Fast and Fruity Cranberry Sauce

steaming cranberries
Flickr user mf*laflaca

To me, Thanksgiving isn't complete without home made cranberry sauce. Using my method, you'll be finished in 30 minutes, and have a sauce that tastes fresher than any other recipe.

I have a problem with the age-old method of cooking cranberry sauce. It calls for boiling the berries in water, until all that water has cooked off. Such a long cook time kills the bright, fresh flavor of the cranberries. Is it even necessary to start with so much water? Not with my method. Cooking time is minimized, and the color, flavor and aroma of fresh fruit isn't boiled away.

I came up with this technique, which borrows from candy making,
and it takes advantage of the great amount of heat energy that's in a
caramelizing sugar solution. The super hot syrup pops the berries
instantly, releasing its natural juices and speeds the sauce to the finish line in another 20 minutes or so.

This recipe yields a chunky sauce of thick consistency with cranberries
that still pop between the teeth and apples pieces that still have some
texture. If you like a less chunky sauce, I have some suggestions after
the recipe.

Fast and Fruity Cranberry Sauce

Yield: roughly 1/2 quart

One 12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
1 medium sized apple – I like Fuji apples
1/4 cup maple syrup – I like the dark and strongly flavored US grade B
1/4 cup honey
freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Black pepper, a few grinds, to taste
Ground cardamom, to taste
Grand Marnier, a splash to add flavor, but not enough to booze it up.
Maple syrup, to taste

   1. Rinse cranberries in a bowl of water. Discard stems and spoiled berries. Drain berries in a colander.
   2. Core and chop apple, with skin on, into small pieces about the same size as cranberries
   3. Mix maple syrup and honey in a 3 quart saucepot with a heavy clad bottom, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
   4. Reduce the syrup and measure it with a candy thermometer until it reaches hard crack stage, 300 degrees Farenheit.
   5. Quickly add cranberries.
   6. Stir fruit with a heat resistant silicone spatula or wooden spoon
constantly for 2 minutes. Scrape syrup off the bottom of pot, and coat
all of the fruit with the syrup.
   7. Add the apples, and stir again to coat.
   8. Reduce heat to low, and allow the fruit to seep out its juices.
   9. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes or until the juices have evaporated
and/or absorbed into the sauce. Stir every few minutes during cooking.
Time will vary depending on how juicy the fruit started out.
  10. Remove pot from heat, and dip the pot into a sinkful of cool water to bring contents quickly to room temperature.
  11. Add salt, pepper, lemon zest, and optional ingredients like vanillla, Grand Marnier, or spices, and taste.
  12. If more sweetener is desired, drizzle maple syrup and meditate until nirvana is achieved.
  13. Transfer cooled sauce into a sealed container, and store in refrigerator.

NOTE: Sugar burns are extremely painful. DO NOT touch or taste the syrup
no matter how tempting it looks. Use a larger pot than you think you
need (I used a 3 quart saucier) because the syrup foams up alot.
Overspilled sugar will wreak havoc on your stovetop.  Use a candy thermometer if you own one, but if
not, watch for the color changes and note the size of the bubbles in my
photos. You can't go too far wrong unless you allow the syrup to burn.
If the syrup is black, you'll have to start over.

Honey and maple syrup
Maple syrup and honey start boiling. Its water content is still high at this point. Pay attention to the changes to the color and the size of bubbles as it cooks.

Soft ball stage
240F, “soft ball” stage. Individual bubbles are fairly large, and color has darkened.

Hard crack stage
300F, “hard crack” stage. I'm a jackass and dropped the thermometer. Notice the tiny bubbles forming a tall foam.

Cranberries start popping immdiately. Stir well to coat evenly.

Apples go in a minute later. Notice the amount of juice already given off.

Sorry, I didn't take a photo of the final product. You'll know when it's done. Remember than the sauce will thicken as it cools, so don't worry if it's slightly loose in the pot.

This is a tart, almost chutney-like sauce because the honey and maple
syrup have caramelized enough that it loses its sugary character and
takes on a darkly roasted caramel flavor. The variety of apple will also
affect its sweetness. If you want yours sweeter, add additional maple
syrup after the sauce has cooled to room temperature.

If you like a less chunky sauce where all the cranberry skins have popped, try one of these options:

1) Cover the pot while it cooks to retain liquid, and increase your
cooking time to 30 minutes or slightly more. The additional time will
help break down the cranberry skins until they've all popped.
2) Cook the sauce uncovered per the instructions,  and when it's cooled to room temperature, pulse it in a food processor.

If you try this technique, please come back and comment.

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