Rising to the Challenge of Cranberries

November 23, 2010 at 10:53 am


As some readers may know, I’m from the south, where the holiday season means collard greens, not green bean casserole, sweet potato pie, not pumpkin, and cranberries aren’t really food, they are just something you put on the table as a garnish (no one ever eats them, right?).

So how did I find a way to make cranberries palatable?  I wanted to be a good guest, that’s how.  This was a true challenge.  It would have been far easier had I been asked to come up with a meat-based dessert, and I don’t even eat animals!  I’ve been enjoying a monthly dessert exchange since last spring.  Each month we meet at someone’s home; the host serves a light vegetarian meal, and then… it’s on!  Everyone brings a dessert that they made from scratch.  No slice-and- bake, or just add egg, oil, water, and mix would do in this setting.  This Dessert Exchange is an opportunity to share your favorites, or try that dish you’ve been meaning to get around to. The Exchange has been great for me in the latter category especially.

This month the host threw down the gauntlet and asked that we try to feature cranberry desserts.  It wasn’t a requirement, but she adores cranberries.  WTW!  I don’t like them at all.  Then I started thinking, “okay this will be great for my waistline, and I’ll make something I don’t like.”  Then I realized I did like cranberries two ways.  I like them dried in vegetable salads, but not too many.  I also really like Cran-Orange Juice.  Several light years away, I worked at a coffee shop in Evanston.  They served this really refreshing drink; it was Cranberry Juice Cocktail and fresh squeezed orange juice.  Each day, while most folks were asleep, one of my roommates (and now a dessert exchange participant) would be getting a workout squeezing a case or two of oranges to start the day and make Cran-OJ.  I drank this like there would be no tomorrow.  So I pondered what I could do with cranberries and oranges in a dessert.


This was still a struggle for me because cranberries aren’t like other berries.  They are not to be plopped in one’s mouth raw, and enjoyed.  You can tell they are supposed to be good for you because they can’t be consumed in their raw state in large quantities.  That’s probably why, unlike every other seasonal fruit now available year round; you only see cranberries readily available during the holiday season.  It’s not that you can’t find frozen cranberries year round, but my goodness, who on earth wants to eat them?

So I landed where only a chilled-to-the-bone-at 67 degrees Fahrenheit southerner could land, and decided I was going to make an ice cream with cranberries. It took some figuring but it works.  I wanted whole fruit, swirls and warm bits of orange in this wonder.  This stuff is fantastic.  There’s still time to pull this showstopper out for the Thanksgiving offerings, and then repeat it at the remaining celebrations of Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Winter Solstice.

Cranberries and Cream Ice Cream with Candied Orange Peel

Unlike peaches and cream ice cream or any other berries and cream ice cream, you cannot use raw fruit.  I think it is just too sharp, bordering on bitter, and will be inedible to all but your most diplomatic guests.

Cranberry Syrup w/ Whole Cranberries Infused with Orange

1/3 c sugar
3/4 c fresh or frozen whole cranberries, chop half of them
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. orange juice

Caramelize the Sugar: Place sugar in a small heavy saucepan over moderate heat.  The pan must be completely dry when you add the sugar.  Also, you cannot multi-task while you are doing this step.  It requires you literally standing over the pot and watching the sugar.  Once the sugar is in the pan do not touch the pan.  Just use your nose to guide you in determining when the sugar is melting.  Of course it won’t start to show that it is melting at the thin edges, because that would be too much like right.  It should start melting at about 5-6 minutes.  Once the melting begins, stir it until the sugar is a beautiful amber color (think clear maple syrup). Slant pan add cranberries, orange juice, and water (the addition of the cool and wet ingredients to the hot pan will cause the contents to bubble, hiss, and spit).  Simmer over low heat, stirring, until the hardening pieces of caramel (a lot like hard brown sugar) have fully dissolved.  Remove from heat, and then pour syrup through a sieve into a stainless steel bowl. Push the berries with a spoon to release more juice.

Make Ahead: Store the cranberries separately from the syrup.  You can make this a couple of days before and refrigerate it.


Candied Orange Peel

1 large thick-skinned orange (navel is perfect for this)

½ c. cold water

2 T. sugar

Cut peel from orange in 1 in. wide strips.  Make sure you cut close enough to the orange that you don’t have any pith (white membrane) on your peel.  Each peel should be about 2 in. long.  Blanch peel in small pan of boiling water for 1 minute.  Drain.  Rinse peel in cold water.  Blanch, drain, and rinse two more times, for a total of three times.

Mix water and sugar in small sauce pan over low heat. No stirring required, just lift and swirl pan until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Bring this simple syrup to a simmer.  Add peel and cook until the pan is almost dry, about 15 minutes.  This is a bit sticky, but place individual bits of peel on a waxed-paper lined surface.  Do not let the bits of peel touch or overlap.

Make Ahead: Store covered at room temperature up to 2 days ahead

Ice Cream Base

3 c.  Heavy cream

2/3 c. sugar

3   egg yolks

½ t. vanilla extract



Heat cream and sugar over low heat in a heavy saucepan until the sugar is dissolved.  Take half a cup of this hot cream and whisk slowly into the egg yolks.  Then take the egg yolk mixture and whisk completely into the remaining cream mix in the saucepan.  Stir this mixture, using a figure eight movement, and preferably a wooden spoon just until the mix coats the spoon, approximately 15 minutes. Remove from heat and pour crème anglaise into a bowl.  Chill completely, place in the refrigerator overnight. Tip: Place ice cream storing container in the freezer overnight as well.

Process the crème anglaise in your ice cream freezer according to the directions.

Place a couple of tablespoons of the syrup in the bottom of the ice cream storage container.  Then top with a layer of ice cream.  Then add a few more tablespoons of syrup and cranberries.  Sprinkle candied orange peel over the top.  Continue to layer the ice cream, syrup and cranberries, and finish with a sprinkle of candied orange peel on top.  Place ice cream back in freezer to ripen.



  1. YUM!

    My own tried-and-true way of preparing cranberries for the holiday is the easy recipe for cranberry-orange relish that used to be on the cranberry bag: 1 bag of cranberries, 1 navel orange, and 1 c. sugar. Grind the cranberries and orange (peel included, of course) together in a food grinder (I use an attachment for my KA mixer), add the sugar, mix together. It’s good not only as an accompaniment to a turkey or ham or vegetarian dinner, but also on sandwiches the next day, perhaps with cream cheese.

  2. Tina says:

    Nice share! I would love to try this.

  3. Melissa says:

    We’ve been running a cranberry curriculum this month in schools: From Bog to Sauce and Beyond. It’s always fun to watch the kids try the tart cranberries and compare them to the dried version and the juice. They’re all happy in the end, but lots of sour faces to start. My tried and true cranberry sauce uses orange, plus crystallized ginger and cranberry honey tempered with just a touch of sugar. The honey gives it a very earthy flavor.

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