Cranberries are, for me, one of the best things about late fall and they show up right in time, just as all of the other colors disappear. The ginkgo trees, always one of the last November holdouts, simultaneously ejected their green/yellow leaves last week and ever since, pretty much everything outside is looking rather… greige, but not like the charming shade of the boots I want. And then, out of nowhere, perfect red berries appear and things look up.
I love cranberries the way I do sour cherries in June, except cranberries are easier to come by (here, at least), keep longer, cost less, have less of a blink-and-you-missed-them season and freeze seemingly indefinitely perfectly. I think it would be chromatically impossible to find a more stunning shade of red than the one they collapse into when cooked. Yet taste-wise, I know they scare people because they’re aggressively tart and sour — they could make your average Eureka lemon seem like a wimp.
But this can be the best part. My favorite foods embrace contrasts — savory against typically sweet, salt against decadent desserts, caramelized crunch atop a rich casserole — and cranberries, especially twisted with sweet, rich ingredients like this ice cream I need someone to make for me right now, really get to shine.
You rarely see straight-up cranberry pies. They’re usually cut with chunks of apples or pears, seemingly afraid of their own intensity but I vowed this year to tackle my own at last. I found that the trick to making a palatable cranberry pie was to, yes, sweeten them more than I would other fruits, but also to provide a great contrast, here a thick cinnamon-scented, oat-and-pecan crumble on top, that’s finished, like all things worth eating, with a shower of powdered sugar, a good dollop of sweetened vanilla whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on top.
Thanksgiving is on Pinterest this year: The Smitten Kitchen Pinterest page is all decked out for November and December. Need more Pumpkin ideas? Savory or Sweet Thanksgiving ideas? Homemade Food Gifts? Or maybe just All The Cookies? So do we, and we’ve got you covered.
One year ago: Parsley Leaf Potatoes and Sweet Potato Cake with Toasted Marshmallow Frosting
Two years ago: Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Three years ago: Dijon-Braised Brussels Sprouts
Four years ago: Sweet Corn Spoonbread
Five years ago: Gingerbread Apple Upside-Down Cake
Six years ago: Walnut Tartlets and Cauliflower Gratin
Seven years ago: Chile Garlic Egg Noodles
Eight years ago: Wild Mushroom Pirogies and Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake (which I make every year, always)
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Carrot Salad with Tahini and Crisped Chickpeas
1.5 Years Ago: Two Classic Sangrias
2.5 Years Ago: Rhubarb Snacking Cake
3.5 Years Ago: Spring Salad with New Potatoes
Cranberry Pie with Thick Pecan Crumble
Despite the contrast from the brown sugar, oat, cinnamon and toasted pecan crumble on top, the shower of powdered sugar, the sweetened vanilla whipped cream or ice cream that I know you wouldn’t serve this without, this is still, at its core, a tart pie. It may not be for everyone, but it is definitely for us. Cranberries are excellent pie berries, it turns out, so high in pectin that you’re at little risk for a sloshy pie or “soggy bottom” (crust!). Par-baking the crust is optional, but of course will keep the base the most crisp. I like to cook this filling for a few minutes on the stove; it will probably be okay without it (just needing 10 to 15 minutes more baking time) but it gives you a chance to get the berries a little loose and lightly crushed, while reducing the overall baking time, which is, delightfully, under an hour. Note: Your topping will look less messy and loose than mine. I was a little distracted while baking this, and added too many oats.
Yield: 1 standard 9-inch pie (not deep-dish)
1 1/4 cups (155 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (6 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) fine sea or table salt
1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup (60 ml) very cold water, plus an additional tablespoon if needed
4 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (from 1 1/2 12-ounce bags)
1 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 to 2 more tablespoons, if desired, to taste
A few gratings of orange zest (yes, clementine zest works great here too)
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2/3 cup rolled oats or 1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon coarse or sea salt
3/4 cup pecans, toasted if you have the time
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Powdered sugar, sweetened whipped cream with a splash of vanilla extract or vanilla ice cream
Make the pie dough:
- By hand, with my one-bowl method: In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Work the butter into the flour with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles a coarse meal and the largest bits of butter are the size of tiny peas. (Some people like to do this by freezing the stick of butter and coarsely grating it into the flour, but I haven’t found the results as flaky.) Add 1/4 cup cold water and stir with a spoon or flexible silicone spatula until large clumps form. Use your hands to knead the dough together, right in the bottom of the bowl. If necessary to bring the dough together, you can add the last tablespoon of water.
- With a food processor: In the work bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and pulse machine until mixture resembles a coarse meal and the largest bits of butter are the size of tiny peas. Turn mixture out into mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup cold water and stir with a spoon or flexible silicone spatula until large clumps form. Use your hands to knead the dough together, right in the bottom of the bowl. If necessary to bring the dough together, you can add the last tablespoon of water.
- Both methods: Wrap dough in a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to 48 hours, or you can quick-firm this in the freezer for 15 minutes. Longer than 2 days, it’s best to freeze it until needed.
Form the crust: On a floured counter, roll the dough out into a 12 to 13-inch circle-ish shape. Fold dough gently in quarters without creasing and transfer to a 9-inch standard (not deep-dish) pie plate. Unfold dough and trim overhang to about 1/2-inch. Fold overhang under edge of pie crust and crimp decoratively. Return to fridge until ready to fill.
[Optional: If you’d like to par-bake the crust, once you’ve rolled it out, freeze it for 10 minutes inside your pie tin, until solid. Prick unbaked crust with a fork several times. Line it with lightly buttered foil. Fill with pie weights, dried beans or pennies. Bake at 400°F (205°C) on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove paper or foil and weights, and bake 5 to 10 more minutes until crust is golden brown and lightly crisp.]
Heat oven: (Or reduce oven heat, if you just par-baked your crust) to 375°F (190°C).
Make the filling: Combine all filling ingredients — no need to defrost frozen cranberries, they’ll just need a couple extra minutes to warm up — in a medium saucepan over medium heat. After about 5 minutes, berries will begin to leak juices. Cook, stirring for 5 minutes more until filling is loose. If desired, you can lightly crush the mixture once or twice with a potato masher, but try to leave most berries intact. Transfer filling to a bowl to let it cool slightly for 5 to 10 minutes while you make the crumble topping.
Make the topping: If using whole oats, grind them to a powder in a food processor. Add pecans and coarsely grind them too. Add remaining ingredients except the butter, pulsing a few times to combine. Add butter, pulsing until crumbles form. Sprinkle topping over cranberry filling.
Bake pie: For 45 to 50 minutes, until juices are bubbling enough that they splash a bit onto the crumb topping. If pie browns too quickly, cover top with a piece of foil for remaining baking time. Transfer to a wire rack to cool a bit before serving showered with powdered sugar and alongside whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.