While our lush forest of evergreen spruce, hemlock and cedar may not cater to the grand landscapes of color “leaf-peepers” seek out in upstate New York, the fall colors of our alpine and muskegs can feel just as magical, if in miniature. Sit yourself down on a mossy hillock in one of your muskegs and you’ll find yourself in the midst of golds, purples, wine reds, oranges and violets. You’ll also be at exactly the right level to notice the smattering of jewels, also known as cranberries, that are nestled on the surface of the moss.
The bog cranberries (Vaccinium oxycoccos) found in our muskegs are firm in texture and almost identical to the kinds of cranberries you find in the grocery store. These berries grow along an almost invisible little vine, which is why they look as if they just sprouted straight up from the moss, and do not grow in clumps, which can make gathering somewhat time-intensive. The upside? You get to enjoy all those beautiful fall colors! When fully ripe, these berries will be totally red, when a little under-ripe, the side of the berry touching the moss will still be yellow.
It seemed obvious to pair these tart berries with some of the gorgeous apples we have available right now, so what follows is a simple apple-cranberry bread, just sweet enough — but not too sweet — moist, delicious and scientifically proven to be a hit at your office potluck.
A note about creaming butter and sugar. I’m not a baker. But I do know there are couple of things that equate to magic when baking. Creaming butter and sugar is one of them. I’m also the kind of person who hates kitchen gadgets, but this is one of the times where it’s really worth having that stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Unless you’re Michelle Obama, your arms will probably give out on you while trying to fully cream butter and sugar by hand.
So what’s the point? I told you — magic! Or also something to do with air, insulation and density. And no cheating by trying to melt, or partially melt, the butter. It has to be cooler than room temperature. Not a lot cooler, but at least a little, so while you can help yourself out by taking the butter out of the fridge and letting it sit for 15-20 minutes, you don’t want to use fully gooey room temp butter.
Prep: 20 minutes active, 85 minutes total
• 6 tbsp butter
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup fresh cranberries
3 cups apples, medium diced
1 tsp lemon zest
½ cup toasted walnuts, chopped (optional)
Take butter out of the fridge and cut into cubes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If you’ll be adding nuts, toast them until just browned, chop and set aside. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about five minutes. Mix in each egg, one at a time. In a separate bowl whisk together all of your dry ingredients — flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer and mix until fully combined. Add the cranberries, apples, lemon zest, and nuts and mix until evenly distributed.
Grease your bread loaf pan (9-by-5 inches) and dust with flour. Scrape bread mix into the pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and your bread is nice and browned. Cool for five minutes, then remove the bread from the pan and let cool for another couple of minutes before slicing and serving.
• Erin Anais Heist is a food blogger in Juneau. Readers can contact her at foodabe.com, or on Instagram or Twitter at @erinanais. “Eating Wild” recipes publish every other week.