Breaking The Cranberry Mold: New Ways To Savor This Seasonal Berry

Nov 25, 2015
Originally published on November 25, 2015 12:02 pm

The New England area where the Pilgrims first settled is cranberry country.

These early colonists likely enjoyed a version of cranberry sauce on their autumn tables — though it probably took the form of a rough, savory compote, rather than the sweet spin we're most familiar with.

For ideas on using this bitter red berry of the season in new ways this Thanksgiving, NPR Morning Edition's Renee Montagne turned to Chris Kimball, founder of America's Test Kitchen.

Here are his tips for going beyond the cranberry mold.

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Makes about 2 1/4 cups

Sometimes, a little embellishment can go a long way. To dress up the standard cranberry sauce recipe on a bag of fresh berries, add a bit of salt or a dash of Cointreau, Kimball says. "It's great. It's simple." This recipe also sprinkles in orange zest.

3/4 cup water

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries, picked through

2 tablespoons orange liqueur (such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier)

Note: The cooking time in this recipe is intended for fresh berries. If you have frozen cranberries, do not defrost them before use; just pick through them and add about 2 minutes to the simmering time. Orange juice adds little flavor, but zest and liqueur pack an orange kick.

Bring water, sugar, orange zest, and salt to boil in medium nonreactive saucepan over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Stir in cranberries; return to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until saucy, slightly thickened, and about two-thirds of berries have popped open, about 5 minutes. Off heat; stir in orange liqueur. Transfer to nonreactive bowl, cool to room temperature, and serve. (Can be covered and refrigerated up to 7 days; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.)

Cranberry-Orange Chutney

Makes about 3 cups

Kimball says chutney has a long history of showing up in seasonal meals — a recipe for the condiment appeared in the first American cookbook, Amelia Simmons' American Cookery, published in 1796.

"They had cranberry sauce, and don't forget they had a lot of game, so they used the sauce for everything," he says. "They made relishes, chutneys. They'd make jellies out of it or jams, and cranberry sauce goes great with game, so it was perfect."

The recipe below produces a tangy, jam-like relish that Kimball calls a "huge upgrade" over the standard back-of-the-bag cranberry sauce.

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 shallot, minced

4 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup water

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 cup packed brown sugar

12 ounces (3 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries

4 2-inch wide strips of zest from 1 orange, plus orange segments from 2 peeled oranges

Note: If using frozen cranberries, thaw them before cooking.

  1. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until just shimmering. Add shallot, fresh ginger, mustard seeds, and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until shallot has softened, 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Add water, vinegar and sugar. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add 1 1/2 cups cranberries, orange zest and orange segments; return to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have almost completely broken down and mixture has thickened, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add remaining 1 1/2 cups cranberries; continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to burst, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl and cool for at least 1 hour before serving. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Citrus Salad With Watercress, Dried Cranberries And Pecans

Serves 4 to 6

A salad with fresh greens might not be a common side dish at Thanksgiving dinner, but it's a good way to show off winter fruit like orange and grapefruit. Kimball sprinkles salt and sugar over the orange and grapefruit segments to draw out the excess juice. "Otherwise you end up with a pool of liquid at the bottom of your salad bowl or platter," he says. Top it all off with dried cranberries.

2 red grapefruit

3 navel oranges

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

1/2 cup pecans, chopped coarse

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small shallot, minced

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

4 ounces (4 cups) watercress, torn into bite-size pieces

2/3 cup dried cranberries

Note: You may substitute tangelos or Cara Caras for the navel oranges. Valencia and blood oranges can also be used, but since they are smaller, increase the number of fruit to four.

