Tag Archives: agave syrup

Oven Dried Cranberries: What I Learned

I want to put dried cranberries and sausage in my Thanksgiving turkey roll, but I don’t really need the extra sugar used in commercially dried cranberries, and the unsweetened kind are not available in any local stores I know of. Ideally, I would use a dehydrator, which I have wanted for years, but I don’t have one now, so I have to use the oven method. There seem to be two schools of thought on preparing the cranberries before drying: (1) cut the cranberries in half to prevent little berry explosions in the oven, or (2) pop the skins quickly in boiling water. After breaking the skins, methods vary on additives—sugar or artificial sweeteners to combat tartness, oils to moisten and prevent clumping—and on how to use the oven. I’m going to add an artificial sweetener plus vegetable oil to one batch and nothing to the other batch.

Oven Dried Cranberries: Two Methods

  • Servings: made about 2-3 cups total
  • Difficulty: easy
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Method 1: Sweetened and Quick-Dried

Recipe Source: http://alldayidreamaboutfood.com/2012/11/stocking-your-low-carb-pantry.html

Preheat oven to 200°; line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

  1. Rinse one 12 oz bag of cranberries and dry on a towel. Remove any stems.
  2. Cut berries in half and place in a large bowl.
  3. Stir in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons of agave syrup—you could use other artificial sweeteners, but I think liquids would work better than powders. The source suggests no-sugar-added fruit syrups, also.
  4. Spread out cranberries on baking sheet and dry in oven for about 2 hours. The source recommends 2-3 hours, but I think even 2 hours was too long. I pulled them when it looked like a few might burn, probably the result of the oil and sweetener. At first some were a little crunchy, but after sitting in an airtight container for a few hours, they took on the right chewiness—also probably the result of the oil and sweetener.

All in all, I recommend this method, but you need to watch the berries carefully in the oven after the first hour. I didn’t add a lot of sweetener, but I think it had a small effect that would make them good for snacking, and as soon as this post is done, I’m putting some in a bowl with almonds for just that purpose. After they cool, put them in an airtight container to develop chewiness.

Method 2: Unsweetened and Slow-Dried

Recipe Source: http://www.cranberries.org/cranberries/recipes_dried.html

Preheat oven to 350° about 10 minutes before freezing period is done; line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

  1. Rinse and remove stems of one 12 oz bag of cranberries; pour in strainer that fits in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Pour water over berries and let sit for a few minutes until skins pop. You will hear the skins pop as soon as you begin pouring the water over them. When the popping quits, lift the strainer, draining the berries as much as possible.
  3. Spread out the berries on the baking sheet and place in freezer for 2 hours.
  4. Preheat oven 10 minutes before taking berries out of freezer.
  5. Place sheet of frozen berries in oven, then turn the oven off and let the berries sit in the oven *overnight.

*What is overnight? For me it would be 8 hours; for others it might be 4-5, so this step is not clear. Maybe it means at least 4 hours (?). I don’t know, but I know that my gas oven goes stone cold long before 8 hours, and I have a hard time believing that the berries dry without heat. So, I took them out after 4 hours and they were going nowhere. Maybe the idea of freezing them for two hours works if you are using a dehydrator, but I’m thinking that most of the initial heat in the oven went to thawing my berries. So, I ended up doing steps 4-5 two more times, turning the oven on to 200° for the last round.

I don’t recommend this method using the oven. Maybe it would be different in a dehydrator. Popping the skins in boiling water results in crispy balls of air after drying. I threw them away.

A side-by-side comparison of the first two tries:

comparison1

One More Try: Freezing the Berries First

So, I’m going to do both methods again, at the same time, but with adjustments. I had two more bags of cranberries, but they were in the freezer where I usually store cranberries. Note to self: get some more. I let them thaw for an hour, then proceeded with the above methods.

  1. I cut one group in half and coated them with just 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, but no sweetener. I don’t see why I need them to be sweetened either for the stuffing or to use in baked goods.
  2. I popped the skins of the second group in boiling water.
  3. Both went into the 200° oven on separate sheets.
  4. After one hour, I checked them every half hour and took them out after 2 1/2 hours.

Results:

  • Thawed frozen berries are wet and squishy to begin with, so cutting some in half required a thin, sharp serrated knife. Those berries, with a little oil, came out similar to the ones that weren’t frozen, with some chewiness. Clearly, it’s the oil.
  • Pouring boiling water over thawed berries seemed to make them lose even more of their interior. When you lift them out of the bowl and the remaining water is pink, you know a lot of your flavor is lost. These were even crunchier than the first batch. I can’t recommend the boiling water method at all.
  • Just for fun (?), I tried reconstituting some of each to see if they react like raisins and plump up. The halved ones did, but the other ones were still like leather, hollow leather.

I have to question why so many sites suggest the method of popping the skins in boiling water first, and I wonder if it’s one of those recipes that people repeat without testing first. As I said, maybe it would work in a dehydrator, but it does not work well in the oven, at least not for cranberries.

Apple-Walnut Gingerbread Cobbler

I know it won’t last, but I’m wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt today, and declaring it fall. I’m combining two fall flavors that I love in this dessert—apples and gingerbread—but not going in the typical direction of muffins or nut bread. Why not put them together in a cobbler, where both the apples and the gingerbread shine on their own, but work even better together?

