Cranberries are certainly one of those quintessential items that every Thanksgiving cook includes when preparing the feast for this national holiday. I, for example, wouldn't dream of setting a turkey on the buffet without a garnish of cranberry relish or chutney nearby. And, even though these crimson-hued morsels are used most often in condiments, cranberries are quite versatile and can easily be incorporated into other parts of a Thanksgiving celebration, especially desserts.
This year I've been working on a Cranberry-Orange Torte to serve along with the traditional confections. The idea for the recipe came from several sources. For the cranberry topping, I was inspired by Richard Sax's cranberry-capped cake squares in his book, "Classic Home Desserts" (Chapters, 1996). And, the rich, buttery cake batter is a variation of that used in the plum torte in Marian Burros' "The Elegant But Easy Cookbook" (April, 1998).
To make the torte, cranberries, which have been tossed in an orange-flavored sugar syrup, are arranged in a single layer in a round cake pan. Next, a batter, scented with orange and cardamom, is poured over the berries. After baking, the cake is removed from the pan and inverted so that the cooked berries are on top and form a beautiful glistening crown. Best served warm, this dessert is delicious offered with scoops of vanilla ice cream.
Because I am always rushing to finish the turkey and side dishes on Thanksgiving day, I certainly don't like to worry about desserts, and this one, which can be baked a day ahead, needs very little last-minute attention. At serving time, the cake gets quickly reheated in the oven. Then all that is necessary is to slice it and scoop out the ice cream. This torte serves six, but the recipe can be doubled easily.
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 pint best-quality vanilla ice cream
Butter 1 (8-inch) straight-sided cake pan well and set aside.
To prepare Cranberry layer, combine sugar and orange juice in medium, heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves, 1 minute or less. Add butter and cook a few seconds more until melted. Remove pan from heat. Add orange peel and cranberries and stir to coat well. Spoon berries in single layer in prepared pan.
To prepare cake, cream butter and sugar several minutes with mixer set on medium speed. On slow speed, add flour, baking powder, cardamom, salt, eggs and orange peel and beat just to mix well. Pour batter over cranberries in pan using spatula to smooth top evenly.
Bake at 350 degrees on center rack until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan 10 minutes.
To unmold, run small knife around inside edge of cake pan. Cover pan with dinner plate and invert.
(Cake can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, cover with plastic wrap, and either refrigerate or leave out at cool room temperature. When ready to serve, remove plastic wrap and reheat in oven at 300 degrees until warm, 10 minutes or more.)
To serve, slice cake into 6 portions. Garnish each with scoop of vanilla ice cream.