The Best Smooth Cranberry Sauce Recipe - You Can Slice It!
Have You Tried This Recipe?
At our house, we love cranberry sauce. The problem is, we like the texture and mouth feel of canned cranberry jelly - the stuff you buy in the store - but not the watered-down, somewhat bitter taste. I wanted to figure out how to replicate the texture of that wiggly jelly that pops out of the can so you can slice it and stab it with your fork along with a bit of turkey and mashed potatoes. But I didn't want all the additives, high fructose corn syrup, and stabilizers of the store-bought kind.
It took me a few tries, but I finally worked out this recipe and method. It's more manual labor than whole cranberry sauce, but the results are outstanding, with an intense cranberry taste.
Seriously? Only Three Ingredients?
You might wonder how there can be only three ingredients (with one of them being water!). Surely some thickener is needed! However, cranberries have natural pectin. It is not necessary to add gelatin, starches, or additional pectin to cranberry jelly to give it that firm texture.
The secret to getting that canned cranberry sauce texture is in how you make it smooth. Some people puree the cranberries, but that results in a bitter aftertaste due to the natural bitterness of the seeds and the skins. Also, pureed cranberry jelly doesn't set as well, retains tangible bits of the gritty seeds, and is more silky than that spongy, melt-in-your-mouth jelly we want.
What You Need
- 3 quart pot or larger
- Rubber spatula
- Large metal or ceramic mixing bowl
- Food-safe gloves (optional - this is just nice for protecting your hands and the food if you use your hands to mash the cranberries)
- Glass container - I use a square Anchor Hocking glass food storage container with a glass lid. I like it because I can cover it right away while it cools, since the lid isn't plastic and so doesn't leech weird fumes into my food. It's also really nifty to make cranberry jelly that you slice into cubes instead of the cylindrical shape of store-bought cranberry jelly. That way it has a homemade appearance, but is still geometrical and sliceable.
- Metal spatula - My favorite for these purposes is a slim Dexter-Russel spatula with the wooden handle.
- Fine mesh strainer, sieve or colander, or best yet, a berry food mill with a fine mesh designed to strain out tiny seeds. I used to use my wonderful CIA strainer, but it took so long to mash the berries I eventually got a quick-operating food mill. Unfortunately, it didn't manage to strain out the seeds, so I got another one, the berry mill, and that is the one I currently use. It's super-fast and sits very well on the mixing bowl without sliding or tipping.
Smooth Cranberry Sauce Recipe
This recipe is a large one that should serve a crowd. If you don't have a huge crowd coming for Thanksgiving, I suggest you halve the recipe. I did not specify the number of servings, because in my experience cranberry sauce serving size has proved a very personal thing. Some people use a delicate little spoonful, while others pile on heaps and eat it as a condiment with every bite of food. I'd guess, though, that one recipe could comfortably feed 10 to 15 people.
Ingredients (this recipe can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, etc.)
- 8 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen. We have used many kinds, and they're all good, but our favorite are the oblong organic cranberries with the tiny seeds we found at our local supermarket one day and stocked up on.
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups sugar
- Wash and pick over the cranberries. "Pick over" means remove obvious leaves and stems and foreign matter and especially any bruised, soft or mushy cranberries. Cranberries should be firm, with unbroken skin.
- In a pot, bring the water and sugar to a boil, mixing to dissolve the sugar.
- Add the cranberries. Return to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer rather vigorously for 8-10 minutes. You will be tempted to go longer than 10 minutes, with some idea that simmering for longer develops the pectin, but there's no need.
- Set the strainer or food mill over the mixing bowl.
- Carefully pour SOME of the hot cranberries into the strainer/food mill. Don't overfill. You will probably need to sieve in batches.
- Wait a minute or so for the liquid to go through first.
- Begin sieving the more solid berries with the mill (or mashing with a large spoon if you're using a strainer) so the cranberries get sieved through the strainer. The skins and berries will be left behind.
- Every so often, scrape the underside of the strainer and dump the strained mushy stuff there into the bowl. This both makes it easier to sieve AND captures all that really lovely thick pectin. I made the mistake once of forgetting that mushy stuff under the mill and ended up with a very liquidy cranberry sauce. So consider yourself warned!
- Add another batch when the berry pulp is mostly gone and what's left in the mill is mostly just seeds and skins. Repeat Steps 5 through 8 until you've sieved all the sauce.
- If you are using a strainer rather than a food mill, you will probably get frustrated with the spoon and want to use your hands at some point to push the berries through the mesh. Wait for the mixture to cool down so it doesn't burn your skin. Then, wearing food-safe gloves, press the cranberries through the strainer with your fingers and palms.
- After most of the pulp of the berries is strained, what you should have left are the skins and seeds. You can throw them away or do what I do and boil them with some water and sugar to extract the last of the tartness, which I like to drink as a juice after straining out the seeds and skins.
- Back to the sauce: You've finished straining. You've scraped the bottom of the food mill to get all the juicy, sugary pulp on the underside. Now all the good stuff that will be cranberry sauce is in the big bowl. With a large wire whisk, mix the liquidy part of the strained berries with the thicker part so it's all of even consistency.
- Pour into one or several food-safe and heat-safe containers of your preferred shape and cover.
- Cool to room temperature.
- Put the cranberry sauce in the refrigerator for a few hours to set.
- Slide out of the container to slice. If the container is square, then cut into squares with the spatula at widths no narrower than the spatula, itself, to reduce breakage. Lift carefully out with the spatula.
This smooth cranberry jelly is just so yummy. I really hope you enjoy the recipe as much as we do. Let me know what you think!
See the author's disclosure statement regarding compensation for this article.
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