I’m using Annie Somerville’s “Gingerbread” from her Fields of Greens (1993) cookbook, with two changes. I’m using agave syrup instead of corn syrup and sour cream instead of buttermilk. I like this recipe because the focus is on the fresh ginger. There is only a small 1/4 cup of molasses, a little brown sugar, but no other spices. No cinnamon, no cloves, no nutmeg. Just lots of grated ginger—1/2 cup! With all that ginger and only a little molasses, the batter is much lighter in color than a traditional gingerbread. I did add a half teaspoon of cinnamon to the apple mixture, but that was a small amount for five apples.

Apple-Walnut Gingerbread Cobbler

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Preheat oven to 350°; butter a 9 inch square or round baking dish with at least a 2 inch depth.

Apple Filling

5 medium-large apples, pared and cut in chunks or slices

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup white sugar

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

Optional: 1 tablespoon flour, if your apples are very juicy

Gingerbread

Adapted from Annie Somerville’s “Gingerbread,” Fields of Greens (1993).

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, room temperature

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 egg

1/4 cup molasses

1/4 cup agave syrup

1/2 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup grated fresh ginger

  1. Pare and chop apples. Keep apples in bowl of acidulated water while making batter. Roughly chop walnuts and set aside with the rest of the filling ingredients.
  2. Beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  3. Beat egg, molasses, and agave syrup. Add to creamed butter and brown sugar, beating well.
  4. Beat in sour cream.
  5. Mix dry ingredients and slowly mix into batter.
  6. Lastly, mix in the 1/2 cup of grated ginger.
  7. Strain apples, then mix with melted butter, nuts, cinnamon, salt, and sugar (and flour, if using).
  8. Pour apple mixture into prepared dish.
  9. Pour batter over apples, lightly spreading almost to edges of dish. It will spread out more as it bakes, and will be less likely to burn on the edges if you don’t spread it all the way.
  10. Bake until the gingerbread is browned and cracked and the apples are bubbling around the edges. That took about 45 minutes in my oven. Unlike baking gingerbread in a baking pan where it touches the pan all around, the bottom of the gingerbread cooks with the apples, so it takes a little longer.

Do try some warm with whipped cream.

Cookie Fail

These cookies went into the trash so fast that I didn’t even get a pic of them, which is too bad, because they looked deceptively good.

I tried some shortbread with almond flour instead of wheat flour and agave syrup instead of honey or sugar, lots of butter and vanilla for flavor. It seemed like a good idea if it worked, replacing all those high-glycemic carbs, but still getting a cookie. The “dough” was very soft, but I figured that if I shaped it into a log and refrigerated it, I could cut off slices easily enough after the butter set up. That worked out. In fact the cookies looked like cookies, and even puffed up a little on baking, although they browned too quickly, way too quickly. I had to take them out after about 12 minutes at 350° and while the edges were brown, the rest of the cookie was underdone. I could move them after cooling and hold them to eat, but they were way too soft for a shortbread, which is one of my favorite cookies. Worse, they just had no body or depth of flavor and they left a gritty nut residue all over my mouth. I also felt there was an aftertaste, maybe from the agave?

I’m sorry (for myself), but that’s not a cookie. A substitute for a cookie is not a cookie. I’ll just have an apple, instead.

 

A Buttermilk Week

It started with the buttermilk dressing for the chickpea salad of the last post, but like all buttermilk recipes, one leads to another, because no one here wants to drink the stuff, so I have to use it up. Next I made my husband these nice Chocolate Buttermilk Muffins from Jen’s Favorite Cookies; they have a nice moist crumb and two kinds of chocolate. Luckily there are a few left for a photo:

double_chocolate

Today, I’m making some Soft 100% Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls from An Oregon Cottage to go with my Smothered Cube Steaks and gravy. It was just a matter of picking a recipe that made a gravy to sop up with the rolls. The only change I’m making to the recipe is using agave syrup instead of honey, and for that reason, I might lower the oven temp to 325° as agave can brown more quickly. I’m not reprinting the recipe, but here are a few thoughts on how it worked out:

  • I read some of the responses to the original post, and found that a few people found the dough hard to work with. I didn’t have any trouble with it and thought it was extremely easy to handle. It was not a sticky dough, as a few people mentioned—it was a soft dough, but not sticky at all. I used the full amount of flour and it kneaded very nicely. I was able to roll it out easily after the first rise with almost no extra flour on my mat.
  • I didn’t have much luck with the recommended shaping of the rolls, but in a similar fashion, I held the dough for one roll in both hands, turning under the edges as I rotated it until all the edges were in the center on the bottom and the top was slightly domed. Then I did pinch those edges together to finish the shaping. This is how I have always shaped rolls.
  • Like the recipe author, I was not expert at cutting the dough in equal parts. I used a pizza cutter to cut the flat oblong, but was wildly inaccurate. I tried to get them rolled in similar sizes, but in the end, didn’t worry about the few small ones.
  • I did bake them for the full 20 minutes at 325° and they browned nicely.
  • As the original states, they really are very soft, while still having a nice wheat flavor. My husband ate 6 for dinner!
  • Yes, the recipe is correct in asking for 2 tablespoons of active dry yeast. It seems like a lot, but I suspect that’s what helps the other ingredients make a soft roll.

Here are my working photos:

That still leaves enough buttermilk for at least one more dish and I’m considering some orange scones, or buttermilk pie, or maybe a lemon bar made with buttermilk. Whatever it is, I’ll post it.