Homemade cranberry sauce is a must have for your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. This easy recipe with orange and spices tastes so rich and festive, you'll never go back to storebought! Quick to make on the day, or easily made in advance.
If you’ve landed here, you are most likely looking for a recipe for homemade cranberry sauce to accompany your Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner. Whether vegan or not, no festive dinner is complete without some cranberry sauce on the side!
Is cranberry sauce vegan?
Most commercial brands of cranberry sauce are naturally vegan, but some may use non organic white sugar which may have been filtered with bone char in the US. Some brands or recipes also use wine or port which may have been processed with animal products.
The best way to be sure, is to make your own vegan cranberry sauce!
Plus, making your own cranberry sauce is so much better than buying it. With homemade you get all fruit and flavour - no preservatives, no gelling agents, no excessive sweetness. And you can adapt it to your own tastes.
Our homemade cranberry sauce recipe has a deep flavour, thanks to brown sugar, festive spices and juice and zest of orange.
This recipe is so simple and needs less than 15 minutes cooking time. So even if you make it on the day, you can focus on other parts of your dinner that need it, while knowing you are going to have a perfect cranberry sauce to serve them with.
What you’ll need
We’ve put together our recipe for this easy cranberry sauce with the uncompromised flavour in mind, while not going excessive on the ingredient list. Here’s all you’ll need!
- Cranberries - You can use either fresh or frozen.
- Orange juice and zest - Organic or unwaxed oranges are ideal for zesting.
- Dark brown sugar - We like the more complex and deeper flavour that this brings.
And the spices you'll need are:
- Ground cinnamon
- Ground ginger
- Whole cloves
- And a whole star anise
Tips and substitutions
You could use store-bought orange juice, but we prefer the flavour of freshly pressed. And if you don’t want to omit the zest (which you shouldn’t!), you might as well get whole oranges and press the juice!
Instead of dark brown sugar you could use white sugar for a more neutral flavor. Or for a refined sugar free cranberry sauce use equal volumes of maple syrup (e.g. 1 tablespoon : 1 tablespoon). Date syrup is less common, but amazing! Light brown or golden sugar and agave or golden syrup are the next close approximation.
If you know you like your cranberry sauce on the tart side you might want to reduce the amount of sweetener. We like the balance of tangy and sweet as in the recipe, but it can be down to you personal taste.
Varying the spices. Cinnamon, ginger, cloves and star anise are all classic Christmas spices. Their flavours are perfect for this. For the best cranberry sauce, don’t replace them.
That said, mixed spice, pumpkin spice, gingerbread spice and chai spice mix are all a vague match and can offer a quick fix if you’re in a pinch. But keep in mind they contain some other ingredients too, like cardamom or coriander, that might not work as well for cranberry sauce.
If you want to use fresh ginger instead of dried, we suggest you tread lightly. This is because their flavours are actually quite different, and fresh ginger can easily be quite dominant.
Step by step
The detailed recipe and method are in the recipe card below, but here’s a handy visual guide:
Step 1 - Roughly chop the cranberries, juice and zest the oranges.
Step 2 - Add everything except the orange zest to a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Step 3 - Simmer until the cranberries are soft, then stir in the finely chopped orange zest. Finish off by simmering for a couple more minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened.
How to know when it's done
The cranberry sauce thickens up a bit more as it cools. Therefore, leave it just a bit on the liquid side at the end of the cooking.
You can also do this simple test to see if it's ready, simply run a spoon across the bottom of the saucepan. If you can see a channel forming in its trail that closes only after a second or two, it’s time to take the sauce off the heat!
Is your cranberry sauce too runny? If it's still too runny after it cools, you can cook it up again to thicken some more. Another reason why cranberry sauce might not thicken so much is if you reduce the sugar.
Is your cranberry sauce too thick? Just thin it down by heating gently and stirring with some water or a splash more juice.
Serving and storing
Cranberry sauce can be served chilled, but we like the taste best when it's at room temperature.
Some people actually swear by serving the cranberry sauce still warm for Christmas or Thanksgiving!
We love this homemade cranberry sauce with our easy nut roast, which also makes a great roast dinner any other day of the year.
And our newest festive recipe for mushroom wellington doesn’t only go great with cranberry sauce. It actually uses a few spoonfuls of cranberry sauce in the recipe to add an occasional fruity, sweet and spicy flavour hit - absolutely fantastic!
Wondering what to do with leftover cranberry sauce? Here's a few ideas:
- Use it in sweet baking
- Stir into creamy pasta sauces
- Add to a sandwich with other leftovers
- Use a spoonful as a garnish to a tasty vegan soup
How to store it
Keep leftovers or sauce made in advance in the fridge and use it up within a week.
Alternatively, freeze it for later!
Frozen cranberry sauce keeps well for several months up to a year. Divide up large batches into several containers for easy portioning.
Glass jars are fine for freezing, as long as you leave a plenty of space to allow the cranberry sauce to expand as it freezes.
We hope you like our recipe for cranberry sauce. Why not check out some other vegan festive recipes?
For the star of the show, try this Easy Vegan Nut Roast
For a tasty side, make these Roasted Carrots with Maple Mustard Glaze
And for our favourite sweet treat, bake these Vanilla Crescent Cookies
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
- 2 cups (200 g) cranberries fresh or frozen
- ½ cup (120 ml) orange juice
- ½ cup (100 g) brown sugar
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 tsp orange zest finely chopped
- Roughly chop the cranberries, juice and zest the oranges.
- Add the cranberries, orange juice, brown sugar, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves and star anise (everything except the zest) to a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Simmer until the cranberries are soft, which takes about 5 - 10 minutes. Frozen will take a bit longer than fresh.
- Now stir in the finely chopped orange zest.
- And finish off the sauce by simmering and stirring for a couple more minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened.The cranberry sauce thickens up a bit more as it cools, so leave it just a bit on the liquid side at the end of the cooking and it should come out just right.
- If desired, remove the whole spices before serving.