This Cranberry Orange Sauce is made using three ingredients and is not overly sweet. It takes only 3 minutes of active preparation time. Ditch the can and make this easy homemade sauce bursting with flavor ready in 15 minutes.
Making homemade cranberry sauce is one of the easiest recipes that you'll make for Thanksgiving dinner - Just one saucepan, 3 ingredients and ready in 15 minutes.
Fresh cranberries appear seasonal from mid September through the end of the year. They are harvested uniquely by flooding the bogs, causing cranberries to float for easy collection.
When selecting fresh cranberries for your cranberry orange sauce, look for firm, plump, vibrant colored with a deep red, without any shriveled or mushy berries. Avoid overly brown or green ones, as these may be underripe or overripe. Smaller berries may be more tart, while larger ones can be sweeter.
Why you'll love this?
- Fresh – Made using fresh seasonal cranberries, it tastes much better than any can.
- Quick – Ready in 15 minutes.
- Easy - Made using just 3 ingredients.
- Flavorful—made with fresh orange juice & zest
- Make-ahead—Great to be made ahead and prepped before the big day.
Scroll down to the recipe card below for full information on ingredients and amounts.
- Cranberries - Use fresh or frozen cranberries. Do not use dried.
- Orange - Orange and cranberry are a natural pairing. The sweet, fresh, citrusy aroma of oranges balances the tartness of cranberries. I use both the zest and juice for this cranberry orange sauce recipe.
- Sugar - White sugar lets the flavor of cranberry and orange shine.
- Lemon - Use lemon juice and zest instead of oranges.
- Spices: Warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, or nutmeg can add a cozy, holiday flavor.
- Ginger: Freshly grated or ground ginger adds a pleasant, slightly spicy kick.
- Vanilla: Pure vanilla extract can provide a subtle, sweet undertone.
- Liqueurs: Brandy, Grand Marnier, or amaretto adds some booziness and complexity.
- Nuts: Chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts can give your sauce a delightful crunch and nutty flavor.
- Herbs: Fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme adds an earthy twist.
- Brown Sugar or Maple Syrup: Instead of or in addition to white sugar, you can use brown sugar or pure maple syrup for a rich and caramel-like sweetness.
- Fruits: Diced apples or pears can add a fruity and chunky texture.
- Chili Pepper: Add one or two jalapeño slices or a pinch of red pepper flakes for a spicy twist.
- Cranberry Liqueur: Add a splash of cranberry liqueur to intensify the cranberry flavor.
- Balsamic Vinegar: A drizzle of balsamic vinegar adds complex acidity.
- Other sweeteners - Use honey or brown sugar instead of white sugar.
- Dried fruits - Cook golden raisins, currants or dried blueberries along with the cranberries.
- Sugar-free - Substitute a sugar replacer like Splenda or Truvia for the sugar.
How to make?
You can find full printable recipe below, but here is a quick overview of the procedure along with step-by-step photos.
1 & 2. In a medium pot, combine water, sugar and orange juice. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat.
Tip: Adjust the sweetness - Like your cranberry orange sauce sweeter? Feel free add more sugar!
3 & 4. Stir in the cranberries and the orange zest.
5. Cover the pot with a lid, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 9 to 10 minutes, until you hear the cranberries pop and the sauce has thickened slightly. Cool to room temperature.
Pro tip: Add more texture! Set ½ cup of cranberries aside. Stir them at the very end, to add even more texture.
If your cranberry orange sauce turns out too runny or too thick, you can easily adjust its consistency.
- Return the saucepan to the stove and simmer the sauce over low to medium heat, stirring to prevent burning. Continue simmering until it reaches your desired consistency.
- You also add a thickening agent like cornstarch or arrowroot. Mix a cornstarch slurry by combining a tablespoon of cornstarch with equal amount of cold water. Slowly incorporate this slurry into the simmering cranberry sauce, stirring constantly. Cook for a few more minutes until it thickens to your preference.
- The sauce will naturally thicken as it cools, but this approach is most effective for mildly runny sauces rather than extremely watery ones.
- Thin it out by adding a splash of water, orange juice, or liqueur.
- For lumpy or overly thick sauce due to whole cranberries, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve for a smoother texture.
Make ahead and freezing instructions
Refrigerate cranberry orange sauce for at least 2 hours to thicken and set, or prepare it a week ahead and store in an airtight container.
To Make Ahead: Prepare it in advance for Thanksgiving by making it up to a week ahead. Cool, store in an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to 10 days.
To freeze: Freeze fresh cranberry sauce a month or two in advance for holiday prep. Cool, store in an airtight container, and thaw in the refrigerator before serving.
- Smaller berries may be more tart, while larger ones can be sweeter.
- Use fresh or frozen cranberries. Do not use dried.
- Add a stick of cinnamon and cook along with the sauce.
- Add a splash of vanilla extract before removing it from heat.
- Like it sweeter? Feel free add more sugar!
When cooking your sauce, simmer it until it reaches the desired thickness. Remember that the sauce will appear thinner when hot and will thicken as it cools. You can also use a thickening agent like cornstarch if needed.
You can make your sauce up to a week ahead and store it in the refrigerator, or freeze it for 1-2 months for longer-term preparation.
Yes, frozen cranberries work well and can be used like fresh ones. Just remember that frozen cranberries may require a slightly longer cooking than fresh cranberries. Also, it is essential to note that frozen berries may not be as sweet as the ones in season.
The primary difference lies in their texture and consistency. Like this recipe, whole berry cranberry sauce is made by cooking fresh or frozen cranberries with sugar and flavorings until some cranberries break down but still maintain some of their shape. As a result, you will find some whole berries in the sauce, giving it a chunky texture.
Jellied cranberry sauce is made by cooking cranberries and then straining the mixture to remove cranberry solids. The remaining liquid is then set using gelatin or pectin, to create a smooth, firm, and jelly-like consistency without visible cranberry pieces. It is smooth and uniform in texture with a consistent, gel-like appearance.
Choosing between whole berry and jellied cranberry sauce is a matter of personal preference, with some favoring the chunky texture and complex flavor of whole berry sauce and others preferring the smooth, sweet consistency of the jellied sauce.
Cranberry Orange Sauce
- 1 cup water
- ¾ cup sugar, white use more if needed
- ½ cup fresh orange juice
- 12 ounces fresh cranberries about 3 cups
- zest of one large orange
- In a medium pot, combine water, sugar and orange juice. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat.
- Stir in the cranberries and the orange zest. Cover the pot with a lid, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 9 to 10 minutes, until you hear the cranberries pop and the sauce has thickened slightly.
- Cool to room temperature.
Nutritional information, based on third-party calculations, should be seen as estimates, not guarantees, as various factors like product types, brands, processing methods, and more can alter the nutritional content in recipes.
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