Cranberries, those cheery, red harbingers of fall, are a boon to pastry chefs and bakers all across the country this time of year. Their color is a swath of brilliance against the browns and creams of the pastry kitchen, and their tart, vibrant flavor enlivens and contrasts with the sweet fruits, earthy nuts, and silken chocolates of fall.
Cranberries are a perfect partner to apples, pears and quince, and are equally at home with chocolate. And while white chocolate may seem a natural dance partner, soft and sweet against the acidic fruit, dark chocolate may come as a surprise. The first time I heard of bittersweet chocolate and cranberries, I cringed at the combination. How could bitter and tart blend harmoniously? But a taste of them together was all I needed to convince me of their beautiful compatibility. The key to desserts with cranberries is a gentle play of acidic against sweet. Their presence livens up what might be a lovable, yet expected dessert. For instance, apple crisp is a bit more fun with some cranberries thrown in, and apple pie is all the better with a bright bit of red tucked here and there. Chocolate and cranberry mousses layered together are not just visually striking, but also deeply vibrant on the tongue. There’s no better time than now to include cranberries in dessert, for as we enjoy the richer, heartier foods we crave in cold weather, it’s nice to follow them up with a bright punch of flavor. And cranberries give it the old one-two finish.
Cranberries are a new-world fruit, enjoyed by Native Americans long before the pilgrims arrived. They are grown on great bogs in the northeast, floating like giant red rafts, then scooped off the surface for harvest. They are sturdy and keep well in the refrigerator for a month or two (and nearly forever in the freezer), so I always buy an extra bag or two at the market. And while their fresh presence is what I crave right now, the dried version is a wonderful trick to have up the baker’s sleeve, for their clean flavor is a welcome addition to cookie doughs (I love them in oatmeal cookies), sweet yeast breads, muffins and scones, even cake batters. Today, though, I’d like to offer you a tart full of fresh cranberries, topped by a sweet crumble mixture. Served warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting alongside, it’s just the ticket for a night by the fire. Don’t you just love fall?
More Cranberries Mean Fall ideas and recipes follow after the jump