The first time I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my family about a dozen years ago, I made cranberry sauce from scratch.
It was my first time doing so. And my last.
I simmered fresh cranberries with orange zest, sugar and a dash of Cointreau, until the berries started to plump and pop, and the whole mixture thickened nicely.
It was fresher, zingier and more lively tasting than anything out of a can. When I set it on the table, I sat back proudly, waiting for everyone to dig in.
Everyone tried it. Then, everyone asked pretty much in unison, “Uh, where’s the stuff from the can?”
And that is why I have never made it again.
You see, as gourmet as it was, and as delicious as it was, that’s not what my family wanted. They grew up — and I grew up — with the Jell-o-like cranberry sauce that plopped out of a can in one big ol’ can-shape. That was what they wanted. That was what they longed for at that one time of year when they could rightly have it. So, why should I deny them?
Oh, I still buy fresh cranberries every November. Bags of them that I tuck away in the freezer to enjoy well into spring. But I use them for everything but cranberry sauce. They go into savory dishes to add a brilliant burst of color and a wonderful sweet-tart accent. They also go into plenty of baked goods for those same reasons.
Like in these “Cranberry Corn Muffins.”
The original recipe is actually “Raspberry Corn Muffins.” It’s by one of my favorite pastry chefs, the Bay Area’s Emily Luchetti. And it’s featured in her cookbook, “The Fearless Baker” (Little, Brown and Company), which was written with Lisa Weiss.
With cranberries on my mind at this time of year, I thought: Why not sub out the raspberries for them instead?
They worked perfectly. I gently stirred them (you can use fresh ones or frozen, unthawed ones) into the easy batter. The muffins bake up tasting like moist cornbread with the juicy berries flavoring every bite. Baking the muffins on high heat also gets them deeply golden brown with crisp edges.
This Thanksgiving, you can bet the canned blob of cranberry sauce will be on my table. But these muffins loaded with fresh cranberries will be savored the morning after.
After all, I gotta get my fresh cranberry fix in some way, some how.
Cranberry (Or Raspberry) Corn Muffins
(Makes 12 muffins)
1 cup cornmeal
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk or 3/4 cup whole milk mixed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 cups cranberries or raspberries
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease the cups of a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter or fill with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, stir the cornmeal with the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In another medium bowl, whisk the eggs and buttermilk, then whisk in the butter and honey. Using a rubber spatula or large spoon, stir in the flour mixture until the batter is evenly combined and no dry streaks are visible. Add the cranberries (or raspberries) and gently mix until everything is barely blended — to keep the muffins light it’s important to not overmix the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling equally. Bake until a bamboo skewer or toothpick inserted into the middles of the muffins comes out clean and the tops are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then use a small paring knife to pop them out of the cups.
Adapted from “The Fearless Baker” by Emily Luchetti and Lisa Weiss
More Cranberry Recipes: Cranberry and Apple Kuchen
Plus Another “The Fearless Baker” Recipe: Coffee-Orange Angel Food Cake