Cranberry Vodka & Candied Vodka Cranberries
The very first vodka infusion I ever made, many years ago, was a cranberry vodka. I returned to this flavor for the holiday season, inspired by a 5 lb bag of fresh cranberries which the Midwestern Gentleman brought back for me from a marathon in Wisconsin.
Most of the time, I discard the fruit I’ve used to flavor an infusion. That’s because most fruit is stripped of both flavor and color after a week soaking in a potent solvent like 80-proof alcohol. However, cranberries have proven to be every bit the antioxidant powerhouse they’re touted as — even after producing an intensely colored and flavored vodka, the soaked cranberries were still going strong on both color and flavor. The cranberry-loving Midwestern Gentleman requested that we repurpose them somehow, so I decided to candy them. Cranberries undergo a gorgeous transformation after a few minutes of simmering in sugar syrup; they turn into shimmery, translucent jewels of an impossibly brilliant hue.
I covered some of the candied vodka cranberries with dark chocolate (delicious — scroll down to the end of this post to see the photo) but most of them I jarred in their own syrup, simply because they were too pretty to cover up.
2 to 3 cups fresh cranberries, halved
1 liter triple-distilled vodka
As you slice the cranberries in half, pay attention to what they look like on the inside.
A fresh cranberry is white and spongy-looking on the inside. If the interior of the berry is red, then the fruit has already started to rot. Discard these overripe berries, or they will impart a rotting-fruit sort of flavor to the vodka infusion.
Put the berries in a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pour the vodka over the berries. Tighten on the lid of the jar, give the mixture a good swirl, and set it in a cool, dark place to infuse.
Shake the jar daily for about a week, or until the infusion has reached the desired strength. Then, strain the infusion back into the original vodka bottle through a funnel lined with several layers of cheesecloth. Save the strained fruit to make candied vodka cranberries (recipe below).
This vodka will have a thick, silky mouthfeel as a result of the pectin that cranberries contain. Store this infusion in the refrigerator; if you keep it in the freezer, it will freeze solid because of the pectin.
Candied Vodka Cranberries
2 to 3 cups vodka-soaked cranberries, strained
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
Optional: 3-4 drops of orange extract
Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a heavy, medium saucepan. Add the cranberries, lower heat to medium-low, and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until cranberries turn translucent. Remove from heat and stir in the orange extract, if using.
Let the cranberry mixture cool to room temperature, then pour into a glass bowl and refrigerate until cool.
Scoop into sterilized jars, pour any remaining cooking syrup over them to cover, and store in the refrigerator.
Optional: (1) Drain the candied cranberries and roll them in granulated sugar. Serve immediately. Sugared cranberries are sensitive to humidity, so the sugar coating will melt into syrup if not eaten right away. (2) Alternatively, drain the candied cranberries and dip into melted dark or bittersweet chocolate. Lift with a fork and gently place on a sheet of parchment paper to let the chocolate cool and harden.
Addendum: I used the candied vodka cranberries in a brie en croute last night in place of jam, and it was awesome. The flavor of the cranberries really stood up to the assertiveness of the goat’s milk brie I used. Mmm.