Sparkling Cranberry Centerpiece
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: overnight, plus 30 minutes, plus 3 hours
This is based on a recipe from 101 Cookbooks, a recipe blog I love, but I added the orange peel and the cloves for flavor. (I will have you know that only upon a second reading did I realize I had typed "gloves." But that's really not the flavor you're going for. In the ingredients list too: "ground gloves." I lost my head for a minute there.) She recommends serving these with a cheese course, which would be lovely, if I ever served a cheese course. As it is, I always swear I'm going to use the leftovers in cake or muffins--but there are never any leftovers. Start these the night before. Also, give yourself some extra time to clean up the sugar when it's all over.
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
The peel from half a scrubbed orange, in large strips (use a vegetable peeler)
1 12-ounce bag cranberries, washed, picked through, and drained
More sugar: a mix of larger-grain (I use Trader Joe's organic sugar) and regular
Bring the 2 cups of sugar, the water, cloves, and orange peel just to a simmer in a small pot, stirring, then cool it for a minute before pouring it over the cranberries, which you've put into a bowl. Cool briefly, then cover the bowl and refrigerate the cranberries overnight.
Now it's the morning, and you're assembling what you'll need to sugar the berries: a sieve, another bowl, a rimmed baking sheet, and the coarse sugar. Drain the berries (I saved the syrup because I have plans to make either rock candy or a gelatin dessert with it--not that I have done anything yet but feel vaguely guilty when I see it in the fridge. We did stir some into seltzer, which was delicious). Now dump the berries back into the bowl, and wash and dry the sieve.
What you're going to do is scoop some of the berries (I probably do this in 6 batches--you can't do them all at once or the sugar gets to wet) into the empty bowl with a large spoonful of sugar and toss them together, either by flipping the bowl a little, or with your hands. Add more sugar, if there's not some still loose in the bowl, and flip them some more, then scoop them into the sieve and shake the loose sugar back in the bowl and spread the berries out on the baking sheet. Repeat until you've done all the berries. Note: you'll have some leftover sugar, and also there will still be loose sugar on the sheet with the berries, ad this is all fine. Leave the berries to dry for 2 hours or longer.
Now sprinkle regular granulated sugar over the berries, and roll them around on the sheet so that all the sticky spots get well coated, then pour them back into the sieve and gently shake off the extra sugar before putting the berries back on the tray to dry for another hour. Now pour them into your serving vehicle, ideally a clear glass one that can show them off in all their sparkling prettiness. (I use an old fish-bowl type vase.)