Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sparkling Cranberry Centerpiece

Birdy sat at the kitchen island this morning, munching these gorgeous sugared cranberries while I packed up school lunches. I wouldn't typically make them in mid-November, for no reason, but I wanted you to have this recipe before the holidays, so you could plan accordingly: they make the most perfectly beautiful holiday centerpiece--especially if there are candles burning nearby to glint off of their sparkling rubyness--and then they have the added advantage of being yummy, which is just not something you could say about those pinecones and fur boughs, or about the candles themselves. Invite people to try one between courses, as a "palate cleanser," and you will seem very fancy indeed, even without the muscat sorbet served in silver bowls between the pate course and the chestnut foam course. Some people will find them punishingly tart, prohibitively so--and others will find them punishingly tart, but then they still won't be able to stop eating them.

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.)


  1. Beautiful!! Will have to try these! How
    Did I ever miss this 10 years ago? I've been following you all of my motherly life!

  2. We've made these the past three years and use the leftover syrup to make "fancy drinks" for the kids and the grownups. My seven-year-old has been asking for the last few weeks to make them, so it's happening again today! Thanks so much for sharing ,

  3. Joleen9:19 AM

    How far in advance can these be made?