Cranberry sauce with apples is a flavorful twist to the traditional version. Whole berries and diced Honeycrisp apples simmer with warm spices. It’s a must-have at the holiday table.
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This cranberry apple sauce is easy to make, just chop, pour, and simmer. In 20 minutes, you’ll magically have a thickened condiment to serve with hearty slices of roast turkey and endless sides. The extra texture added from the apples gives a pleasant contrast of fruit flavor to each serving.
This year I decided to switch things up and add fresh Honeycrisp apples to my traditional recipe. It provides extra sweetness from the released juices that balance the tart berries. As the cranberries pop during simmering, the sauce infuses with scented aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg.
You’ll be able to find fresh cranberries around mid-October. However, you can use frozen cranberries as well. There’s no need to defrost them. Just add right to the pot, and they will warm quickly as the mixture boils. Grab a 12-ounce bag. It will reduce to about 1 1/2 cups of sauce.
Sauces & Condiments
Although cranberries are packed with health benefits, pop one in your mouth, and it will instantly pucker. I find that adding in another sweeter fruit helps to balance the tart and astringent taste. Apples are an ideal pairing! The cell walls have natural fruit-sugar fructose that sweetens the sauce. It also has malic acid, a less intense sour acid to the mix. Plus, I love the added nutrients like fiber.
During the fall, my top choice is Honeycrisp apples for their sweet and juicy taste. Peel off the skin and chop them into ½-inch pieces. If desired, you can try different types of apples like Fuji, Gala, Envy, and Golden Delicious. You want them to hold their structure, so avoid mealy varieties like Red Delicious and McIntosh. Granny Smith apples are more dry and sour, so I don’t recommend using them. If that’s all you have on hand, simply increase the amount of apple juice and brown sugar to taste.
Sweeten the sauce
To enhance the sweet notes of the sauce, add brown sugar. It contains molasses for a deeper caramel-like taste. Pure maple syrup and honey are great substitutes. Apple juice adds a deeper fruit flavor, and if you’ve got cider, that works too. If you’re a citrus fan, you can use orange juice and orange zest instead or just make my orange cranberry sauce.
Add warm spices
I use two types of cinnamon to add a warm baked note; ground cinnamon and a whole cinnamon stick. The ground cinnamon quickly infuses into the fruit mixture, while the stick gives a lingering aroma. It’s lovely! Plus, I add ground nutmeg. It makes your home smell like you just baked a fresh apple pie.
Simmer the sauce
The ratio I use to make the base sauce is 12 ounces (about 3 ½ cups) of fresh cranberries, ½ cup of liquid (apple juice), and ½ cup of sweetener (dark brown sugar). I add 1 cup of peeled and diced apples. The fruit releases a lot of juice when cooked, which concentrates down in the sauce.
Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat in a saucepan. This setting will get the berries popping. Reduce the heat to a simmer to gently soften the fruit and develop a thick consistency. The process takes about 20 minutes, very quick and easy. As the pectin in the cranberries and apples cool down, it creates a jammy, scoopable texture.
Serve this with
- Roasted turkey
- Pan-fried pork chops
- Homemade gravy
- Creamy mashed potatoes
- Green bean casserole
- Mashed sweet potatoes
Cranberries contain tannins, especially the skin, which are very bitter. Add in a sweetener like brown sugar, granulated sugar, maple syrup, or honey to tame the intensity. Other fruits and juices like apples and oranges can also help to sweeten the sauce naturally. A little bit of butter can also be mixed in. The fat helps to coat some of the bitter flavor compounds, so it’s less intense.
A relish is made from fresh fruit that has been finely chopped and lightly sweetened. Cranberry sauce is a fresh fruit compote, simmered in a sweet syrup until reduced and thickened. Both are condiments.
Use sweet and juicy varieties that hold their structure like Honeycrisp, Fuji, Envy, Golden Delicious, or Gala. You want nice chunks of fruit in the cranberry sauce and not completely break down like applesauce.
Use two sources of pectin to thicken the sauce
When whole cranberries heat up in liquid, the juice in the fruit starts to steam. Eventually, that pressure causes the skin to burst. This is a good thing when making sauces. The berries release starchy pectin molecules, and just like in a jam, it eventually helps to thicken and solidify the cranberry sauce. For this recipe, there is also about 15 to 20% pectin in the apples for extra texture.
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Apple Cranberry Sauce
- 12 ounces fresh cranberries, washed
- 1 cup diced honeycrisp apples, or fuji, ¼-inch dice
- ½ cup packed dark brown sugar, or pure maple syrup, or honey
- ½ cup apple juice, or apple cider
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cinnamon stick, optional
- In a medium-sized pan, add cranberries, apples, brown sugar, apple juice, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and cinnamon stick. Stir to combine.
- Bring sauce to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer, cooking until most cranberries pop, apples are tender, and the mixture has slightly thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Make sure to stir occasionally, about every 5 minutes.
- Turn off heat and remove cinnamon stick. Taste sauce and add more sweetener if desired. If needed, add more apple juice for a thinner sauce.
- Allow cooling slightly to thicken before serving.
- Recipe Yield: 1 1/4 cups
- Serving Size: 1 tablespoon
- Store: Cool completely and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or up to 1 month.
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