Candied Cranberries

Here’s a recipe you might want to try when fresh cranberries are back in the shops.

After discovering the joys of home-candied peel a few years ago, I have since tried my hand at several different fruits. With it being the season for mincemeat and fruit cake decorating, when I spotted some punnets of fresh cranberries on sale, I thought I’d give them a try.

Hunting around on the internet, it seems many people’s idea of candied cranberries is to dip them in egg-white and roll them in caster sugar. Beautiful and festive and twinkly-frosty, but not really candied in the traditional sense.

I also found no recipes on the traditional method of candying for these particular berries, so I thought I’d make up my own, based on the many examples of preserving recipes I’ve found in various manuscript books.

My method is a combination of the old-fashioned method of making conserves with delicate fruit, and how to make sloe gin *hic!*

This recipe takes about a week, but your active involvement is little more than an hour. Over the week, the delicate berries will gradually exchange their juice for sugar, making the cranberries more robust the more sugar they absorb, and as a bonus you’ll get a beautifully-coloured cranberry syrup.

For ease, select a pan you can get by without using for a week.

Candied Cranberries

1kg fresh cranberries
1kg caster sugar

  • Poke holes in each cranberry with a cocktail stick in order to let the juice out (and the sugar in). You don’t have to be too fastidious – I made about 5 or 6 holes around the middle.
  • Layer the cranberries and the caster sugar in a pan – a wide pan is better than tall saucepan, for ease of gently moving the berries around later.  Leave for 24 hours. The sugar will draw out some of the juice.
  • Next day, heat the pan very gently to melt the sugar. You’ll probably have to add a little water to get it started – about 1/2 a cup. Shake, don’t stir – or if you absolutely have to, stir very gently. Vigorous stirring and/or heating will cause the berries to burst. Some will burst anyway, but try and keep that at a minimum by being gentle.
  • Once the sugar is melted, turn off the heat, cover, and leave 24 hours. As the sugar is absorbed by the cranberries, they will gradually become more robust, but for the first day or two, you’ll need to be careful.
  • Repeat the heating gently for 5 minutes then leaving overnight for 5 days. Gradually the syrup will become redder and the cranberries more jewel-like.
  • After 5 days, warm the syrup (to make it easier to drain) and pour through a sieve to separate the cranberries from the syrup.
  • To finish, the cranberries need to dry a little, so line 2 large baking sheets with parchment and scatter the candied cranberries over. Try and get them separated, to facilitate drying, but there will be some squished ones you can’t do much about at this stage.
  • Last thing at night, put the trays in the oven and turn the heat to 170°C/150°C Fan for 5 minutes, then turn off and leave to dry overnight.
  • Repeat the drying next day – 170°C/150°C Fan for 5 minutes then turn off and leave to dry. If extremely sticky, they might need another overnight drying (I did Friday night/Saturday day/Saturday night).
  • Once only slightly tacky to the touch, they’re ready to use. I sorted mine into 3 groups: Perfect ones went back into the syrup (to keep moist) to use as decorations. I dipped a few of the not-so-perfect ones in dark chocolate, and rolled the rest in caster sugar and stored in a ziplock bag. The exploded ones I chopped and put in a jar for mincemeat.

Radnor Cranberry Tart

If you have an extended social life in the run-up to Christmas, and sample nothing but mince pies throughout December, by the time you get to the 25th, what with the Christmas Cake and Christmas Pudding, you can be all mince-pied out.

Also, sometimes you find yourself fancying something a little savoury at the end of a meal, and this is why this recipe is perfect. It’s simple and straightforward – just two main ingredients of fresh cranberries and juicy raisins. The raisins take the edge off the sometimes eye-popping sharpness of the cranberries and the little dash of vanilla also gives the aroma of sweetness, so only the merest sprinkle of sugar is required. It’s festively reminiscent enough of a mince pie to deserve a place on the table, its fresh-tasting, palate-cleansing, sweet but not too sweet, can be served hot or cold, but ALWAYS with a slice of cheese. I’m thinking some vintage cheddar, crumbly white Cheshire or even one of the fruited cheeses – white Stilton and apricot anyone?

It is a traditional (Welsh) border tart, ideal for Christmas – just look at that glorious colour! The original 1930s recipe in Mrs Arthur Webb’s Farmhouse Cookery didn’t specify any particular pastry, so I’m taking the opportunity to offer for your delectation and amusement, a new pastry recipe! Yes, I know I love the cornflour pastry – and I really do, both sweet and savoury versions – but I can’t resist something that has the potential to add a new arrow to my pastry quiver, as it were, and in this case, I’m really glad that I did.

It’s Eliza Acton’s 1845 recipe for cream pastry and it has my seal of approval for several reasons:

  • Simplicity – in its basic form, it can be whisked together with just two ingredients.
  • Taste – when baked, it is crisp and dry, without any hint of greasiness or stodginess.
  • It can be enriched with butter, but at a ratio of just 1/4 fat-to-flour, it is not as indulgent as it tastes. When enriched with butter, the texture is moving towards the flakiness of flaky pastry, yet with the ‘dryness’ and crispness of the cornflour pastry – Nom!
  • And on the practical side, it handles and rolls really nicely.

You can, of course, use your own favourite pastry instead.

Radnor Cranberry Tart

Eliza Acton’s Cream Pastry
This quantity makes enough for a 20cm pie.

225g plain flour
0.5tsp salt
300-450ml double cream
56g butter

  • Put the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor.
  • With the motor running, gradually add in the cream, a little at a time, until the mixture comes together.
  • Tip the mixture out and knead until smooth.
  • Roll out the pastry into a long rectangle.
  • Using the same method as for Flaky Pastry, dot over half the butter.
  • Fold the ends over, turn the pastry 90 degrees and repeat.
  • Roll out one last time, and fold the ends inwards.
  • Wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Make the filling (see below).
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut into 2 pieces (2/3 + 1/3 is about right).
  • Roll out the large piece and use it to line a greased, 20cm loose bottomed tart tin. Ease the pastry into the sides, rather than just stretching it by pressing down too hard. Leave the excess hanging over the edge of the tin.
  • Roll out the smaller piece of pastry to make the lid, and lay it onto a cutting board.
  • Chill both pieces of pastry in the fridge for 20 minutes. This will make sure it is relaxed and less prone to shrinkage in the oven.
  • By this time, the filling should be cool enough to use.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Remove the two lots of pastry from the fridge.
  • Fill the lined tin with the cooled filling and smooth over.
  • Using a pastry brush, wet the edges of the pastry, then lay the lid across the top and press the edges together.
  • Trim off the excess using the back of a knife.
  • Crimp the edges to your liking – I used the tines of a fork to make for a good seal.
  • Brush the surface of the tart with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar.
  • Cut a steam vent in the middle of the pastry lid using a sharp knife.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden brown.
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then remove to a wire rack to cool, if not serving warm.
  • Serve with a nice wedge of cheese.

Filling
450g fresh cranberries
225g raisins
30g sugar
60ml cold water
0.5tsp vanilla extract

  • Rinse the cranberries and put them in a pan with the raisins, sugar and water.
  • Cover and warm on a low heat until the mixture comes to the boil and you can hear the cranberries starting to pop.
  • Simmer for just five minutes, then turn off the heat.
  • Taste to make sure of the sweetness, but remember, this is not supposed to be a really sweet tart, however, it shouldn’t be too sour either. If you think it needs a little more sugar, add it by all means.
  • Stir in the vanilla and leave to cool.