Thursday, November 5, 2020

Cranberries Are Fun--traditional cranberry sauce and a cranberry curd tart

Cranberry curd tart with whipped cream design
Cranberry curd tart

Cranberries are fun to cook and I really like the spiced cranberry sauce that I make each year to go with the Thanksgiving turkey and mashed potatoes. So when I saw the recipe for cranberry curd tart in the Nov/Dec issue of Cook's Illustrated, I wanted to try it.

Why do I like cooking with cranberries? For a start, they are one of my favorite colors--a red-violet that I would probably call magenta. Second, they float in water like little corks or tiny round magenta buoys. And then there's the way they bounce if you drop them, instead of squashing. How much cuter can you get?

I also like watching cranberries boil. At the start, you have firm red-purple berries floating in colorless water (with vinegar or sugar added, depending on the recipe.) After things heat up, you can hear the berries bursting--a quiet pop! pop! pop!--and you find you have squashy berries mixed into red-purple water.

Cranberries boiling in a pot of water
Boiling cranberries

Long, long ago, I had a friend who made a spiced cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving. Hers wasn't sweetened, but it was tasty, so years later when I saw a "cranberry catsup" in Fannie Farmer, I tried it, changing some of the measurements. Delicious! Now I make it every year. Here's my recipe, which is loosely based on the one for cranberry catsup in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, 17th printing, copyright 1959.

Cranberry Sauce

Boil 12 ounces of cranberries with 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1 cup water. When berries are soft (about five minutes), strain, pressing the mixture against the strainer with a wooden spoon to get it all.

Put it back in the pot with 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 teaspoon clove, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Stir and heat together for three more minutes. 

(The original recipe has a higher proportion of vinegar and spices, adds paprika, and ends by mixing in 2 teaspoons of butter.)

This year Cook's Illustrated came out with a recipe for a cranberry curd tart with an almond crust. I had to try it. I'm not going to put the recipe here, because this issue is still available in stores and I would feel bad about putting it on the internet. Also, I think it's more fun if you read the description of how its creator developed it. (It may be available from your library on-line.)

I will say a bit about how the recipe goes, though. I used a 12 ounce bag of cranberries, because that appeared to be the standard size. Curiously, the recipe called for a pound. Since my 12 ounces was actually 13+ ounces when I weighed it, I decided not to change anything other than reducing the water very, very slightly. It came out just fine.

First the cranberries were boiled with sugar and water, so I got to watch the berries burst and the water turn crimson. Then they went into the food processor with an egg yolk mixture. There was some processing, some cooling, some added butter and more processing, then through the strainer and into the crust.

Undecorated cranberry curd tart, cooling on rack
The cranberry tart, cooling

The crust. While all that processing and cooling went on, I messed up the crust. I mixed up a greasy, wet paste that baked into a greasy, hard crust. Clearly I must have mismeasured something. The taste was fine, and the crust was softer the next day, but that can't have been the intended texture.

The greasy crust before baking

 Then the whole thing had to cool for four hours. Keep that in mind. Four hours. Fortunately, this was November 3 and I wasn't planning on going to bed early anyway. When the tart was completely cool, it was time to whip the cream, which had been mixed with a bit of filling and chilled. I have to say, the piped design did indeed keep its shape well.

Slice of cranberry curd tart
The final product

How did it taste? It tasted a lot like a lemon bar, except not lemony. Presumably it tasted like cranberry, but cranberry isn't a taste I can easily identify. You might say it tasted like a berry bar--tangy and sweet. I'm glad I made it, but I don't expect to make it all that often. Then again, I wonder what it would taste like if it were spiced like my cranberry sauce? Hmm...

Till next post.