  1. Cut away peel and pith from grapefruits and oranges. Cut each fruit in half from pole to pole, then slice crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Transfer fruit to bowl and toss with sugar and 1/2 ­teaspoon salt. Set aside for 15 minutes.
  2. Melt butter in 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Add pecans and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer pecans to paper towel–lined plate and set aside.
  3. Drain fruit in colander, reserving 2 tablespoons juice. Transfer fruit to platter, arrange in even layer, and drizzle with oil. Whisk reserved juice, shallot and mustard in medium bowl. Add watercress, 1/3 cup cranberries and 1/4 cup reserved pecans and toss to coat. Arrange watercress mixture over fruit, leaving 1-inch border around edges. Sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup cranberries and remaining 1/4 cup reserved pecans. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

Serves 8

For the topping

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cups fresh or defrosted frozen cranberries

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cake

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

3 large eggs, separated

For the topping:

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9-inch round cake pan, line with parchment paper round, and spray with cooking spray. Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add cranberries, sugar and jam and cook until cranberries are just softened, about 4 minutes. Strain cranberry mixture over bowl, reserving juices.

Add strained juices to empty skillet and simmer over medium heat until syrupy and reduced to 1 cup, about 4 minutes. Off heat, stir in vanilla. Arrange strained berries in single layer in prepared pan. Pour juice mixture over berries and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

For the cake:

Process almonds and 1/4 cup flour in food processor until finely ground. Add remaining flour, baking powder and salt and pulse to combine. Whisk milk and extracts in measuring cup. With electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time, until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of milk mixture.

Using clean bowl and beaters, beat egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks, about 2 minutes. Whisk one-third of whites into batter, then fold in remaining whites. Pour batter over chilled cranberry mixture and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes, then run paring knife around cake and invert onto serving plate. Serve.

Tips: We encountered two recurring problems with this recipe. Cranberries shed a surprising amount of liquid, which can make the cake quite soggy. Precooking the cranberries causes them to release liquid, which can then be reduced to a thick syrup.

We also had trouble with the topping sticking to the pan. Keeping the sugar to a minimum and removing the cake from the pan before it fully cools solves this problem.

To get this cake to come out of the pan cleanly, allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes and gently run the tip of a paring knife around the outside of the cooled cake. To flip the cake, first cover it with a clean serving plate and invert so that the plate is on the bottom. Then, using a straight upward motion, carefully remove the cake pan, shaking gently as needed to get a clean release of the cake and topping.

Recipes reprinted by permission of America's Test Kitchen.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


You might have noticed this show has a thing for cranberries, most notably Mama Stamberg's shocking, pink concoction that makes an appearance every year. And this Thanksgiving, Chris Kimball, founder of "America's Test Kitchen," joined Renee Montagne with a box full of cranberries and the intention of going beyond the cranberry mold.

RENEE MONTAGNE, BYLINE: And that's how it happened that we gathered in my kitchen around a glistening, jiggling cranberry mold right out of the sixties. Chris brought it as a reference point, meaning I had to take a bite.

It tastes exactly like I expected it would.

CHRIS KIMBALL: Well, since I brought it for you as a housewarming gift, I guess it was the perfect choice, Renee, because I'm leaving it for you.

MONTAGNE: OK then, on to tips on how to use cranberries in new and different ways, like adding a bit of salt or a touch of Cointreau.

KIMBALL: You might say cranberries should be the quietest person at the party because it's all about the turkey and the mashed potatoes and the gravy. But if you want, you can dress up the recipe that's on the back of the bag of fresh cranberries in the supermarket, and it's great. I mean, it's simple. We added a little orange zest and a little orange liqueur as well.

MONTAGNE: Oh, wow.

KIMBALL: I know, well...

MONTAGNE: Here we go.

KIMBALL: Forget about the orange. You can tell with the salt - I know it sounds stupid, but it's quarter-teaspoon - it really enhances the flavor.

MONTAGNE: Next, Chris tackles a recipe with a long history of showing up on an autumn table - cranberry chutney.

KIMBALL: As early as 1796, the first American cookbook, Amelia Simmons' "American Cookery," they had cranberry sauce. And don't forget they had a lot of game, so they used the sauce for everything. They made relishes, chutneys. They'd made jellies out of it or jams. And cranberry sauce goes great with game, so it was perfect.

MONTAGNE: For his chutney, Chris sautees ginger, mustard seeds and shallots in a saucepan then adds cider vinegar, a cup of brown sugar along with the segments of two oranges. There are three cups of cranberries, but Chris saves half of that for later and adds only half now.

