Essential Thanksgiving Recipe: Spiced Cranberry Sauce

updated Jan 29, 2020
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Thanksgiving is less than one week away! You’ve got your turkey taken care of, and mashed potatoes practically make themselves. But do you have a recipe for my very favorite holiday condiment: cranberry sauce?

(Image credit: Megan Gordon)

My family have always been pretty staunch cranberry relish people. We’re all about raw cranberries and orange rind just because it’s what our mom does and what her mom did. No one really questions it; no one would sing the praises of the relish either. It’s not something we all necessarily look forward to like, say, pumpkin cheesecake. It’s just always there.

Unlike many other households, there isn’t any simmering on the stove, there’s very little fanfare; most of us just take a little dollop to be polite and move on with the meal. But that’s not how it has to be. There is something very gratifying about simmering cranberries, a little bit of honey, and warm fall spices on Thanksgiving afternoon.

(Image credit: Megan Gordon)

Actually, the nice thing about this recipe is that you can make it up to two days before you’re going to serve it and, if you’re anything like us, you can use these days to dollop it on your waffles, toast, and even in your squash soup. Who knew that cranberry sauce could straddle so many lines, from sweet to savory and right on back to the holiday table.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

I have to say that after experimenting with this recipe, I’m no longer in the raw-cranberry-and-orange rind-camp. I’ve been converted. I’m now in the soft-velvety-spiced-cranberry-camp. A happy convert and I think you will be, too.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce

Serves 4 to 8

12-ounce bag of cranberries, bruised ones discarded, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2- to 3-inch cinnamon stick
4 green cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Zest from 1 orange, about 1 tablespoon
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, optional

Bring the cranberries, honey, brown sugar, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, nutmeg, cloves, and 3/4 cup water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Cover the mixture and allow it to simmer on medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the cranberries are just beginning to burst and you notice the mixture thickening.

Add the orange zest, chopped candied ginger, and Grand Marnier and stir to combine. Simmer uncovered for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. The trick is to not allow the mixture to simmer so long that all of the cranberries are bursting or softening. You don’t want your sauce to be too mushy — I always pull it from the heat once a few cranberries begin to pop and the liquid is mostly absorbed (it will continue thickening off of the heat source as well).

Using a small kitchen spoon, scoop out the cardamom pods and cinnamon stick. The cardamom pods should have lightened in color significantly and should be easy to find. Transfer the sauce to a shallow bowl and let it cool completely.

It may be made several days in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator. Best served at room temperature.