Generally speaking, my husband and I aren’t competitive. We’re big supporters of each other. When we jog together, Gus always runs at my pace, encouraging me along without complaint, even if that means he never breaks a sweat. But all of that changes in the kitchen. Near a stove, our ugly side tends to come out. It’s simple. We’re both sure that we’re the stronger cook. (The fact that I cook for a living doesn’t deter Gus one bit. Of course he’s wrong…but I sure do love his confidence. ) This year we decided to rebel against the spirit of generosity and community that usually accompanies the Thanksgiving season and settle the ongoing dispute with a little cookoff. Welcome to Cranberry Challenge 2013.
I realize that this is pretty much the epitome of dorkiness but I’m ok with it. I’m glad I have a husband who is willing to indulge. We decided that for Cranberry Challenge 2013, Gus would be in charge of dinner and I would be baking dessert. Cranberries made sense for obvious reasons. They’re nice and seasonal and work well in both savory and sweet applications.
I think Gus and I are pretty well matched. (In a lot of ways!) Technically I have a little more training but overall we’re similar kinds of cooks. This wasn’t going to be a foam vs. gelée competition. We both like to make simple, delicious, comforting food. I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing and inspired to work with Gus to make a lovely meal for our friends. That is, until he started laying down the smack-talk. Thick. He kept telling me that I should be scared and taunting me with what he decided were some really innovative ideas. Ay yay yay. All the more reason to crush him. Lovingly, of course.
The day of the challenge felt good. I got up early and took the first shift in the kitchen to finish up the cranberries I had soaked in simple syrup the night before. A pretty pop of color to decorate the cranberry dessert of my dreams. Next came marshmallow. I’m a huge marshmallow fan. I wholeheartedly support any marshmallow, in any application, from Peeps to S’mores. Recently I had been dreaming about a cranberry version. Sounds strange, right? Intriguing maybe? Marshmallows are basically just cute, fluffy, sugar bombs. I hoped the super tart berries would pair nicely with all that sweet and add a welcome tang to the familiar treat. I poured a little cranberry puree into my sugar mixture, cooked it up, whipped it good, et voila! Gorgeous, pillowy pink cranberry clouds. Turns out, I was right. Tang is pretty great in a marshmallow.
I couldn’t stop there. It was a competition after all. I enrobed them in some lovely semisweet chocolate and topped them off with those gem-like sugared berries. Cute as a button and tasty to boot. I had some extra time before Gus needed the kitchen so I whipped up a few more things, just to show off a bit. I put together a few little almond cake and marshmallow petit fours, a gluten-free cranberry streusel cake (recipe to come!), and some cranberry sorbet to serve with prosecco. Not a bad showing if you ask me.
So what was Gus up to? Well his day started out a little rocky. He spent way too much time shelling about a bazillion pathetically underripe cranberry bean pods that yielded roughly 15 anemic beans in total. In trying to be clever (and subvert the theme, I might add) the poor guy was duped at the farmers’ market. But in the end, I have to admit, Gus really did make a nice dinner. First off, he put together a wonderful cheese plate, complete with a tasty homemade cranberry-orange relish. (Which he insisted on calling a “preserve” for some reason.) For our meal, he roasted chicken thighs over a bed of sweet potatoes, (canned) cranberry beans, and cippolini onions. Straightforward and yummy. Dinner came with a side of drama thanks to his adorable Top Chef-esque performance, which included a dishtowel over the shoulder, hurried plating in a line, heavy breathing, and the occasional jog. I saw some kale languishing on the kitchen counter. I think that was supposed to be in the mix somewhere but during all the fanfare he forgot to cook it. What a goof. But then again, he did create a cranberry-themed music mix (which included Simply Red and Chuck Berry) for us to enjoy while eating. Touché.
In the end, our sweet friends decided it was a tie. (How rude.) I guess we couldn't expect them to choose between us. Gus and I will just have to agree to disagree on this. We may not know who the better cook is, but at least we have marshmallows to eat for a month. I would complain but my mouth is full.
Makes about 30
For the sugared cranberries:
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/2 cup cranberries
For the cranberry puree:
1 cup cranberries
For the marshmallows:
Vegetable oil for the pan
About 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, divided
2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin (from three 1/4-ounce packages)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup golden syrup
1 vanilla bean, scraped
For the chocolate coating:
1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped
1. Make the sugared cranberries: In a small saucepan, bring 3/4 cup sugar and 3/4 cup water to a boil and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool 3 minutes. Add cranberries and let stand until cool. Transfer to an air-tight container and refrigerate at least 24 hours. I used a smaller plastic container set inside the larger one to keep the berries submerged in the simple syrup.
2. To finish candied berries add remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar to a bowl. Drain berries and toss in sugar. Transfer to a baking sheet and let dry at room temperature.
3. Make cranberry puree: In a small saucepan, combine cranberries and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer and cook until berries have burst. Puree cranberry mixture until smooth.
4. Make marshmallows: Very lightly coat an 13x9 inch square baking pan with oil. Line pan with plastic wrap, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides; sprinkle evenly with confectioners’ sugar. Set aside.
5. In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water; let sit 10 minutes. In a medium saucepan, bring sugar, Golden Syrup, vanilla bean seeds, cranberry puree, and 1/2 cup water to a boil; cook until mixture registers 235° on a candy thermometer. With a mixer on low, carefully pour the boiling syrup down the side of the mixer bowl into gelatin mixture. Increase speed to medium-high. Beat until mixture is thick, light pink, and cool, about 10 minutes. Quickly transfer to pan and smooth top. Sprinkle top with confectioners’ sugar. Let stand until set, 2 hours.
6. Lift marshmallows from pan; discard plastic. Lightly coat a sharp knife with oil and use it to cut marshmallows into 1-inch squares. If you are serving the marshmallows as is, place remaining confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl and toss marshmallows to coat. If you’d like to coat them in chocolate, keep reading.
7. Either melt and temper the chocolate (instructions here) or simply melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Remove from heat and dip marshmallows in, shaking off excess chocolate. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and top with candied cranberries. Let set at room temperature (if you tempered your chocolate) or pop them in the fridge to set. Enjoy!