This homemade cranberry orange sauce is simple and beyond delicious. Some links in this article are affiliate links that may earn me a commission if you purchase through them.
Growing up, my mom served the cranberry sauce from a can. Yes, it did sit on the table in all its ridged glory.
And no, I never ate it.
In fact, I never liked cranberry sauce much at all, much to my family’s chagrin. As with so many Thanksgiving classics, something about it just didn’t appeal to me.
Then I started making my own cranberry sauce, and once I perfected this simple cranberry orange sauce, I changed my tune.
Many cranberry sauces you find in the States tend to be – for me – overly sweet and focus on sweetness as the flavor, more like a cranberry jam than a cranberry relish.
This version follows more in the European model. It’s less sweet and has more flavors to it that make this a perfect side dish beyond just your traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Looking for more great Thanksgiving sides? Check out my favorites at the end of this article.
Can you make cranberry sauce ahead of time?
Yes, you absolutely can make cranberry sauce in advance. In fact, this is a dish that I make a day in advance of a large gathering every time.
Cook it all the way through as directed in the recipe, and place it iny your fridge with a lid on your pot overnight. The next day, gently reheat it on low heat, periodically stirring, if you wish to serve it warm.
Do I serve cranberry sauce warm or cold?
It’s totally up to you. Cold cranberry sauce is a tradition in many households, and cold cranberry relish on a sandwich is a perfect zing for leftovers.
However, my family tends to serve it just above room temperature, and that works, too. This is one of those “serve it the way you like it best” foods, which gives you even more flexibility.
What spices go well with cranberry sauce?
In my cranberry orange sauce, I use both orange and cinnamon. They pair beautifully together, and these two simple spices make an amazing cranberry sauce.
However, you can add additional spices for a slightly different flavor that also work really well. My other favorites include ginger, cardamom, and cloves. I also sometimes add my favorite spice – nutmeg.
In addition, you can have fun by adding a little cherry juice or (just a little) lemon juice if you’re short of the fresh orange juice. Both add a bright flavor to the finished fresh cranberry sauce.
How do I get orange zest?
For this fresh cranberry orange sauce, I use more than “just” the zest the way I do in most recipes. I want ribbons of the orange peel.
However, you want to avoid the white pith at all costs. If you add the pith, it creates a bitter flavor to the sauce.
I use my Rosle stainless steel zester, which is different from my microplane zester. The thicker peel of an orange (compared to a lemon) means that I want and use the single hole on the side to create the ribbons and not the set of three at the top.
Before you cut and squeeze your orange for the fresh orange juice, hold your (washed) orange in one hand and run the tool along the peel, pushing into it to create a cut as you go.
This makes a beautiful ribbon but doesn’t cut deep enough to get any of the bitter white pith. Repeat this over your orange to create as many ribbons as you can.
I often save a few to serve as garnish over the cranberry orange sauce to make it even prettier, but the flavor of the cooked orange zest tastes amazing.
Can I use frozen cranberries to make cranberry sauce?
Yes, you absolutely can use frozen cranberries. This recipe works equally well with both fresh and frozen cranberries.
The only difference between fresh and frozen cranberries in this recipe is that it will take a little longer for the frozen cranberries to heat up and pop their skins, so be patient.
I prefer to use fresh cranberries because they will hold their shape a little better, and I like a chunky cranberry chutney type texture to it rather than a smooth cranberry jelly. Use what you have on hand and prefer, however.
Can I use ground cinnamon in the cranberry orange sauce?
This recipe calls for a cinnamon stick rather than ground cinnamon, but you could use ground cinnamon if you need to. Use just a scant eighth to a quarter teaspoon, depending on your flavor preference.
The goal of the cinnamon stick is to infuse into the cranberry sauce so it isn’t a very cinnamon forward flavor that you can too easily get with ground cinnamon.
Cinnamon sticks last for years in your pantry, so it’s worth picking some up to use in recipes that call for cinnamon sticks, whether it’s a savory Indian dish or hot apple cider or this cranberry orange relish.
Can you freeze cranberry sauce?
