Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Season Of The Cranberry

It's the penultimate day of the season of the cranberry. It has been a delightfully long and languid holiday of face-stuffing and bonding with the sofa, but I reckon at this stage that everyone seems quite happy to draw a line under the holidays and return to normal life. Relief and all that it is to get off my backside and return to normal (healthy!) life, there are a few things that I'll miss about the past fortnight, and cranberries are one of them. It's a fruit that tends to be fairly hard to find the rest of the year, apart from in juice form, but once the supermarket shelves begin to load up with the necessary festive ingredients they pop out at you from all aisles. These wrinkly little rubies are a lovely chewy addition to all kinds of baked goods, and I used their extensive availability as an excuse to do up a batch of cranberry cookies and a batch of cranberry muffins.

Having treated myself to Martha's Holiday Cookies mag, I spent the entire run up to Christmas on a  constant mission to find excuses to experiment with the treats within. The cranberry coins leaped out at me immediately. And sure the fruit cancels out all the sugar and butter...antioxidants, doncha know...I reckon that one biscuit probably provides one of your five a, don't quote me on that though. Ahem.

To begin: cream together 1 cup butter, 3/4 cup icing sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. I translated from American to European with the help of Delia's conversion tables.

Then two cups of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

And finally add half a cup of dried cranberries to twinkle out at you from the powdery mix.

I must admit that I struggled a little with the texture; the mixture was very crumbly and powdery, and as I compacted it all together I wondered how on earth it would take the shape it needed in order to make lovely roundy biccies. I got them together into little sausages, wrapped up in cling film like something some kind of cookie monster mule would gulp down.

After a spell in the fridge they sliced quite nicely, though I did have to do a little compacting of spare crummy bits - a skill nicely honed when throwing snowballs of late.

And the floury, powdery mix made the most deliciously crumbly Christmas cranberry cookies.

Having made them for a couple of gatherings that didn't happen due to the extensive snowyness of the season, the neighbours profited rather nicely from that particular batch of baking.

When the Singaporean was home, she stayed over, and, always looking for an excuse to stuff my face in the interests of being a good hostess, I baked up a batch of cranberry muffins for breakfast the next morning. I though that it was ever-so-organised of me to assemble as many ingredients as possible the night before. 200g plain flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 75g sugar and a grating of fresh nutmeg in one bowl.

The juice of an orange.

The stars of the show, 150g thereof.

And all sit out patiently for the night while I catch some zeds after my marathon cooking session.

The next morning, all that remains to be done is add to the wet ingredients; melt the butter (60g), fill the jug with the OJ in it up to the 150ml mark and beat in an egg, along with the butter. An easy stir with a light hand and then into the super duper handy silicon muffin baking mould with them, sprinkling some brown sugar and cinnamon on top. Brother Number Two who lives in the U.S. is always complaining about how the Yanks love lashing the cinnamon into everything, but I have to say that it is one of the many things I love about Americans, their heavy-handedness with that comforting spice.

Twenty minutes in the oven and you have yourself a most pleasingly-scented home and a plate stacked high with warm muffins waiting to be devoured.

Surely a most appropriate way to celebrate the last day of Christmas? Which is, of course, Nollaig na mBan. Bainigí taitneamh as an lá, and maybe think about baking a little something special to celebrate.

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