High Altitude Baking: Cranberry shortbread cake (recipe)
Editor’s note: 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 presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Meet cranberry shortbread cake — a holiday guest who happily contributes to brunch, provides a fine ending to dinner and even brightens the breakfast table. Its versatility is due to its simple, straightforward nature: two layers of sweet, rich shortbread cradle a filling of fresh, tart cranberries — pretty to look at and pleasant, but never overpowering, in taste and texture.
I make it over two days: On the first day, I prepare the shortbread dough and filling. Then, on day two, I get them in the pan and into the oven. The cake is best after an overnight rest, so I serve it on the third day and, if there are leftovers, for several days after that.
Cranberry Shortbread Cake
(Make in a 9½-inch springform pan. Yields 8-10 servings.)
2½ cups bleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
1 teaspoon baking powder
13 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 generous cups washed and picked-over fresh cranberries
Zest of 1 medium navel orange
2/3 cup superfine granulated sugar
2 pinches salt
3 tablespoons frozen cranberry juice cocktail concentrate
¼ cup seedless raspberry jam
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
2-4 tablespoons cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
Make the shortbread: Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse to blend well. Cut the butter into 13 pieces, add them, and pulse until the dough is like coarse meal. In a cup measure, whisk the egg, the yolk and the vanilla; add this to the bowl, and pulse until the dough is uniformly moist and almost makes a ball on the top of the blade. Dump it out onto a piece of waxed paper, and gently knead until smooth. Divide in half, form each half into a 6-inch disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 40 minutes or up to overnight.
Make the filling: Place the cranberries in a medium-sized saucepan, sprinkle the zest over them, and add the sugar, salt and cranberry juice concentrate. Set the pan over medium-low heat, and stir until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat so the mixture slowly simmers, and continue stirring until the cranberries pop, most of the liquid evaporates and the mixture thickens significantly (lots of the pan bottom should be visible as you stir). Add the raspberry jam, and stir until blended. Remove from the heat, and give it a taste; add more sugar, if desired. Cool completely. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate for up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. If the filling has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature. Remove 1 dough disc from the fridge, and roll or pat it into a rough 9½- to 10-inch circle. Unhook the springform pan, rest the pan bottom on the dough, and cut around it to make a circle of dough its exact size. Slip the dough circle on a plate and refrigerate it. Repeat with the second dough disc.
Lock the pan bottom back in place (rim side down, so it’s easier to cut the baked cake), and grease the pan with a vegetable oil-flour spray. Lay one of the dough circles in the pan bottom, and gently press it into place. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border around its outside edge. Top this with the second dough circle (if necessary, let it warm up enough to prevent cracking), and press it in place. Brush the top of the cake lightly with water, and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of sugar.
Bake until the top is light golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 33 to 40 minutes. Remove to a rack, cool 20 minutes, and then run a knife between the cake and the pan sides. Remove the sides, and let the cake cool completely.
If glazing: Whisk confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons cream and vanilla until well blended. Add more cream, a little at a time, until mixture reaches the consistency of molasses. Drizzle over cooled cake.
Store the cake, well covered, for four days at cool room temperature or chilled. It cuts perfectly when cool but is best served slightly warm (take care, the filling will get runny if it’s warmed too much) or at room temperature. So cut, and then re-warm the pieces. Ice cream or whipped cream are nice accompaniments.
Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm of Edwards), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.