I’m still new to this whole Christmas thing, which makes me a bit like a kid in a candy store. I’m not alone, I think, in those who inherit Christmas by marriage. After decades of watching through the windows as neighbors decorate trees and rip open mountains of gifts, it’s hard to contain the enthusiasm when we finally get a piece of the pie. There is just so much of it. It’s all encompassing. Cookies to make, stockings to stuff, gifts to wrap, trees to decorate, cartoons to watch, cards to read, carols to sing… and it goes on.
My mother-in-law has Christmas down to a science. On the Friday after Thanksgiving the snowmen and nutcrackers march out of the closet. The Christmas mugs appear, full of cocoa. The carols find their way into the CD player, and the tree bursts out of the living room floor, complete with star on top. Cookies and fudge explode from the kitchen in a month-long stream, and wrapping paper tumbles down from the attic, ready to embrace gift after gift after gift.
It’s taken a while, but I’m getting the hang of it. I’ve learned the merits of the dollar store for stocking stuffers, and even have an annual Christmas outfit, complete with a beautiful bright green silk blouse. And while my in-laws certainly produce enough Christmas treats for all of us, I’ve even started to bring Christmas into my very own kitchen.
I discovered candied cranberries last year too late for Christmas. I made them to cheer myself out of the post-holiday blues, and they were lovely. Check out that original post here. The original recipe was so simple, just cranberries, sugar, and water. Simple, easy, and even a bit healthier than all those cookies and chocolates.
But this year I took these festive little treats a step further, adding orange blossom water to delicately flavor the sweet confection. As you bite through the crispy sugared outer shell and the tart berry bursts in your mouth, the perfume of orange flowers fills your head. Exotic and a bit mysterious, orange blossom water works beautifully to elevate the humble holiday cranberry. I bought a bottle of orange blossom water at a local Middle Eastern store, and have been finding ways to sneak it into everything (it is fantastic in rice pudding). I believe, though, that brands differ in strength and concentration. So while a couple teaspoons worked perfectly for me, I would urge you to play with the amount of orange blossom water to your taste.
These berries would be fantastic packaged in little jars as holiday hostess gifts. Or put out a little bowl to snack on and they will be gone in minutes. I’ve been loving them over waffles and even as a decadent addition to my morning oatmeal. We’ve always gobbled them up rather quickly, but just in case you manage to save some, know that they don’t last for much more than a week before getting quite soggy. And this should be obvious, but another word to the wise… don’t use those cranberries that have been languishing in the fridge since Thanksgiving. You might be able to get away with an old package of berries for cranberry sauce, but not for candied cranberries.
Orange Blossom Candied Cranberries
1 cup water
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
1 cup fresh cranberries
Bring the water, orange blossom water, and one cup of sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir until the sugar dissolves and then remove from the heat. Let cool 10 minutes and then add the cranberries and cool completely. Transfer the cranberries and sugar-water to an airtight container and let sit at room temperature at least 6 hours or overnight. Spread the remaining sugar on a plate. By the small handful, shake excess liquid from the cranberries and then roll them in the sugar. Place the rolled berries on a baking sheet to dry. Repeat with all the berries and then allow to dry for at least an hour.