cranberry-orange coffee cake; a winter pick-me-up

want to know a secret?  gardeners are optimists.  honest, scouts honor.  think about it for a minute; we put teeny, tiny little seeds into large dirt plots and assume plants will emerge.  as if that wasn’t crazy enough, we nurture those plants with the expectations of picking fruits and vegetables to feed ourselves.  in those terms, it almost sounds as if gardeners are a little on the crazy side.  and truth be told, we are.  who else but a dedicated gardener would go outside while the temperatures are just barely above freezing to plant peas and greens?  
by now, you must be wondering what gardening has to do with a winter pick-me-up of cranberry-orange coffee cake.  it actually has nothing to do with actual gardening but it does lead back to the gardeners themselves.  each january, the master gardeners of davidson county, tennessee, begin the annual 14 week training class.  every thursday evening, the new interns attend a lecture related to gardening and a few of the certified members, like myself, are on hand for mentoring, answering questions and offering support.  we also provide refreshments and snacks.  they quickly learn that i am known as “the cake lady from the demo garden.”  it could be worse, i suppose.  
with a schedule of lectures lasting 14 weeks, finding a new(or different) recipe for each week is a challenge.  oddly enough, chocolate by itself, does not go over well.  if it is a ribbon or a handful of chips, okay; but just chocolate, not so much.  having a few good base recipes and a well stocked larder make all of the difference.  the recipe for the cake in the photos can easily be manipulated to use different fruits with the same level of success as the cranberries.  it is the perfect “go to” recipe for someone who bakes frequently and tires of making the same thing again and again.  

one big advantage to this recipe is that the majority of it can be completed in the bowl of a food processor.  a few quick pulses to make the crumb topping, a few pulses more to coarsely chop the cranberries and a final round to cream the butter, sugar and eggs for the batter.  the batter is rather forgiving and nearly foolproof so even the least experienced of bakers can mix up the recipe using the food processor and be guaranteed excellent results.

simple manipulations, such as swapping lemon zest for the orange or blueberries for the cranberries will still yield a beautiful cake even if the fruit is frozen.  for the more daring, shred some zucchini and carrots, toss in a generous helping of walnuts and a bit of cinnamon.  this cake is also the perfect solution for using that last, over ripe banana or that lonely apple resting in the bottom of the basket.  whichever route you take, this versatile recipe is sure to produce a well deserved pick-me-up to brighten a dreary winter day.

cranberry-orange coffee cake
makes 1 (10″) tube cake serving about 16
crumb topping
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
1 cup fresh cranberries (can be frozen-do not thaw!)
12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 orange
3 eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup cinnamon sugar (3 1/2 tablespoons sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon)
to make the crumb topping, place the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and baking soda into the bowl of a food processor.  pulse a few times to combine.  sprinkle the butter cubes over the top of the mixture and pulse to cut it together.  continue to process the mixture until it begins to clump.  dump the mixture out of the bowl and set it aside.
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour the tube pan and set it aside.  place the cranberries into the processor bowl and pulse to coarsely chop them.  if they are frozen, do not thaw them or they will streak the cake batter so be sure to keep the chopped berries in the freezer until needed.
to make the batter, place the butter, sugar, salt and orange zest into the processor bowl and process until smooth.  with the motor running, add the eggs, one at a time and process until mixed.  scrape the bowl and pulse a few times to be sure it is combined.  dump the batter into a large mixing bowl; the rest of the recipe is combined by hand with a rubber spatula or a large wooden spoon.
place the flour and baking powder into a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift it over the batter.  sprinkle the cranberries over the top of the flour.  fold the mixture a few times to coat the berries with the flour and to begin incorporating them.  sprinkle the buttermilk over the batter and fold it together.  carefully place half of the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out so there are not huge gaps and vacant areas-it does not need to be perfectly level.  sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the batter in the pan and top it with the remaining batter.  sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the cake and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about 1 hour.  cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes and then remove it from the pan and allow it to cool completely on a rack.  
the cake is best cut when completely cool.  to store, keep it covered in a cake container at room temperature up to 2 days.  to store in the freezer for up to a month, cut and wrap slices well in plastic and place them in a plastic container or bag before freezing.  thaw the slices, still wrapped in plastic, at room temperature.

cranberry sauce with tangerines and cabernet

it’s that time of year again.  cranberry time.  every year i make a pot of cranberry sauce.  a big pot.  three bags at a time, minimum.  when the kids (my two girls and my cousin’s three boys) were young, we discovered that they would eat the fresh stuff by the bowlful!  as a result, i make at least three bags for thanksgiving and a couple more for christmas.

