High Altitude Baking: Cranberry-almond clusters (gluten-free recipe)
Editor’s note: High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Sweet but tart, crunchy yet chewy, these cranberry-almond clusters highlight the success of combining opposite tastes and textures. Coarsely chopped almonds and soft dried cranberries are lashed together by a dab of sweetened egg white and a thin coating of semisweet chocolate. The result is a light, very flavorful little morsel with a touch of refinement and abundant appeal.
I turn to this recipe often during the holidays because they’re quick and easy to make, have a long shelf-life, travel well and are quite versatile. They’re delicious when nibbled alone and just as delightful as a companion to fruit, sorbet, custard and many other desserts.
Two things to keep in mind: To assure the lovely play between textures, use only dried cranberries that are moist and soft from a newly opened package. And don’t make these little gems on a humid day; they’ll be sticky.
Gluten free. Makes 28 to 30 cookies.
1 large egg white
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds (chop before measuring)
1/3 cup soft dried cranberries
4 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1 to 2 teaspoons canola oil
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the lower third position. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or nonstick aluminum foil and set it aside.
Step 2: Bring about an inch of water to a very low simmer in a skillet (or use a double boiler for this step). Put the egg white and brown sugar in a heatproof mixing bowl and whisk only to combine; don’t let the mixture get frothy. Place the bowl in the skillet of hot water and stir the mixture with a heatproof silicone spatula only until the sugar is dissolved and the egg white has thickened slightly; don’t let the egg white cook.
Step 3: Remove the bowl from the water, add the chopped almonds and dried cranberries, tossing and stirring until all are evenly coated with the sweetened egg white. Make mounds with a level tablespoon of the mixture, about an inch apart, on the lined cookie sheet. If necessary, use your hands to shape the mounds; they should all be the same size and nicely rounded, a little higher than they are wide. If you need to use two cookie sheets, bake them one at a time.
Step 4: Bake until the nuts are golden and the egg mixture has colored slightly and is set but still slightly soft when gently touched, 8 to 14 minutes. Remove the cookie sheet to a cooling rack. Let the cookies cool completely before removing them from the paper liner. Lift carefully with a metal spatula. If the cookies stick to the paper, they need to be baked a little longer; return them to a warm oven for a few minutes.
Step 5: Finely chop the chocolate, place it in a small, fairly narrow microwaveable bowl, and melt it in a microwave at a low temperature (3 or 4 out of 10, for example). Remove it when there are still some small lumps of chocolate visible. Add 1 teaspoon of canola oil and stir until all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. If the mixture is quite thick, add more canola oil until it is a consistency that will thinly coat the bottom of each cookie. Either brush the chocolate on the bottom of the cookies or carefully lift each cookie, dip the bottom in the chocolate, and gently shake it over the bowl to remove any excess. Place the cookies on a piece of parchment, nonstick foil or a silicone mat. If there is any chocolate left, drizzle it in thin lines over the tops of the cookies. Let the chocolate set (some time in the refrigerator will speed this up). Store airtight in a cool dry place for up to a week.
Vera Dawson, author of the new high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds,” is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen and altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.
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