Most years I buy canned cranberry sauce. Laziness, really. That and the fact I’m the only one in my family of three that really likes it, so why buy a bunch of cranberries when I’ll wind up throwing half or more away? heh – not this year. This year there are others coming to dinner who like cranberry sauce. So I get to make it.
The really great thing about cranberry sauce is how easy it is. See, cranberries are extremely high in pectin. Pectin is the vegetable based gelling agent that turns sauces to jellies. Now I’m not going to discuss making jam, I’m just making cranberry sauce. But I do want to mention the rules of pectin.
Pectin alone does not gel. Pectin needs at least water to form a gelling structure. Pectin plus sugar and water makes a stronger gelling structure. Adding some heat makes the bonds faster and stronger. Too much heat breaks down the structure.
So anyway, what this means is that if you take a ‘bag’ (12 ounces) of cranberries, add a cup of water and a cup of sugar, and boil till the berries pop you’ll end up with cranberry sauce. Depending on what you want in the way of color and texture you can cook it for up to fifteen more minutes. If you want a true jelly at that point strain the pulp.
You can actually cook it longer. If you do the pectin will break down more but there will be less liquid. The end result will be a stiffer, drier jelly. Oh, and it’ll have fewer nutrients. meh.
A nice thing about this is that you can do it in advance. Unless you intend to serve it hot (why?) it’ll keep (covered) in the refrigerator for several days. If you can fruits and jellies and such you can use the same principle for your cranberry sauce – it’s basically soft-set cranberry jam – and store on the pantry shelf. But that’s sterilizing jars and such – more work than most want to face.
The most common addition to the cranberries is orange – juice substituting for water typically, zest on occasion. In some ways this is hilarious because the most common source of pectin is … citrus, especially citrus zest. (higher per weight than even cranberries). That said, citrus adds to the flavor in ways most people like. I’m one of those people, so if I have some orange juice around I’ll use half water and half orange juice. I’m not going to the effort of making zest for this, however.
If I’ve got time and energy after all the other cooking I’ve got something else I want to do. I want to make a cranberry whip tart.
I put out the crust recipe yesterday. For this I want a 9 inch tart shell – a 9 inch cake pan works very well here. This crust would need pre-baking – fifteen minutes in a hot (425F) oven because the filling is no bake. The filling itself is basically a cranberry mousse (minus the egg).
Make the cranberry sauce. Set aside to cool. Separate out one cup’s worth.
Take a cup of whipping cream and a quarter cup of sugar and make medium-peak whip cream.
Add a quarter of the whipped cream to the cup of cranberry sauce and stir gently to lighten the sauce. Fold the lightened cranberry sauce back into the whipped cream, and put this in the tart crust. Chill for at least an hour; serve chilled.
The key thing, though is to remember that cranberries make easy jelly. Just berries, water, sugar, and heat. The taste almost always beats canned – but it makes more than most people will eat unless you preserve it for later.