KIMBALL: First half we're cooking almost as a base. And we often do this in cooking. We'll take half of a fruit, for example, or vegetable, cook it down, and then add the raw stuff a little bit later so it retains more of its texture, because you want some texture. It is a chutney, after all. I know I shouldn't be excited about my own food, but this is a huge upgrade over the back of the bag. I mean...

MONTAGNE: This is...

KIMBALL: ...It's really good.



MONTAGNE: And it's also very tangy.

KIMBALL: I mean, I would say it doesn't look as good as the Jell-O mold. I mean, the Jell-O mold's definitely got it going visually. I mean, we have to give it credit.


KIMBALL: But, you know, this tastes about 10 times better.


MONTAGNE: Up next, Chris goes wild. He's planned something that is rarely seen on a Thanksgiving table - a salad with fresh greens.

KIMBALL: We've completely lost our minds. So this is watercress, some dried cranberries, some pecans and orange and grapefruit segments.

MONTAGNE: And here's a tip - Chris sprinkles salt and sugar over the orange and grapefruit segments to draw out the excess juice.

KIMBALL: Otherwise, you end up with a pool of liquid at the bottom of your salad bowl or platter.

MONTAGNE: Which is always yucky.

KIMBALL: Yucky, yes. We - great minds - yucky. That's the word of the day.

MONTAGNE: After draining the juice, Chris spreads the orange segments out on a platter, then drizzles them with good olive oil. This is the base of the salad. And then he makes a quick dressing using the drained juice with some ingredients we've already been using this morning - minced shallots and mustard.

KIMBALL: Now, mustard is an emulsifier, which means it will help keep the ingredients together. So the mustard, as you can see, makes a creamy dressing.

MONTAGNE: Chris pours that dressing onto the watercress along with toasted pecans and dried cranberries, all of which gets piled on top of the citrus.

KIMBALL: Light, tasty. You want something - one thing, at least - that's fresh.

MONTAGNE: At least one thing.

KIMBALL: No, no, just one thing. I don't want more than one thing.

MONTAGNE: (Laughter).

KIMBALL: I mean, Thanksgiving's not about fresh, right? I mean, it's about long cooking, except the simple salad. There you go.

MONTAGNE: There you go.


MONTAGNE: Now for dessert. Surprise - a cranberry upside down cake. For this recipe, butter and cranberries go into a skillet, then add sugar and raspberry jam.

With all that sizzling there, do you want - do you want an apron?

KIMBALL: I'm the only person wearing, you know, a Brooks Brothers suit and a bowtie cooking for Thanksgiving, but these are going to start popping any moment.

MONTAGNE: After I grab Chris an apron, he finishes cooking that cranberry mixture. Now for the batter - flour, eggs, milk, vanilla and almonds finely ground, all put into a mixer.

Can I take a taste of the batter?

KIMBALL: Sure. It has raw egg in it.

MONTAGNE: I'll just live dangerously. Mm, the batter is so good.

KIMBALL: So now, you take the better, and you pour it on top of the cranberry mixture, which has been chilled. And a good trick is you just take the cake pan, move it back-and-forth, slam it down a little to get rid of some of the air bubbles.

MONTAGNE: All right.

KIMBALL: It's good to go into the oven. So 35, 40 minutes. Let it cool, then it flips out, and you have a right-side-up upside down cake.


MONTAGNE: That's very elegant and super delicious.

KIMBALL: You notice that both of us are actually eating the whole slice?

MONTAGNE: That's right. This was not a mere taste. This was an inhalation.

KIMBALL: Cranberry inhalation - maybe that's - yeah.

MONTAGNE: (Laughter).


MONTAGNE: This will shake up the cranberry tradition of my Thanksgiving this year.

KIMBALL: From the frontlines of the cranberry revolution, reporting from Renee Montagne's kitchen, have a great things giving.


WERTHEIMER: And not to worry if you weren't writing all that down - Chris Kimball's cranberry recipes are at our website, Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.