Tart cranberries and sweet apples pair up in a dish that works as a dessert, side or at your breakfast table.
Have we moved away from poaching fruit? Such a pity, because there’s something comforting and elegant to this method of cooking firm fruits, such as apples or pears. What I like about this recipe for Spiced Cranberry Poached Apples is the flavors get better the longer they hang out together. It’s also a wonderful way to use apples that are starting to look a little sad.
Mom and Bubba (granny) sometimes served “stewed apples,” which basically were slices of the fruit cooked in butter, sugar and covered with enough water to help soften the apples. In our house, it was served as a side to braised meat, roast pork or a with a sauerkraut supper. Delicious.
Pears poached in red wine, sugar and cinnamon is a recipe that dates to 18th-century France. Poached fruits and custards were common desserts, and pies and tarts showcased seasonal fruits. As more families gained access to commercially milled flour in the mid-19th century, cakes and cookies—as we know them today—became popular.
In the 1920s and 1930s, “quick mixes” hit the market—usually spice, yellow and white varieties—and in 1948, Pillsbury introduced a chocolate cake mix. Then came home baking trends (now classics) like Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Dump Cake and cobbler and Poke Cake. Intricately sculpted cakes of today are works of art, and innovations continue.
Pastry Arts magazine this spring reported several trends for 2021, including drinkable desserts (think of those monstrous milkshakes covered with candies and bits of cake or pie), cocktail desserts (strawberry daiquiri cheesecake), and savory desserts—sorry, peppered ice cream is just wrong.
I think Americans often forget that we really need just a little sweet after a meal to satisfy, yet restaurants continue to bring slabs of cheesecake and huge hunks of chocolate cake to the table. Yes, we could always say to the server “please bring four forks” and share it with the table, but we don’t always do that.
Now, I love a chocolate lava cake as much as the next guy or gal, but the lovely thing about fruit for dessert is it satisfies our sweet tooth but saves us some calories. For example, the one-cup serving of Spiced Cranberry Poached Apples is 520 calories and almost no fat, while a slice of chocolate layer cake can be 700 calories and almost 40 grams of fat. So, let’s get cooking.
For this recipe, which will generously serve two people, you will need:
1¼ cups water
¾ cup sugar
3 apples (medium size)
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
⅓ cup fresh cranberries
⅓ cup golden raisins
Bring the water, cinnamon, star anise, sugar and cranberries to a boil. (You’ll love the aroma that fills the kitchen.) Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until the berries pop. Meanwhile, peel and core apples; I had a couple of Red Delicious and a Jonathan apple left from my apple picking haul to prep. Depending on what you want your presentation to look like, cut the apples in half or quarter them, which is what I did.
Add the apples and simmer until tender (10 minutes or so). Be sure they are submerged into the liquid; you can crumble parchment paper, open and place on top of apples to help with this.
Remove the apples and set aside. Then bring the spiced liquid to a low boil and let it reduce in volume. It will thicken as it cools.
Remove the star anise and cinnamon sticks. Add the apples and raisins, stir, cover and refrigerate overnight. To serve, spoon fruit into small bowls and drizzle the syrup around them.
Chilled apples with a dollop of vanilla yogurt works for breakfast, or warm a few with the spiced syrup and top your morning oatmeal with the fruit. I think a mix of apples and pears would work in this recipe, too.
If you’re making it for more than two people, use ½ pound of apples and two cups of water. You may want to bump the sugar up to one cup, too.
And like the Slow Cooker Apple Butter, Spiced Cranberry Poached Apples would make a good food gift. It also would be a nice addition to a holiday brunch; I think I'm going to swap cranberry poached apples for my usual fresh cranberry relish for Thanksgiving this year.
Is there room at our tables for poached fruits and baked desserts worthy of a magazine cover? I like to think so, and I hope you'll give Spiced Cranberry Poached Apples a try soon.