Cranberry sauce is deeply rooted in Thanksgiving tradition. Though molding fruits and vegetables in gelatin isn’t exactly in fashion these days, people still do it on Thanksgiving—and there’s always at least one person at the table who can’t live without the canned, jellied variety.
One fantastic property of cranberry sauce is that it can be made ahead of time. Prepare it as early as the week before Thanksgiving, as it keeps well in the refrigerator. Let it cool at room temperature, then place it in a covered container in the refrigerator. Most sauces can be served chilled or at room temperature. Here are solutions for some of the most common cranberry sauce dilemmas.
Homemade cranberry sauce is meant to thicken, or “jell,” while cooking. If it stays soupy, that could mean a couple of things.
One possibility is that you may not have used enough sugar: Sugar helps the sauce firm up, so be sure to use the full amount called for in a recipe. Another possibility is that the cranberries need to boil for longer, releasing their pectin and ensuring a jelly consistency.
Still stumped? Try reducing the sauce down even further so more of the liquid cooks off and the mixture thickens. If that doesn’t work, add a thickener like gelatin, pectin or a cornstarch slurry (cornstarch whisked into juice or water). Let the sauce cool before refrigerating to completely set.
If you’re using a pan mold to making a gelatin-based cranberry sauce, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. First, oil the mold lightly before pouring in the cranberry sauce base, which will help the mold release when it’s time to plate your dish. Second, be sure to give it more than enough time to set (when in doubt, overnight is usually best).
When you’re ready to serve, submerge the bottom of the mold in warm water to loosen the sauce. Run the tip of a paring knife around the edge of the mold, then invert it from the mold onto a plate.
Serving homemade cranberry sauce is simple: Pour it into a serving bowl with a spoon, and either place it on your buffet with the rest of your meal, or pass it around the table family-style.
The jiggly canned sauce is a little less obvious. Most cooks simply slice the cylinder into discs and layer them in an attractive pattern on a plate.
Punching Up Canned Sauce
To make sweet, canned cranberry sauce your own, try some add-ins:
- Fresh fruit: Slices of pineapple, orange, grapes and apple add flavor and crunchy texture to the standard sauce. Try a sprinkling of citrus zest, too! It adds brightness.
- Nuts: Chopped walnuts, pecans or other festive holiday nuts add an earthy touch and can help counter the sweetness of the sauce.
- Dried fruit: Dried apricots, figs, dates, cranberries, cherries imbue deeper flavors to the sauce.
Turkey sandwiches are a staple the day after Thanksgiving, but you can also add your cranberry sauce into baked goods. Pair with cheese and crostini as an appetizer when entertaining, or spoon it over pork chops for dinner.