It's Peak Cranberry Season

cranbundtcake.jpgWhen I was a kid and my parents took us out for breakfast, I always ordered a glass of cranberry juice. I loved the way it sparkled like rubies in a glass. But most of all, I loved its mouth-puckering tartness that sent shivers down my jaws when I drank it. (Even typing that sentence caused the same reaction.)

Now that I'm all grown up, I no longer drink cranberry juice. Maybe my taste preferences have changed, or maybe I've just become a wimp.

Fresh cranberries, however, I adore. And since cranberry season peaks between October and December, now is the perfect time to buy them.

In the fall, cranberries are used most commonly for cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving Day, yet they have so much more potential. They balance the sweetness of baked goods such as pumpkin muffins and banana bread. They add a jolt of flavor to homemade sweet apple sauce. And they perk up fall vegetables, such as butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

Cranberries are a powerhouse of nutrition as well. 1/4 cup of fresh cranberries contains only 12 calories and is loaded with health-promoting fiber, Vitamin C, and antioxidants.

So the next time you're at the market, pick up a bag of fresh cranberries, and let their mouth-tingling tartness take action.


Spiced Sweet Potato, Cranberry, and Pecan Cake with Orange-Cinnamon Glaze

Serves 12-16
This cake tastes even better the next day, so it's ideal for a holiday brunch. 

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder 
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups cooked mashed red-skinned sweet potatoes or garnet yams
3 large eggs
1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans, plus 2 tablespoons for optional garnish
1/2 cup chopped Medjool dates (or prunes)
2/3 cup frozen, unthawed cranberries, coarsely chopped
zest of 1 orange (about 1 tablespoon)

1 cup confectioners' sugar
zest of 1 orange
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
several droplets of milk

1. Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter or coat with cooking spray a 9-10-inch Bundt pan.

2. In a large bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

3. In a separate bowl, add butter and sugars. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter and sugars. Add the sweet potatoes and eggs and beat. Add milk, honey, and vanilla, and beat.  Add the flour mixture in small batches, beating after each, until just incorporated. Stir in pecans, dates, cranberries, and orange zest.

4. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding. Cool  at least 30 minutes before glazing. 

5. Icing: In a small bowl whisk 1 cup confectioners' sugar, orange zest, and cinnamon. Add a few droplets of milk, and continue whisking until the icing is smooth and thin yet clings to the back of a spoon. Using a spoon, drizzle the icing in the grooves of the cake. Garnish with a few orange zest curls and/or chopped pecans, if desired. Allow to set for at least 15-20 minutes before slicing.


Susan Russo is a free lance food writer in San Diego, California. She publishes stories, recipes, and photos on her cooking blog, <Food Blogga and is a regular contributor to NPR’s <Kitchen Window. She is also the author of  Recipes Every Man Should Know and The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches.