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story.lead_photo.caption Cranberry Pavlova (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

We love jellied canned cranberry sauce as much as the next gal — in fact, it is our preferred cranberry sauce for pairing with roast turkey — but we love the versatility of fresh cranberries even more.

With their deep red color and bright pop of puckery tartness, fresh cranberries are the perfect fruit for dressing up a holiday table — whether on your plate or centerpiece.

The following are some of our favorite ways to enjoy this seasonal fruit. If you can't find fresh cranberries, frozen will work in most of the following recipes.

Cranberries blended with granulated sugar add instant color and zip. Use this brightly hued sugar as you would regular granulated sugar anywhere you'd like the fresh zing of cranberries. It is particularly good as a rimming sugar on cocktails and in baked goods. Unfortunately, frozen cranberries will not work here.

Cranberry Sugar (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Cranberry Sugar (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Cranberry Sugar

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh cranberries (15 to 20 berries)

Combine sugar and cranberries in a food processor. Process until smooth and sugar is evenly colored.

To use as a rimming sugar: Spoon sugar into a shallow dish. Dip rims of glasses or mugs in cranberry sugar 2 or 3 times or until rims are thickly coated with cranberry sugar. No need to moisten rims first.

Makes about 1 cup.

Recipe from Ocean Spray

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Because of their assertive tartness, cranberries are usually partnered with loads of sugar. But don't overlook their savory side. Here fresh cranberries and citrus zest are dried in the oven and then blitzed to a powder and mixed with salt for a fragrant seasoning. Use it as a seasoning for vegetables and meats. It can also be used in place of plain salt in cookies, quick breads and other baked goods.

Cranberry-Citrus Salt (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Cranberry-Citrus Salt (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Cranberry-Citrus Salt

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (thawed if using frozen)
  • 2 cups boiling-hot water
  • 1 navel orange or grapefruit OR 2 lemons or limes
  • ½ to ¾ cup kosher salt

Heat oven to its lowest setting, usually 175 degrees or 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Place the cranberries in a medium, heat-safe bowl. Pour the boiling-hot water over the cranberries and let stand for 10 minutes or so. The cranberries will pop, and the skins will split. Drain the cranberries and pat dry with a tea towel.

Thoroughly rinse the citrus and pat dry. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest (colored part of peel) in wide strips.

Arrange the cranberries and the citrus peel on the prepared baking sheet. If you notice any berries that didn't split open, use the tip of a paring knife to pierce them; bake for 8 to 12 hours, or until the fruit is completely dry. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow to cool.

Transfer the dried cranberries and citrus zest to a food processor and pulse until mixture is ground to the texture of coarse salt. Transfer ground mixture to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and add the salt. Close jar and shake to mix well.

Mixture will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for several months. Or freeze for long-term storage.

Makes about 1 cup.

Recipe adapted from Food52.com

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Cranberries and citrus is good, but cranberries and chocolate is exceptional. In this recipe, fresh cranberries are whirled in a food processor with a bit of sugar until chopped and then mixed with semisweet chocolate and baked atop a shortbread crust. The bar cookies are finished with a drizzle of white chocolate.

Double Chocolate Cranberry Bars (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Double Chocolate Cranberry Bars (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Double Chocolate Cranberry Bars

  • ½ cup butter, melted, plus more to grease pan
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup PLUS 6 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided use
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided use
  • Salt (if using unsalted butter)
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (do not thaw if using frozen)
  • 1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 ounces white chocolate, melted, optional

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with parchment or generously grease with butter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, 6 tablespoons sugar and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon. (Add a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter.) Stir in the melted butter, mixing until no dry flour remains and mixture holds its shape when squeezed in your palm.

Press mixture evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan.

In a blender or food processor, whirl the cranberries, remaining sugar and remaining cinnamon until well chopped.

In a medium bowl, combine the chopped cranberries and the chocolate chips and mix well. Spoon mixture over the prepared crust, spreading into an even layer. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until set. If desired, drizzle with melted white chocolate. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Loosely based on a recipe in "Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts" by the Moosewood Collective

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Cranberry Almond Skillet Cake (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Cranberry Almond Skillet Cake (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Cranberry-Almond Skillet Cake

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
  • 1 ¾ cups cranberries, partially thawed if frozen
  • ¾ cup PLUS 2 tablespoons sugar, divided use
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup almond flour/meal
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 egg

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a large cast-iron skillet with butter.

In a small bowl, combine the cranberries, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and the vanilla extract and toss to coat; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining sugar, all-purpose flour, almond flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

In a spouted measure, whisk together milk and egg, then whisk in the melted butter. Whisk milk mixture into flour mixture until combined.

Scrape batter into the prepared skillet and smooth with a rubber spatula to fill skillet. Scatter the sugared cranberries evenly over the batter.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until puffed and golden.

Makes about 8 servings.

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Cranberry Pavlova

  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon white-wine vinegar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • For the Cranberry Whipped Cream:
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon Licor 43 OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract PLUS 2 teaspoons water
  • 2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, or to taste
  • Sugared Cranberries and Sugared Rosemary, for topping (recipe follows)

For the meringue: Heat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using an overturned bowl or a cake pan as a guide, trace a 9- to 10-inch circle onto parchment. Turn parchment over, marked side down.

Beat egg whites, cornstarch, salt and vinegar with a mixer on medium speed until foamy. Slowly add granulated sugar, mixing on medium speed. After all of the sugar has been added, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until stiff peaks form, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and gradually add the confectioners' sugar and then increase speed to medium-high, and beat until very stiff, glossy peaks form, about 7 minutes. Beat in vanilla extract.

Using a rubber spatula or a large spoon, spread meringue into marked, 10-inch circle on prepared baking sheet, forming a well in center.

Bake 2 hours; turn off oven and let the meringue cool slowly inside the oven.

For the Cranberry Whipped Cream: In a small saucepan, combine the cranberries, Licor 43 (or vanilla extract and water) and 2 tablespoons water. Heat, stirring very frequently, until berries pop and release their juices; reduce heat and simmer, adding water as needed, until berries thicken. Transfer mixture to a blender or food processor and process until smooth and then press mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any skins and seeds. Cool to room temperature or chill until ready to use.

In a deep bowl, whisk heavy cream until thickened and then gradually add the confectioners' sugar, beating until soft peaks are just starting to form. Add the cranberry puree and continue whisking until completely incorporated and mixture has the consistency of whipped cream. It will thicken quickly.

To serve: Carefully remove meringue from parchment paper and place the meringue on a serving platter. Top with Cranberry Whipped Cream, Sugared Cranberries and Rosemary. Serve immediately.

Makes about 8 servings.

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Sugared Cranberries and Rosemary

  • 1 cup PLUS 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided use
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • ¼ cup coarse sanding sugar, for coating (can use more granulated sugar)
  • Several sprigs fresh rosemary

In a small saucepan, combine the 1 cup granulated sugar and cinnamon stick with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Let cool several minutes, then remove cinnamon stick. Drop the cranberries, a few at a time, into the syrup to coat completely. Using a slotted spoon, remove cranberries from syrup and let the excess drip back into the saucepan. Roll cranberries in the coarse sugar to coat. Place on parchment to dry.

After you have coated all of the cranberries, coat the rosemary.

Dip each sprig of rosemary in the syrup and let the excess drip back into the saucepan. Coat rosemary sprigs in granulated sugar. Place on parchment until dry.

Strain and refrigerate the sugar syrup to use for sweetening cocktails or other beverages, if desired. Syrup will keep for about 1 week.

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