Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sugared Cranberries

It's cranberry season! I live just across the Hudson river from a major cranberry producing state- New Jersey. I've expounded before on the beauty and wonder that is rural New Jersey, but there are so many wonderful things that I forgot to mention the cranberry bogs.

S and I love to camp in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. In the summer we tube the Wading River and in fall and spring we hike the sandy roads to check out ruins, abandoned railroad bridges, fire towers, and cranberry bogs. There are bogs right in the state park, owned by farmers who grow for Ocean Spray. 

S and I have even sampled wild cranberries- never from the commercial bogs, but we've each tried one found growing alongside the river. They were bitter, like all raw cranberries, but also lovely and crisp. There is just something special about eating wild foraged fruits, even if it's only one or two berries. 

I like many different cranberries preparations, cranberry sauce, orange cranberry relish (my favorite part of Thanksgiving as a child), tart cranberry pie, but these sugared cranberries may be my all time favorite preparation. 

They're both sweet and tart, juicy and crisp, and the sparkling sugar topping makes them absolutely lovely to behold. Not to mention when you get a cranberry candied at the peak of ripeness and you bite into it, it makes this amazing pop noise, audible from several feet away, which is just too fun. The popping cranberries are definitely the tastiest, too.

These berries are so beautiful, they look a bit like they've been covered in snow or frost, so they seem like a magical pairing for this nippy fall weather.  At first they'll seem too pretty to eat, but after you have one you won't be able to stop. They're the most addicting thing in my kitchen right now, more addicting than the Ben & Jerry's Candy Bar Pie ice cream in my freezer. It's good, but I'd sooner eat a whole truckload of these berry delights. 

These are too beautiful to eat only as a snack though, they would be lovely on a spread of hors d'oeuvres, perhaps served with a cheese plate, or on a lavish dessert buffet. Or you could skewer them with a toothpick to use as a fancy-schmancy cocktail garnish. Or package the sugared berries up in cute boxes and give them as Christmas gifts- my aunt did this one year and I'm pretty sure I ate them all on Christmas Eve. Any way you serve them, these beautiful sugared cranberries will be a wild success. 

1 & 1/2 C Sugar, separated 
2/3 C water
8 oz cranberries

First, a note on sugar: any type of white sugar will work for the syrup, but the type you use for coating the berries at the end will impact the way they look. A very fine sugar, such a sanding sugar will give the berries a very light, thoroughly coated white look, I think of it as looking like frost in the morning. I used plain domino cane sugar which gives a more crystallized, snowy candied look. A larger grain cane sugar, such as whole foods cane sugar tends to look clumpy.

Pour the water into a medium sized saucepan, add 1 C sugar, and heat over medium low, stirring occasionally, until all the sugar is completely dissolved.

Remove from heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes. Once syrup is warm, but not too hot to touch, add the cranberries. Add just 3-4 at first, and stir them around gently. If any split open, wait a few more moments for the syrup to cool, but if they remain in tact, add the rest of the cranberries and give them a gentle stir. Make sure they're all getting wet.

If there is space in your refrigerator, just pop a lid on the sauce pan and put the whole thing in the fridge. Otherwise, pour berries and all syrup into a tupperware with a lid, and refrigerate overnight, or at least 6-8 hours.

After refrigeration, use a slotted spoon to transfer the berries to a cooling rack (I put parchment paper under mine to catch the syrup drips), and allow to dry for 20-40 minutes. 

Once berries have dried a bit (they'll still be sticky and slightly damp- this is fine), place the remaining 1/2 C sugar in a shallow dish, and add the berries, a few at a time, tossing them gently with the sugar so they're entirely coated. Return coated berries to the cooling rack. If your sugar begins to clump, run it through a fine strainer placed over a bowl, and use what sifts through. 

Once all berries are coated, give them another 20 minutes or so to fully set up, then pop them in a dish and serve, or in a tupperware and store in the fridge until you need them. They'll keep around 4-5 days, but I promise they won't last that long, they're addicting!

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