I love cranberries. Something about that fall flavor just tastes awesome. That said, they can be pretty stinkin’ tart when you just taste one. The kiddo found out the hard way because when we cook together, he insists on tasting every single ingredient. It got me thinking about the science behind cranberries and a way we could learn by experimenting while we cook!
Cooking on it’s own is quite the science experiment, because combining different ingredients in specific amounts can affect things like rise, and heat or cold can change textures, too. But this time, we were specifically investigating cranberry science.
Before you even start to cook, there’s plenty of fun to be had with cranberries. First, Ketchup insisted on taking a taste of the berry… and I captured this reaction. You see, a cranberry on its own is incredibly tart– very unlike the sweet sauce we all know. The sauce has a lot of added sugar, which helps the cranberry’s case a bit.
Hold out a few cranberries, or go ahead and try this before you start– bounce a cranberry and see what happens. Seriously, if you didn’t know, cranberries actually BOUNCE when they’re ripe! This has a lot to do with how cranberries have a thick, taut skin. As a cranberry softens, bruises, or lacks ripeness, it simply falls a little flat and isn’t prone to bouncing. But taut, ripe cranberries? They’ll bounce when dropped. It’s quite like how cranberry makers separate the fresh berries from the not-so-great ones– the bounce them along and the ripe ones hop up onto a conveyor belt, with not-so-great ones going to compost instead. Try it with your kids– bounce the cranberry and see what happens!
You’ll want to heavily supervise the cooking of this recipe– it’s a stovetop recipe with some tendency to splatter– but it’s a simple recipe that’s plenty easy for kids to try.
Start by combining 2 cups of granulated sugar with 1 1/2 cups of water. Talk your child through the dissolving process while you whisk– you’re changing two separate ingredients, sugar and water, into one ingredient, a solution called a “syrup.” What’s cool about this is that what will start as sugar and water will become white and then turn clear as the sugar dissolves. Combine the two ingredients over medium heat and your kids will be amazed when it turns totally clear!
Once the syrup boils, it’s time to pour in the cranberries. You’ll want to add in 4 cups, or roughly a bag of them. Encourage your children to observe two very important things– first, the berries will float.
Why does a cranberry float? Well, if you were to cut a cranberry in half, you’d notice large pockets of air near the seeds. These pockets of air make the cranberries very buoyant, or cause them to float. Cranberry harvesters use this to their advantage– just before the harvest, they flood the area and use machines to separate the floating berries from the plant. It’s a very effective way of picking up all of the berries for harvest (and to eventually bring them to your table!)
The air pockets will cause one other reaction– they’ll make the cranberries BURST! As the syrup you made heats up the berry, it’ll make the air pocket expand. When it’s expanded too far, POP! The cranberry will open up.
But the thing that blew Ketchup’s mind the most was the simple fact that we were able to make a jelly-type substance without the use of gelatin. You see, for most jelly-type substances, you’d include a gelatin of sorts. For example, if you’re making a harder gummy, like a fruit snack, you’ll need a lot of gelatin. So why don’t you need gelatin for tasty cranberry sauce? Because the skins of cranberries, among other fruits, contain pectin! Pectin is a naturally occuring substance that causes the same gelatinizing effect like gelatin does, meaning your cranberry sauce, if prepared correctly, will firm up like a gelatin.
To do this, when you add the cranberries, turn the heat up to high and stir– remember, they will burst and can cause a splatter effect, so be sure to have your kids stand back during this part! You’ll notice the color gets richer and redder, and then after about 10 minutes, you’ll feel a noticible firming of the solution. At this point, turn it off and go through your favorite canning process or pour it into a sterile heat-safe glass bowl to cool. (You can refrigerate it for up to two weeks, so make it now and it’ll still be great at Thanksgiving!)
Remember, the cranberry sauce will stay pretty hot after cooking, so be sure to cool it or blow on it before you eat it if you’re tasting right away! Ketchup couldn’t wait, so we blew on it together. (Kitchen tip, by the way… using baby spoons as tasting spoons is a great way to encourage “little tastes” to get a feel for seasonings and flavors, without your child diving into the bowl with a giant bite).
Trust me, this is the cranberry sauce that you’re going to want to serve at your table this Thanksgiving. But be sure to hold some back, because you’re going to want leftovers to make the delicious chocolate cranberry braid I’m going to show you… and if you put it all on the table, trust me, it’ll be gone.
The cranberry braid is super simple… in fact, if you wanted to make it easier, you could use storebought cranberry sauce instead of fresh, but that’s up to you. We used the stuff we just made.
On a parchment lined pan, unroll a crescent roll sheet. Down the middle of it, with plenty of room on the sides and at the ends, pour on half a cup of cranberry sauce.
Top the cranberry sauce with chocolate chips (or swap those out for white chocolate chips!) and nuts– we only had slivered almonds on hand, but walnuts would be delicious, too! To prevent some of the “bleeding” that we experienced, make sure your cranberry sauce is chilled before you start.
Cut an even number of 1 inch slices along each side of the filling, fold in the ends of the braid, and then fold the strips over each other, alternating sides, until you’ve reached the end. Sprinkle with a little bit of raw sugar or granulated sugar, and you’re ready to bake!
Pop your braid into the oven at 375 for about 11-12 minutes until it’s golden brown, then let it cool for about 10 minutes before you cut into it.
I know it’ll be hard to wait to cut into it, but trust me,t his braid is worth every second of that wait. It’s golden, it’s delicious, and it’s the perfect blend of sweet and tart for your holiday breakfast.
- 1 can crescent roll sheets dough
- 1/2 cup cranberry sauce
- 1/4 cup chocolate chips or white chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup nuts (such as walnuts or slivered almonds)
- Roll out dough on a parchment lined pan.
- Spread cranberry sauce down the center, leaving room on the sides and ends.
- Add chocolate and nuts on top of cranberries.
- Cut slits 1 inch apart on each side of the filling.
- Fold in ends, then fold slits across filling, alternating sides, to make a braid effect.
- Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 375 for 11-12 minutes.
- Let cool 10 minutes before enjoying.
- To make homemade cranberry sauce for the filling, combine 1 1/2 cups water and 2 cups sugar on the stovetop. When it comes to a boil, pour in 4 cups of cranberries and increase heat to high. Stir for 10 minutes or until sauce has thickened, then transfer to jars or heat-safe glass bowl to cool. Store extra for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
Let your kids share their cooking experience and the science they learned behind this great chocolate cranberry braid and cranberry sauce at the table, and smile knowing that not only did you teach them a valuable life skill– cooking– but also shared a delicious recipe with some science packed inside.
What’s your must-have Thanksgiving dish, and what do you love to cook with your kids? Let me know in the comments below! Don’t forget to come back to the blog to check out my roundup of other cranberry posts from super talented bloggers who are part of the Social Fabric community! I’ll be back with those recipes on the 30th, but for now, bon appetit!