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The Sweeter Side of Cranberries

This versatile fall fruit livens up tarts, muffins, and cookies with its sweet-tart flavor

Fine Cooking Issue 74
Photos: Scott Phillips
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I’m not the sort of person who waits until Thanksgiving to enjoy cranberries. As soon as they show up in grocery stores in late September, I greedily pile bags of them into my cart. I can’t help it.  As a berry lover, I know these are the last in-season berries I’ll see until strawberries start rolling into markets the next spring. Fortunately, cranberries freeze well, so it’s easy to stock up. I just toss the bags right into the freezer and pull them out for recipes whenever I have a taste for their singular sweet-tart flavor.

Why bakers love cranberries. I think bakers in particular hold cranberries in high esteem. Their brightness doesn’t fade with cooking, giving everything in which they’re used a splash of color as well as flavor. In desserts, their delightful tartness is a natural complement to the sweetness of fruits such as pears and apples. And even in dried form, the pure cranberry flavor comes through.

This trio of recipes really allows cranberries to shine. The classic flavor pairing of cranberry and orange gets a boost from ginger in the muffins. Dried cranberries replace raisins in a delightfully jumbled—and jumbo—oatmeal cookie. And cranberries steal the show in the festive cranberry-pear tart.

Cranberries are for keeps. Cranberries have long been prized for their keeping qualities. Once upon a time, fresh cranberries were sent across the ocean in water-filled barrels, arriving at ports virtually unspoiled. Fresh cranberries last upwards of a month in the refrigerator, and up to a year in the freezer. In contrast to other berries, freezing won’t diminish the flavor and texture of cranberries. I usually have a bag or two on hand at any given time during cranberry season, and since they keep so well, I don’t have to rush to use them.

How to freeze cranberries

You can store fresh cranberries in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer for up to four weeks, but you can also freeze them for up to a year. I freeze them in their original packaging, but if you prefer, you can wash, dry, and pick through the berries first (discard any dark, mushy ones) and then transfer them to a heavy-duty freezer bag. Use frozen cranberries like fresh cranberries in recipes. There’s no need to thaw the berries—just put them in a colander, rinse in cold water, pat dry with a towel, and use—but you may need to increase cooking time slightly.

Dried cranberries: sweetened vs. unsweetened

I generally prefer to buy dried fruit that hasn’t been sweetened, but cranberries are the exception. For my baking, I want moist, plump sweetened dried cranberries. Unsweetened ones are remarkably dry, astringent, sour, and even bitter. Fortunately, most producers lightly sweeten the berries during the drying process; it helps keep them tender and tasty but doesn’t mask their pleasing tartness.


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