange juice and sugar make the perfect topping for a creamy cheesecake. 

If you really want to go all out and wow your guests, Alice Water’s Cranberry Upside Down Cake is a total showstopper. It marries a light and buttery white cake with a layer of caramelized cranberries. If you ever needed an excuse to pull Grandma’s antique cake stand out of the china closet, this cake is it. It’s gorgeous, and decadent in a way Thanksgiving desserts call for. 

Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

Cranberry Slump

PG tested

A slump is a New England take on cobbler, and boy is it easy. While there’s dough, no rolling is required and the cranberries topping also is fuss-free. I made it in a large cast-iron skillet but you could also can bake the slump in individual ramekins. 

About 6 cups cranberries, rinsed and drained

1½ cups sugar, divided

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 stick cold butter, plus more for greasing

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 375 degrees. 

Combine cranberries with ½ cup sugar, ½ cup water and orange zest in an ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then remove from heat.

Put flour, baking powder, salt and remaining cup sugar in a food processor and pulse once or twice. Cut the butter into ¼-inch cubes then add it to the mixture and pulse for a few seconds until it’s just combined; you should still see bits of butter. Use a fork to gently mix in the eggs and vanilla, and don’t worry about the dough being perfectly smooth.

Drop dough in heaping tablespoons, spaces as evenly as you can, over the berry mixture and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then cover loosely with aluminum foil to allow the dough to steam. Bake for another 10 minutes or so, until the berries are bubbling. 

Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6 to 8.

— “How to Bake Everything: Simple Recipes for the Best Baking” by Mark Bittman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; October 2016; $35)

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

PG tested

Why should pineapples have all the topsy-turvy fun? Any seasonal fruit makes for a great upside-down cake, and at Thanksgiving, that just happens to include cranberries. Their tartness pairs perfectly with the sugary caramel topping, and it’s so pretty on a dessert table. Serve it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. 

For topping

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

9 ounces (2⅔ cups) fresh cranberries

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

For batter

1½ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs, separated

1/2 cup whole milk

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

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