Sugared cranberries: snappy, sparkle, and pop.

Oh! Yes. Hi. It’s been a while hasn’t it? So how have you been? … Mm hmm. … Mm hmm. … Oh really? And you had to have Him/Her/It removed from your home/office/kidney? Well I’m glad you’re coping. I feel a little bad for It/Him/Her, but whaddya gonna do. What about me, you ask? I’ve been fine. I’m still job-hunting and will move to Chicago this month and look for something there. Really looking forward to an exiting life of poverty. I know, join the club, right?

Sorry sorry, I’m still in polite-conversation-with-holiday-guests mode. Thanksgiving wore me out, what with cooking for twelve and preparing two pumpkin cheesecakes on top of worrying about my move. I hereby declare a moratorium on leaky wasteful fussy trauma-filled water baths for cheesecakes. No more water baths. I don’t care if it makes the cheesecake soft and creamy. You know what? I prefer my cheesecakes dense and velvety. NO MORE WATER BAAAAAATHS!

Sugared Cranberries

This post has nothing to do with cheesecake and water baths, but I’m sure that topic and all its associated pain will come up again in the future. Until that joyous occasion, here’s a beautiful snack and appetizer that always goes over well both at Thanksgiving and at Christmas time. Sparkling sugared cranberries make a sensationally pretty addition to your snack tray and is sensationally fun in the mouth. It pops in your mouth and releases an addictive tart sweetness that makes you grab another, and another, and another. Try it. You’ll be hooked. If not, at least you’ll fight urinary tract infections and load up on antioxidants.

SUGARED CRANBERRIES

Adapted from Cooking Light
Makes about three cups cranberries

Ingredients:
· 1 1/2 cups white sugar
· 1 1/2 cups water
· 1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
· 3/4 cup superfine sugar
     OR 3/4 cup regular sugar ground fine in food processor or blender

1) Rinse and drain cranberries. Pick out stems and any soft or mushy cranberries. Have a medium bowl ready nearby.

2) Cook sugar and water in medium pan over low heat. Stir well until sugar is dissolved. Bring liquid to a bare simmer so that bubbles lightly break the surface. DO NOT BOIL. Remove pan from heat. If you accidentally boiled the liquid, let it cool for a few minutes.

3) Add cranberries to pan and stir. If any cranberries split, don’t despair. Pour the cranberries and the liquid into a medium bowl. Place a saucer on top of the cranberries to help keep them submerged. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

4) Put half the superfine sugar on a rimmed tray or shallow pan and break up any lumps. Drain cranberries in a colander (over a bowl, if you’d like to save the liquid for cocktails or to reuse it for the same recipe) and shake them well to remove all the liquid. Dump the cranberries onto the sugar. Shake the tray or pan to coat the cranberries and sprinkle the remaining half of the reserved sugar onto damp berries that need more coverage. Use all the sugar. Carefully separate any cranberries that stick together and let dry for a few hours.

5) Serve immediately or within a few days. The sugar coating becomes more dry and fragile with time, so they’re best early on when they’re at their prettiest.

Drommar: Swedish dream reindeer antler cookies.

Actually just deer antlers, not reindeer antlers. I thought reindeer antlers sounded more, oh, Christmas-y. At least until we get to the part where we eat them.

Several years ago I bookmarked a Gourmet recipe for Drommar, or Swedish Dream Cookies, because it called for coconut, which I love, and ammonium carbonate, which piqued my interest. According to On Food and Cooking by legendary food geek Harold McGee, ammonium carbonate breaks down into ammonia and carbon dioxide and makes baked goods extra light and crisp. Due to the ammonia smell, it’s generally used only in small or flat foods like cookies and crackers where the smell can dissipate. It’s sometimes called “hartshorn” because it was made from distilled deer antlers.

Swedish Dream CookiesI don’t know if ammonium carbonate is still made from distilled deer antlers, and since I A) am not a journalist, B) am lazy, and C) don’t really want to know, I’m not making any phone calls to find out. You can purchase it here or here. If you’d like to make it yourself, I’m afraid I am not the person to ask. Even Mr. McGee does not provide that information. I did find that the rumored ammonia smell wasn’t that strong, manifesting mostly as flashback to my college dormitory bathrooms and the mop I had to grab whenever I waitressed in a retirement home dining room and dropped ice on the kitchen floor. The clouds of noxious gas that I thought would pour out of my oven and make me collapse on top of my silicone spoonula didn’t happen. Since cookie recipes aren’t usually fraught with unknown drama, I was kind of disappointed.

The cookies, however, did not disappoint. They ammonia smell disappeared, and they were as dry, crunchy, and light as expected. The ample sugar and sweetened coconut seemed excessive on paper, but the level of sweetness suited the crisp texture. The coconut and almond together made me happier than I thought they would—so happy that I’ve added this to my short list of go-to cookie recipes, especially since they’re easy to make and keep so well. They actually improve the day after after baking when the flavors seem to meld, which makes it a good gift cookie. It’s a simple, attractive, and unusual addition to any holiday sweets platter. I plan to make another batch to share on Christmas day.

Happy holidays, everyone. I wish you all sweet—and if you’d like, even Swedish—dreams.

SWEDISH DREAM COOKIES

Adapted from Gourmet
Makes about 55 cookies

The original recipe calls for flaked coconut, not shredded, and I’m not sure if there’s a difference. I used shredded coconut because that’s what I had on hand. If this recipe is a blasphemous travesty of a cookie and I’ve offended any Swedes, please feel free to make angry Swedish comments that I will not understand and will assume are about how great I am. Genuinely complimentary comments may be in English.

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The return of fruitcake, fruitcrack.

Oops. I did it again.

Before I get into another fruitcake story, a reminder that Menu For Hope ends this Friday and we’ve already raised $44,000. Or rather, we’ve only raised $44,000. We can do better! Go! Go and bid right now! Just don’t go and bid on what I bid on because I wanna win.

White FruitcakeSo it turns out that Korean-Americans like my fruitcake. A lot. Had I known that, I might not have offered it because I was kind of hoping I could keep it all for myself. My mom reports that they polished off the fruitcake before they made much of a dent in the pile of four different cookies I’d baked. Rumor has it that my aunt even took seconds. She never takes seconds.

The remnants of my original cake are still aging in my crisper drawer. What’s pictured here and what the Korean fruitcake theives ate is a second version baked strictly according to Steingarten’s original recipe this time. It uses for fruit a pound of candied cherries, a pound of candied pineapple, and a pound of golden raisins, and I used the required lemon extract instead of vanilla. It’s not as delicious as my first attempt but still great. The benefit of this version is that it’s much easier to slice because the cake doesn’t form a heavy crust. The problem is that the crust is where you get that thing where your eyeballs roll into the back of your head. I also found all the cherries too sharply sweet for my taste, though I liked the color that they added. In the end, I think the best cake is something between the two.

FRUITCAKE, FRUITCRACK, #2
Adapted from The Man Who Ate Everything, by Jeffrey Steingarten
Makes 2 large loaves, ideal for triceps presses
May also make 2 large loaves for gifts and one mini-loaf for personal consumption

The recipe reflects a compromise between flavor and ease of slicing. I still prefer the baking method in the first long-baked version, but I’ll use this one in the future to give as gifts—now that I know it’s popular—because it’s much easier to slice and still delicious. Besides, just how delicious should gift fruitcake be? People might break into your house and force you to bake fruitcake at gunpoint. For my own cravings, I plan to put some of the batter into a mini-loaf pan and bake it until well-browned like the first version, then age it and eat it without bothering to slice it. It’s just as good in rabidly torn off chunks as it in slices.

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