Last Thanksgiving I had decided this year I was going to meet the “Misses cranberries”. And by meet I mean knocking at their door, getting to know their place, having some talk and, with some luck, share a cup of coffee, just as Brazilians like to do.
So, October 7th we left home towards central Wisconsin, towards the Cranberry Hwy, a vast wetland stretched for almost 50 miles between Wisconsin Rapids and Warrens – yeah, because any fruit that worth its salt has its own highway.
What I should have guessed though is cranberries have a real character and strong personality. They don’t show up in each corner, they kind of preserve their privacy, unlike apples or pumpkins. After few hours of driving, dozens of century-old beds, a hundred thousand vines, we had spotted not a single berry. Furthermore, we were late for the show, mostly festivals had happened a week earlier and cranberries were already tired of acting like a fall celebrity.
But we could see they were still commanding a deep degree of public fascination. We came across a large group of tourists during a quick stop at the Cranberry Discovery Center and all marsh tours were booked, no spot for us. We had no choice but continue driving through the bogs hopping for something.
Suddenly, they decided to appear and, OMG, it’s no wonder cranberries have such a temper. They just sweep up all the colors of fall you are used to, bogging along the water’s surface with their rebellious red tone.
We immediately dropped in and stayed there, by the marsh, in contemplative attitude, trying to understand these elusive new friends. I guess I was too moved to talk.
But of course I brought some home with me and this is when we got a bit closer. It is the very first time I cook – or bake – with them and I have to say, we have pretty good chances to get along very well.
Another thing I brought with me was the book Wisconsin Cranberry Growers’ Favorite Recipes. Local cookbooks are one of the first things I look for when I visit a new place, I just love to collect them. And this one in particular is a little treasure, a collection of family recipes provided by who really know how to get the best of their product.
So, my cake was inspired by Ellen Potter Cranberry Upside-Down Cake recipe. The way she uses the fruit and pairs it with walnuts caught my attention. The only thing is she uses cake mix as base and I decided, since it’s for a special occasion, to come up with my own batter, an almond and orange zest cake.
Serve it with vanilla ice cream and hot cranberry compote on top and your Thanksgiving will have a happy end for sure!
Make the topping
Slice stick of butter in thin pieces. Distribute pieces evenly over bottom of a 8-inch round pan. Sprinkle walnuts over butter. Wash and dry cranberries; pour over nuts.
Add granulated sugar and brown sugar, spreading evenly over cranberries. And don’t be scared, it may seem a lot of sugar but it’s necessary to break the tartness of the cranberry and create a good caramelization on top of the cake. Set aside.
Make the cake
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Using the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, beat almond paste in low speed for 2 minutes or until it’s a little broken. Add sugar, increase speed and keep beating until the almond paste broke up as fine as possible. It may take a few minutes but you don’t want big lamps of paste in your cake.
Add butter and mix until pale in color and creamy, about 1 minute. Add eggs, one at a time, scrapping down the sides of the bowl if needed. Add orange zest and mix well.
Shift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Turn off the mix and add dry ingredients by hands in three batches. Don’t over mix!
Pour butter on prepared pan and bake for about 40-50 minutes. It can take longer depending on your oven.
Let it rest for 10 minutes and mold.
Serve with vanilla ice cream and simple hot cranberry compote.
Cranberry compote: put a cup of cranberries and a cup of sugar in a small saucepan and cook just after cranberries start to pop. Serve immediately.