cranberry syrup (and an intensely almond cake)

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Almond cake, schmalmond cake… Can we just talk about this syrup? I got briefly and over-enthusiastically into making fruit syrups this summer when this September arrival forced me into a mocktail kinda lifestyle. I had quickly dismissed all of those new grown-up sodas everywhere; they were either too sweet or their so-called “natural” nature was a theory easily poked holes in upon a cursory glance at the ingredient label. Wouldn’t it be easier to just make my own fruit syrups and stir them into a glass of seltzer? I did alright with a rhubarb and a mango syrup, but they were really nothing to write home, er, I mean to you all, about. It took me a while to get back to the drawing board.

I understand that homemade fruit syrups probably don’t sound particularly exciting from the outset, but do consider all of the things that you can do with them: beyond the aforementioned homemade sodas, imagine splashing it in some champagne, if you’re fancy, or building a cocktail around it. You can swirl it into your morning yogurt or splash it over your oatmeal. It would be a tasty swap for maple syrup over pancakes, if maple syrup isn’t your thing (but if it is not, who are you?) or an accent to a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Or, as this cranberry syrup did a couple nights ago, it makes a easy, delicious dessert sauce for the kind of cake that needs some contrast.

Now, about the almond cake. I told you about this one a zillion years (okay, 21 months) ago, but to refresh: if you’re into almond confections, this is a great recipe to keep around. Do you have a tube or can of almond paste in your cabinet? You can make this in in under an hour, as I did on Sunday when I realized people would be joining us for dinner.

It was spring last time I made this, so the strawberry-rhubarb compote was a good fit, but this cranberry syrup (after remembering the bag I’d stashed in the freezer after it went unused Thanksgiving week) might just trump it — the color is stunning, the flavor is sharp but toasty from a caramelized sugar base and the whole thing came together in ten minutes. I’m sold.

Is it warm where you are? I’m jealous. But I’ll be nice and note that if you can get fresh strawberries, this strawberry coulis is what I consider the warm weather equivalent of this cranberry syrup. I wouldn’t swap the fruits in these recipes, however; I think strawberries taste better fresh and cranberries are always tastier cooked.

Thomas Keller’s Almond Cake [Gâteau aux Amandes]: In the archives.

One year ago: Light Wheat Bread
Two years ago: Pickled Carrot Sticks
Three years ago: Artichoke Ravioli with Tomatoes

Cranberry Syrup
Adapted from an Epicurious recipe

1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh or thawed frozen cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup water

Cook sugar in a dry 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, undisturbed, until it begins to melt. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally with a fork or flat whisk, until sugar is melted and turns a deep golden caramel. Tilt pan and carefully add cranberries and water (caramel will harden and vigorously steam). Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring, until caramel is completely dissolved, then pour syrup through a very fine sieve into a heatproof bowl, pressing hard on solids. Let cool.

To use: Stir into sparkling water, sparkling wine, drizzle over ice cream or yogurt or puddle underneath an intense almond cake.

Play around: Stir in a couple inches of scraped vanilla bean pulp with the cranberries for a cranberry-vanilla syrup. Add a tablespoon of orange zest in with the cranberries for an orange-hinted cranberry syrup.


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