High Country Baking: Whip up this frozen holiday cranberry torte, if you're in a pinch for dessert | VailDaily.com

High Country Baking: Whip up this frozen holiday cranberry torte, if you’re in a pinch for dessert

By Vera Dawson
Special to the Daily
Top this torte with optional chocolate drizzle and homemade whipped cream.
Vera Dawson | Special to the Daily

High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column, published on Thursdays, presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.

The winter holidays are here; they’re always a magical time. But they’ll be a little different for us this year. Some of us won’t be joining family members miles away or hosting friends at home. Yes, we’re playing it safe, but that doesn’t mean we won’t enjoy special meals featuring the tastes of the season.

This torte, starring cranberries, works anytime from November until the new year. I turn to it when I need a dessert that’s celebratory but also quick and undemanding. Cool, creamy, studded with sweetened cranberries, complemented by a hint of citrus and a hit of chocolate, it’s a fine way to end a heavy meal. And it couldn’t be easier to make. In fact, school-aged kids could prepare it with only a minimum of adult supervision. 

Its success depends almost entirely on the cranberry sauce you use. A homemade one is a perfect choice, but commercial ones work fine as well, just be sure you like the taste. I find the ones that come in a glass container are usually more flavorful than those in a can. But if canned ones are all you can find, I’ve included ways to doctor them up and make the taste more complex and pleasing in the recipe below.

Frozen Holiday Cranberry Torte

Works at any elevation

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Make in an 8 ½ inch shiny metal springform pan


1 cup chocolate wafer crumbs (20 Famous chocolate wafers)

2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


½- ¾ cup whole berry cranberry sauce, homemade or commercial

1-3 tablespoons granulated sugar, preferably superfine, optional

2-3 tablespoons sweet orange marmalade, optional

1-2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate or orange liqueur, optional

6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

14 ounces (one can) sweetened condensed milk

1/3 cup lemon juice (about 1 ½ lemons)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate Drizzle, optional

2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Whipped Cream, optional

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream, cold

1-2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Grease the pan with a baking spray that contains flour and set it aside. Combine the wafer crumbs and two tablespoons of the melted butter in a mixing bowl and stir/toss to combine well. Press the mixture between your fingers; it should hold together. If it doesn’t, add more of the melted butter, a teaspoon at a time, stirring it in, until it does. Add only enough to make the crumbs hold together; too much butter will make a tough, hard-to-cut crust. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan and level it. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until set and aromatic. Cool completely, then place in the freezer while making the filling.
  • Make the filling: Stir the cranberry sauce until it’s loose. Give it a taste: if you like it as it is, there is no need to add any of the optional ingredients. If you want a stronger or complex taste, stir in some sugar and one or both possible orange additions. Start with the smaller amount, give it a taste, and add more to your liking. Set the sauce aside. Cut the cream cheese into six pieces, add them to a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice and vanilla. Fold the cranberry sauce into the mixture, scrape it onto the cold crust, cover and freeze until it’s firm, at least seven hours or overnight.
  • Make the Chocolate Drizzle, if using: When the torte is firm, finely chop the chocolate and place it in a one-cup measure or small bowl. Heat the cream in a microwave oven or on the stovetop until it’s close to boiling, pour it over the chocolate, cover, and set aside until the chocolate melts. Stir until the mixture is smooth and shiny then let it cool until tepid but still pourable. Be careful: if it’s too warm it will melt the filling. Drizzle it decoratively across the top of the frozen dessert, still in the pan and return it to the freezer, covered.
  • Make the whipped cream, if using: Chill a bowl and the beaters of your electric mixer: this helps the cream whip quickly. Pour the cold cream into the cold bowl, along with the sugar and vanilla, and beat until stiff peaks form. Use a star tip to pipe the whipped cream around the outer edge of the dessert. You can serve it now or return it to the freezer for at least an hour or up to two days. Cut it with a sharp, thin-bladed knife, pushing straight down rather than using a sawing motion.

Dr. Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). She’s lived in Frisco since 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at veradawson1@gmail.com.

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