Best Cranberry Sauce – Ever!

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As I’ve said in a previous post, I have been doing Thanksgiving forever it seems. In what also felt like ‘forever’, I used to subscribe to Martha Stewart, and read her magazines every month. Along with Fine Cooking & Cooks Illustrated, a few years back I began to feel overwhelmed, and so ditched the Stewart subscription and haven’t regretted it since. I love my Fine Cooking (I have all issues dated back to the very first) and Cooks Illustrated, and rely on them solely (along with the web & my cookbook library) for inspiration and education.

Still, I found some real gems in my years of Miss Martha, and this cranberry sauce ever was a definite diamond among the coal.

I ripped the page out when I tossed all the issues, but it doesn’t have the date, nor the issue, so I cannot give proper credit, except that I got it out of a Martha Stewart magazine. One that featured Thanksgiving.

I made this that first year and have honestly never been tempted to try another version since. It is not too sweet, not to tart, has a lovely, complex spice and just a hint of heat. I make this in a double batch because people actually eat it, (unlike the canned ‘stuff’) and it is amazing on a leftover turkey sandwich. Simply. Amazing.

I apologize in advance for not having a display photo. My empty nesting has caught up with me, and I’m a little out of sorts. Normally, I am planning weeks in advance. But, without the kids home to help fix time in place, I’m a little behind. It also appears last year (when I started my musings), I didn’t think to take a pretty picture, so I am going from a photo from two years ago. The above picture is the cooked sauce, sitting in the saucepan. While a gorgeous, staged photo helps draw attention, the lack of shouldn’t stop you from giving this a whirl. This sauce will be competing with your turkey for a starring role.

Best Ever Cranberry Sauce

2 C Fresh Cranberries, cleaned, picked over. (should be about 1 bag, exact measuring is not necessary)
3 tbsp Cognac (what the heck, make them generous tablespoons!)
1 C Light Brown Sugar, packed
1/4 C Fresh Orange Juice
3 whole Allspice
2 whole Cloves
4 Black Peppercorns
1/2 tsp Red-Pepper Flake (Make sure your pepper is fresh. If it’s not red in color, but brown, it’s old.)
Cinnamon Stick (about a 1/2 inch piece)
Cheesecloth & twine to make a spice bag

(Note: I double this recipe, be sure to double your spices as well)

In your saucepan combine the berries, cognac, sugar and juice. Lay a square of cheesecloth on the counter, add your spices to the center, gather up the edges and tie with cooking twine, leaving some string to hang it with. Nestle it in with your other ingredients in the pot, trying to keep it submerged the whole time. You can use a spoon to poke it down until the bag is saturated. I wrap the excess twine around the pot handle a couple of times and loop the end through the hole at the end of my pot (my pot handle has a hole on the end) to keep it in place and away from the flame. (no one wants a visit from the fire department prior to the holidays!)

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Bring the mixture to a boil, and then cook it at a simmer for about 20 minutes. (The berries will turn translucent) Turn off heat, and let cool. You may remove the spice bag now, or leave it in to allow the flavors of the spices to really bloom. Just know, it WILL get more spicy.

When cool enough to handle, wring the bag of all the juices you can. I really like to extract as much flavor as possible. Stir to combine. Toss the bag, and you’re ready to serve.

I make this at least a day in advance, although you can make it the day of and serve warm. I just prefer to let the flavors marry and get all happy. Then the day of Thanksgiving (or whenever, this is too good to save for only one day a year) bring back to room temperature before serving.

If you give this a try, let me know how your family liked it!

(**yay! I figured out how to eliminate the breaks in the recipe, so no more spaces in-between ingredients!!!! I am not the most tech savvy, but I do know how to cook! )

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Cranberry Clusters

What is Christmas without a cookie exchange or two to go to? I’ve hosted my share of them in the past, but this year it is a welcome change of pace to go to a cookie exchange and let someone else take charge. Due to a bible study, I missed one of my favorites, hosted by a lovely woman who truly has the gift of baking. I’m not complaining cause there is a bright side, another friend is hosting one next week. So out come the cookbooks, pouring over and contemplating which treat to bring.

These little gems are my oldest daughter’s absolute favorite. They combine that perfect balance of sweet/tart, crunchy/creamy, juicy/dry. I cannot describe fully enough how delicious these glistening ruby delights are, you will just have to make up a batch and judge for yourself.

They are a little putzy to make, but trust me, they will be the first to fly off that cookie laden table. As I’ve mentioned all to many times before, its cold here. But, cold is only one aspect of living in a place where ‘cold’ is a runner up to the North Pole cold, its bitterly dry also. So, here in my environment, these babies will keep on a cookie platter for a few days at room temperature. Since you are in essence ‘candying’ the berries, humidity is your enemy. If you are in a moist environment, eat them quickly (trust me, not a problem) or store in an airtight container in your fridge for up to 5 days. They will get soft, but the flavor will remain.

Cranberry Clusters
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 cup fresh cranberries
1 1/4 cup chopped white chocolate (a good quality white melting bark will do also, and sometimes works better than white chocolate which can seize easily)

Combine the sugar and water together and cook to a hard-ball stage, 250-265 deg.
Remove from the heat. I put my pot on a heat pad to retain its heat for as long as possible.
Working quickly (but carefully, hot sugar burns, badly!) drop 3 cranberries in to the syrup and using 2 forks clump them together and flip to coat. Remove quickly and put on a piece of waxed paper or siliconed parchment. (a silpat mat will also work)

You will likely get about 7-8 clusters out of this batch, the first ones will be clear like glass, the last ones will start to look frosted. Stop when the sugar starts to crystalize. Now, at this point, I suppose there is a way to reheat the sugar and continue on. I have not found a way to do that effectively. I have found, in my experience, that you never get that shiny clear result when you try reheat the sugar. For me, because I’m sort of picky, I just make another batch or two of the sugar syrup, depending on the quantity I need. Play with it yourself and decide. Using a non-stick pan makes all the difference in the world as far as clean up goes!

While your candies are hardening, melt the white chocolate (or bark) in the microwave or in a double boiler. (It is advisable when dealing with all chocolate to be sure not to let any moisture get in to it, as it will cause it to seize)
Then dip the flat side of the cooled clusters in to the white chocolate, leaving the tops uncoated. Set aside on the parchment to harden.

I put these in small candy cups when I give as gifts, but they are just as beautiful scattered on a cookie tray.
Trust me, you want to have all your treats leave first? Make these.

Whether for dessert, cookie exchange or a party, these will please.

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