Why You Don’t Need a Recipe to Make Cranberry Sauce

published Nov 18, 2014
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(Image credit: AnjelikaGr)

Cranberry sauce is the bright little gem on an otherwise rich, savory Thanksgiving menu. Even if you only eat it once a year, it’s hard to imagine a plate of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes without that dollop of sweet-tart sauce on the side.

And while you can just buy and open a can of the stuff, cranberry sauce is hands-down the easiest thing to make from scratch from Thanksgiving, and you don’t even need to use a recipe. Here’s how to do it!

You Only Need 3 Ingredients

The most basic cranberry sauce has only three ingredients:

  1. Cranberries – Fresh or frozen? Doesn’t matter here since you’re going to be cooking them down. If you’re using frozen, don’t even bother thawing them.
  2. Liquid – While water is usually the default liquid for making cranberry sauce, you can change things up and swap in more flavorful ingredients like orange juice or or apple cider.
  3. Sweetener – Ever try a cranberry on its own? Super sour, right? Cranberries sauce needs to be tempered down with sweetness, so you’ll need regular sugar, maple syrup, or your favorite sweetener. Try not to go too exotic or you’ll mask the flavor of the cranberries.
(Image credit: Emily Han)

Optional Additions

Cranberry sauce is easy to spice up or add a fun twist to, and here are some of our favorites:

  • Spices – Try a cinnamon stick, star anise, or a pinch of dried ginger or whole cloves. A few slices of spicy fresh ginger would be great too.
  • Citrus – Fresh orange and lemon peels add a nice citrusy kick.
  • Booze – A tablespoon of brandy, rum, port, or even bourbon at the end can make a fun addition.
  • Dried fruit – Add dried fruits like cherries or figs for extra sweetness and a chewy texture.
  • Fresh fruit – A chopped up apple or fresh figs can turn the cranberry sauce into a fancier compote.
(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Making Cranberry Sauce Without a Recipe

Cranberry sauce is basically like making a quick pot of jam or stewed fruit on the stove. Throw your cranberries into your saucepan and then add enough of your chosen liquid to come up about a third of the way up the cranberries. Add a couple tablespoons of your sweetener of choice (err on the side of less since you can always add more) and any optional additions.

Bring the whole thing up to a simmer and stir so that the sugar melts, then continue simmering until the cranberries soften and then break down, which should take about 15 to 20 minutes. If it seems too thick, add more liquid.

You know you’re done when the pectin in the cranberries thickens the sauce to a thick, jam-like consistency (remember that it will thicken more as it cools). Now taste your cranberry sauce and adjust with more sweetener as needed and you’re done! Congratulations, you’ve just winged cranberry sauce from scratch.

Cranberry sauce keeps for quite a while since it contains a lot of sugar, so get it done before Thanksgiving Day. Here are a couple of cranberry sauce recipes so you can get a sense of fun ingredient possibilities and amounts to play around with: