Not to sweet, not too tart, and definitely not plopped from a can, this homemade cranberry sauce with orange is the unexpected star of the Thanksgiving dinner.
why cranberry sauce matters
Cranberry sauce is one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving. Not so much the cranberry sauce itself - which, when done right, should be a balance of tart and sweet with a little spice - but cranberry sauce when complementing the other components of the dinner. Whether spread over a slice of turkey, paired with a bite of green beans, or on top of a forkful of stuffing, cranberry sauce is the quiet rockstar of the meal. It should elevate everything it touches.
I don’t think people realize that cranberry sauce is such a vital condiment for Thanksgiving. Most give the sauce a questionable glance and keep passing it around the table. They’re missing the point. No one is expected to take a ladle full, but you should take at least a couple of spoonfuls. The chances are that something on your plate needs the boost of flavor. Hint: it’s probably the dry and bland white meat turkey. If you think about it, the cranberry sauce can help cut through the fat in all of the other buttery, creamy and dense foods on the table.
It’s easy to see why people are confused. The jellied stuff that plops out of the can gives cranberry sauce a bad rap. It’s not supposed to be jello, either. Nor should it be sweet like a dessert. And frankly, you shouldn’t have to pull chunks of celery out of it. Yeah, I do have some strong opinions about the topic, in case you couldn't tell.
With bad store-bought options and too many funky recipes out there, no wonder so many people pass on cranberry sauce. Luckily, a fresh sauce is quick to make, can be prepared in advance, and, if you find yourself with some leftover after the holiday, has countless other uses.
the perfect cranberry sauce
I find this recipe to be the ideal blend of sweet, tart, citrus, and spice. Most cranberry sauce recipes out there use one cup of sugar per 12 ounces of cranberries. I find half that amount sugar to be sufficient and instead rely on spices, like cinnamon and ginger to add the flavor. The orange juice and zest add some freshness, while the use of maple syrup and brown sugar add a more complex sweetness. The dried fruit helps to make sure the sauce retains some texture. You could, if inclined, skip that ingredient and I wouldn't judge you.
cranberry sauce variations
Use my recipe as a starting point and adapt it to your liking. Here are some possibilities:
- Add black pepper and ground cloves for some more spice
- Try adding a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar
- Use lemon zest and juice in place of the orange
- Include chopped apple and toasted walnuts
ways to use leftover cranberry sauce
This homemade cranberry sauce with orange will keep for a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving. If you happen to find yourself with extra, here are some ideas for putting it to use:
- use it to make this cranberry gingerbread cake
- make cranberry pavlova
- stir some into your oatmeal or yogurt
- mix with mayo or mustard and spread on a sandwich, such as a Monte Cristo
- serve with cheese, such as brie
- swirl into muffin or pancake batter