I thought this recipe was from last year. The image of these cute, little, mini pies had been on my mind since last winter when I vowed to attempt them when fresh, fall cranberries came around again next time. Actually, this first appeared in Living magazine in November 2006, but it did appear again in a special holidays publication last year. I had the 06 article tucked away in my files, and I pulled it out last week to finally try this. The pasty is a citrus version of a pate sucree I've made before with the addition of lemon and blood orange zest. It occurred to me that I should make a big batch of these mini pastry shells and keep them in the freezer to use as needed. They would come in especially handy when I have some leftover pumpkin puree like I probably will later this afternoon. In this case, those handy pastry cups were filled with thickened cranberry sauce that was made in two stages. First, cranberries were cooked, and the juice was strained from the berries. Second, that juice was combined with whole cranberries to make a sweet, tart, filling with pops of flavor. Fluffy, toasted meringue topped it off.
The pate sucree was cut into four-inch circles which were crimped and fitted into twelve standard muffin cups. Each cup was lined with a small square of parchment paper, filled with weights and baked for fifteen minutes. The weights and parchment were removed, and the cups were baked for another five minutes or so. Once cool, they were ready to be filled. For the filling, first, fresh cranberries were brought to a boil with sugar and water. They were simmered until the cranberries burst and then passed through a sieve to extract the juice. The recipe states the solids should be discarded, but I'm getting more and more militant about not wasting food, so I kept the cranberry solids and enjoyed them on plain yogurt for breakfast. Next, the cranberry juice was returned to a saucepan, and sugar, lemon and blood orange zest, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and more whole cranberries were added. This time, the cranberries were cooked over a lower heat to prevent them from bursting. They should just become soft. Cornstarch was whisked into a mixture of blood orange juice and water, and that was added to the cranberries and juice to thicken it. Once cooked and cooled a bit, the filling was divided among the pastry cups, and they were chilled until set for at least an hour. Last but not least, a meringue was whipped to glossy peaks, spooned onto each mini pie, and the tops were browned under the broiler in about a minute.
While trying to get these pies done in less time than I should have planned to spend on them, the extra step of straining cranberries and then adding more whole cranberries seemed a little fussy. In the end though, I see why it mattered. The thickened juice nicely suspended the softened, whole cranberries in a way that a standard cranberry sauce would not have done. That being said, for a quicker version, a thick, sweet cranberry sauce would work fine here. Also, I'm always up for a meringue topping, but Kurt suggested that whipped cream would have been just as good. Either way, these festive, seasonal treats have earned a trip from my temporary, to-try file to my permanent, keeper file.