Yes, you can absolutely freeze your leftover cranberry sauce if you made too much. You could even make it a month in advance and thaw it for your big meal, too.
To freeze the cranberry sauce, make sure the sauce cools completely to room temperature before you do anything else. Portion your cranberry sauce into individual portions in containers or zip top bags, but make sure you leave a little room for the cranberry sauce to expand as it freezes.
Pro tip: I freeze my leftover cranberry sauce in ice cube trays then pop them out once they freeze fully and put them in a bag with all the air removed.
Place the airtight containers in the freezer for up to two months. When you want to use it, simply let it thaw in the fridge overnight.
What is the best way to reheat cranberry sauce?
Whether you made your cranberry sauce a couple days in advance or just have some left over that you want to enjoy, it’s easy to reheat your cranberry sauce.
The biggest key is to reheat it gently. I prefer to reheat my sauce in a saucepan on the stove over low heat, stirring periodically.
If you want to use your microwave, reheat it in short bursts like you would if you were melting chocolate. Zap it for 20-30 seconds, then stir. Repeat for 15-20 seconds until it’s as warm as you like, stirring between each burst.
If you are reheating an entire batch rather than a single portion of leftovers, I strongly recommend using your stovetop, however, to ensure you don’t end up with a mess in your microwave or scorched cranberry sauce.
Is cranberry sauce gluten free?
Yes! Cranberry sauce is naturally gluten free. It’s also vegan, which means it’s both dairy free and vegetarian.
In fact, with so few ingredients, cranberry orange sauce is pretty allergy friendly, as there is no corn, no soy, no nuts, etc. It’s free of most of the common allergens.
How to Make Cranberry Orange Sauce
Add your cranberries to a heavy medium saucepan, but don’t turn the heat on yet.
Use your Rosle style zester to create ribbons of zest from your orange. If you don’t have this style zester, you can use a microplane zester or even a vegetable peeler. Worst case, you can use a paring knife to carefully get just the colored part of the peel.
Place the peel into your pot, along with the sugar and cinnamon stick.
Juice your orange, and add a half cup of orange juice to the pot, along with the water.
Turn your stove to just below medium heat, and stir just once. Let it just barely come to a boil, then turn it down to simmer.
You will start to hear the cranberries pop as their skins burst. Let the orange cranberry sauce simmer for about ten minutes, then remove it from the heat.
Stir off the heat, then let the sauce cool. It will thicken as it cools.
If you want a smoother sauce, you can cook it a little longer, then blend it with an immersion blender. You can also use your blender with no more than a third full and using a kitchen towel to hold the top on while you blend – be careful!
Serve your cranberry sauce immediately, or let it cool to room temperature and serve it then. You can also refrigerate it and serve it the next day, too.
Love it? Save this homemade cranberry orange sauce recipe for later, too!
- 12 oz cranberries
- 3/4 c sugar
- 1/2 c orange juice
- 1/2 c water
- orange zest
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Create ribbons of zest from orange, then juice it.
- Place cranberries into a heavy medium saucepan, along with zest, orange juice, water, sugar, and cinnamon stick.
- Stir then bring to a boil. Immediately turn the heat to simmer for 10 minutes, then remove it from the heat.
- Stir, then let sauce cool. It will thicken as it cools.
- Serve immediately, or let it cool to room temperature. You can also refrigerate and serve the next day.
- Both fresh and frozen cranberries work for this recipe.
- The cranberries will pop as they heat. This is normal and what you want to have happen.
- If you want a smoother sauce, you can cook it a few minutes longer, then blend it with an immersion blender. You can also use your blender with no more than a third full and using a kitchen towel to hold the top on while you blend - be careful!
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1/4 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 80Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 1gSugar: 18gProtein: 0g
This site uses an outside source to provide nutrition as a courtesy. If you need exact values, please calculate yourself.
More great Thanksgiving side dishes:
- Bacon roasted Brussels sprouts
- Harvest quinoa salad
- Marguerite salad
- Yeasted dinner rolls
- Dinner roll knots
- Perfect mashed potatoes
- Shaved Brussels sprouts salad
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