cranberries blend with so many flavors but i stick to a few that i know will work and the rest depends on what i have handy.  oranges will work but if i have tangerines or clementines, i prefer those.  ruby port is nice but i have used merlot, zinfandel and cabernet all with wonderful results.  apples, sure if i have one or two and i have thrown in a ripe pear before too.  but some things never change; there will always be a cinnamon stick, a vanilla bean and some star anise pods.

don’t you love the color?  that is one of my favorite shades of the season.  the recipe is a little like a pot of soup, wing it!  however, i will give you the basic proportions to help you out.

cranberry-tangerine sauce with cabernet
makes about 6-8 cups
3 bags of cranberries
3 cups sugar
2-3 tangerines or clementines (1-2 oranges, if preferred), zest and juice only
1-2 apples, any variety, peeled, cored and diced on the small side 
1 cup cabernet sauvignon (merlot, zinfandel, ruby port or other red wine)
1-2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 vanilla bean scraped, use the pod and seeds
2-3 star anise pods
to make it easier to remove them, put the vanilla pod(the seeds can go in with the rest of the ingredients) and the star anise into a spice/tea ball and hang it from the side of the pot.  place all of the ingredients in a large pot with 3 cups of water and bring it to a gentle boil.  continue to cook until the berries burst and cook down a bit and some of the liquid reduces.  the longer you cook it, the thicker it will be and the less sour the berries will taste.  remove the teaball and drain the liquid back into the pot and discard the vanilla pod and star anise pods and also remove the cinnamon stick, allow it to drain as well.  chill it completely before serving.  this is something that can be made as much as a week in advance so take advantage of that!

pear cranberry crumb cake with almonds

the calendar says spring but the weather says fall.  we seem to be having cooler mornings as if it were heading into fall.  why just last night, they issued a frost warning for our area.  if only our last frost date hadn’t been a month ago, i might not have minded it so much.  we have been working hard in the garden and beds have been filled with plants that cannot withstand such temperatures.  that said, it should not surprise anyone that i am baked a cake laced with pears and cranberries rather than the typical sour cherries or strawberries found this time of year.  

how can you not love a crumb topped cake?  especially if it is hiding a layer of spiced fruits!  if you take it a step further and add chunks of almonds to the crumb topping and a little almond paste to the cake-you have a heavenly excuse to put down the garden tools and take a cake break!

when cranberries come into season, i always tuck a few bags into the freezer.  it is a nice surprise when i am digging around in search of inspiration for a cake.  keeping a can of almond paste in the closet is a good idea too.  when i purchase a new can, i open both ends, take out the neat cylinder of paste and cut it into 4 equal pieces.  since the can contains 8 ounces of paste, i end up with 4 two ounce pieces.  by wrapping each in plastic and storing them in a container in the freezer, i always have some available.  and that means i always have another tasty inspiration for cake.

pear cranberry crumb cake with almonds
1 (8″) square cake serving 12-16

crumb topping
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter cut into cubes
1/4 cup chopped almonds

fruit filling
1 large, ripe pear-i used a d’anjou
1/2 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen and thawed
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

almond cake
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 ounces almond paste-at room temp
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 1/4 cup baking powder
1 cup milk

preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour an 8″ square baking pan and set it aside.  make the crumb topping by combining the flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon.  using your fingers, rub the butter cubes into the dry ingredients until it begins to form crumbs.  take care not to go to far with this step or the crumb layer will be gummy; they should still be somewhat free flowing and a mixture of loose dry ingredients and small to medium clumps with the oats still obvious.  add the almonds and toss it together gently.  set this aside.

peel the pear and cut it into cubes.  combine it with the remaining ingredients and set it aside while you prepare the cake layer.

to make the cake, cream the butter with the almond paste, sugar and salt until it is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  add the eggs slowly and scrape the bowl as you go.  place the flour and baking powder into a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift it over the batter.  fold it a couple times and then sprinkle the milk over the top.  fold this together until no streaks remain and then scrape it out of the bowl and into the prepared pan.  spread the batter out in an even layer.  top the cake evenly with the fruit and the sprinkle the crumbs over the fruit so that it is covered but peeks out in spots.  bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about an hour and 15 minutes.  cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes.  to remove the cake from the pan, place a baking sheet over the top of the cake and invert it.  the pan should slide right off.  place your serving plate over the bottom of the cake and invert it again.  now go out to the garden and eat cake!

if you need me, i will be out in the garden with cake…