Apple Cranberry Sauce

4.84 from 18 votes
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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.

apple cranberry sauce in a white bowl

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.

washing cranberries in a colander

Cranberry selection

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 ½ cups of sauce.

Recipe Resources

Apple selection

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.

simmering ingredients in a pan

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

pan of cranberry sauce with diced apples

Frequently asked questions

How do you get the bitterness out of cranberry sauce?

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.

What is the difference between cranberry relish and sauce?

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.

What kind of apples can I use?

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.

spoon scooping cranberry sauce out of a pan

Recipe Science

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.

Apple Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce with apples is a flavorful twist to the traditional version and it's a must-have at the holiday table to serve with turkey.
4.84 from 18 votes
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time20 minutes
Servings 20 servings
Course Condiment
Cuisine American


  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries, washed
  • 1 cup diced honeycrisp apples, or fuji, ¼" 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 Video

YouTube video


  • Recipe Yield: 1 ¼ 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.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 20 servings
Calories 36kcal (2%)Carbohydrates 9g (3%)Protein 1g (2%)Fat 1g (2%)Saturated Fat 1g (5%)Polyunsaturated Fat 1gMonounsaturated Fat 1gSodium 2mgPotassium 36mg (1%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 7g (8%)Vitamin A 14IUVitamin C 3mg (4%)Calcium 9mg (1%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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4 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Tom says

    Very similar to my recipe. Other ideas you can try… I like to keep the skin on my apples, it’s healthier and gives a bit of “chew” that I enjoy. To be honest, I think it’s likely off putting to most so this is a personal taste “thing” (I have also peeled the apples leaving many strips of skin, maybe a nice first try?). I also add Allspice and Ginger giving it a bit of heat to my spice.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I have not tried canning the cranberry sauce. I recommend freezing small portions in thicker freezer bags instead.