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A Thanksgiving dinner essential, this easy cranberry sauce only takes 15 minutes to prepare, and can be done in advance!
Raise your hand if the only cranberry sauce you experienced as a kid was the canned kind.
It took me years to actually try the wobbly, jewel-like dish, and I wasn’t sure what to think about it even then.
But I’ve grown to love having it on my holiday dinner plate, and each year I make a batch — even if my kids avoid it like I did when I was their age.
Cranberry sauce is incredibly easy to make at home. You only need a few ingredients and a little bit of time. It also keeps well in the refrigerator, so you can knock one thing off your menu to-do list early.
How do you thicken up cranberry sauce?
To make this easy cranberry sauce, you only need a few base ingredients: cranberries, sugar, and an acid like juice. Cranberries have a lot of natural pectin, which is the starch that helps fruit juices gel when combined with sugar and acid.
To thicken cranberry sauce, make sure that you cook it long enough. You want the cranberries to “pop” so that the juices flow and the pectin can be released to interact with the other ingredients.
A cook time of 10 minutes on medium heat should be enough to achieve a cranberry sauce that is spoonable. Remember that it will thicken more as it cools.
If you prefer a thinner sauce, you can rewarm it before serving.
Can you overcook cranberry sauce?
If you’re not used to making fruit sauces or jams, it can be easy to overcook cranberry sauce.
Don’t have the heat on too high, which can scorch the sugars (and your pan). After bringing the sauce to a boil you’ll reduce heat down to a simmer.
Stir the sauce as it cooks. I cook mine until the spatula leaves a trail through it, but the jam quickly closes in behind.
Overcooking sauce leads to a rubbery texture, and you’ll have to start over.
Why is my cranberry sauce bitter?
Cranberries are naturally bitter, with a low sugar content.
If your sauce is bitter, you might need to use more sugar. I personally don’t like overly sweet cranberry sauce, so my recipe uses 1/2 cup sugar along with orange juice.
If you do want to use more sugar, add it in small increments so you don’t oversweeten. Keep in mind that the increased sugar can also thicken the sauce further, so keep an eye on consistency while cooking.
What can you add to cranberry sauce?
I make my cranberry sauce with a cinnamon stick, but there are many other flavors you can use to enhance your sauce!
Try adding grated ginger or diced jalapeño peppers for a kick.
Star anise and cardamom pods can be used like cinnamon sticks, and removed before serving.
Add vanilla extract or a tiny bit of bourbon at the end of cooking.
If you like dried fruits, they’re a good option too. Zante currents (which are actually raisins) and dried cherries are my favorite!
Do you eat cranberry sauce cold or warm?
Cranberry sauce is most often served cold, but I like to warm it before serving.
Warming the sauce helps thin it slightly and makes it easier to serve, and also does not bring down the temperature of the other foods on the table.
If you don’t want to use up valuable kitchen space to warm the sauce, letting it come to room temperature before the big meal works as well.
How long does cranberry sauce keep?
Like I said, I make my sauce early to free up my mental to-do list for Thanksgiving.
Cranberry sauce keeps in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
You can also freeze the sauce for one month. If freezing, be sure to use a freezer-safe container and leave room for expansion.
Let the sauce thaw in the refrigerator a day or two ahead of when you plan to serve.
If you have any leftover cranberries or cranberry sauce, you can use it on sandwiches of course, or you can try my cranberry breakfast bread, cranberry ice cream, or cranberry pecan streusel coffee cake.
Easy Cranberry Sauce
- 12 ounces fresh cranberries
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- Cinnamon stick
- Pinch salt
- In a small saucepan over medium high heat, combine ingredients. Stir to dissolve sugar and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cranberries will burst to release juices; once they are soft you can mash further with a potato masher, if you like.
- Pour sauce into a container and let cool. Sauce will thicken further as it cools. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
- Makes about 1 ½ cups.