Last updated on November 7th, 2023
Serve this easy, fresh cranberry sauce at your next Thanksgiving dinner. Real cranberries are simmered with bourbon and a vanilla bean for amazing flavor.
Who really goes out of their way for cranberry sauce? It’s like that weird distant relative that’s always invited to Thanksgiving dinner, but only out of obligation. Not because you really like them. I mean, think about your Thanksgiving buffet. There’s the guest of honor – the turkey in all its glossy brown, roasted glory – in the middle of the table. The green bean casserole, the sweet potatoes and the corn casserole strategically placed around it like enamored groupies.
And then there is the cranberry sauce, like the plain wallflower at the dance, shoved over in the back corner. A condiment in tube form, still bearing the telltale rings of the can it was packaged in. It’s usually not even given the dignity of a piece of your nice china. I always get a small serving of cranberry sauce. Because it’s not that I don’t like it. I think it’s fine. But because I think it’s just “fine,” I usually don’t go out of my way to eat it again until next Thanksgiving rolls around.
I’ve actually wanted to try making my own cranberry sauce for a year now. I figured homemade has to be better than what you can get from a can. I was right. This sauce is juicy and fruit, with hints of vanilla and a smoky aroma from bourbon. Don’t worry, the alcohol from the bourbon burns off as it cooks, so there should be no issues with you getting any underage family members intoxicated.
Choosing the Right Bourbon
There are tons of varieties of bourbon on the market, some more expensive than others. Keep in mind, this recipe only calls for 1/4 cup of bourbon, which means you are going to have a leftover bottle in your cabinet. If you enjoy sipping bourbon, then pick something you could see drinking later such as Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark or Four Roses (which I have shown in the picture above).
If you’re not a bourbon drinker, a less expensive brand such as Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Old Crow, and Heaven Hill are fine for this recipe. Then check out some of my other recipes for ideas on how to use up the rest of that bottle.
How to Make Fresh Cranberry Sauce
The process is so easy, you will never purchase canned cranberry sauce again. First, combine one cup of white granulated sugar with 1/4 cup of bourbon, 1/2 cup of orange juice, 1/2 cup of cranberry juice and one 12-oz package of fresh or frozen cranberries. One 12-ounce package measures out to be three cups.
How to seed a vanilla bean
Next, cut one vanilla bean pod in half and scrap out the seeds. You should be able to find whole vanilla beans in the spice aisle at your grocery store. If you’ve never seeded a vanilla bean before, simply lay the pod flat on a cutting board. Take a sharp knife and run it along the center of the bean, allowing the blade to cut all the way through.
Pull the two halves apart. Lay one half flat on the cutting board. Holding one end of the pod in place, take the dull end of a knife or a spoon and gently scrape the seeds out and mix them into the pan. Repeat with the other half. Don’t throw the scraped bean away, though. I like to throw it into the pan as well and let it simmer with the sauce.
Bring the cranberry sauce to a boil
Heat the sauce ingredients over medium high heat until it starts to boil. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer it for 7-10 minutes. You may hear the cranberries make a popping noise as they cook down and get soft. Cranberries also contain a lot of pectin, which is a natural thickener. The pectin, combined with the sugar, will thicken the liquid.
Puree the sauce
Once the sauce is finished cooking down, remove it from the heat. Strain out the two vanilla bean halves and throw them away. I like my cranberry sauce a little chunky, so at this point I spoon out about one cup of the sauce and puree the rest. You can do this by transferring everything to a blender or use an immersion blender like I did. Then I stir the reserved sauce back in. If you don’t like chunks, just puree the entire batch.
Let it chill
You can eat the fresh cranberry sauce warm from the pan. But at this point, it will be the consistency of a syrup instead of a thick sauce. The cranberry sauce will continue to thicken as it cools, there fore I like to let it chill for 4-8 hours before serving it.
Can you make cranberry sauce in advance?
Yes, you can make this cranberry sauce recipe several days in advance. It does need to be transferred to a lidded container and stored in the refrigerator. Fresh cranberry sauce will actually last up to 14 days in the refrigerator with no change in the texture or flavor
Can cranberry sauce be frozen?
Homemade cranberry sauce freezes beautifully. Transfer it to a freezer safe container with a lid or plastic freezer bag. Be sure to leave a few inches of room in the container of the sauce to expand as it freezes. If using a freezer bag, carefully fold the bag over the contents to get rid of any air. Then seal.
Frozen cranberry sauce does need to be thawed before serving. I recommend allowing the sauce to thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Can cranberry sauce be canned?
Cranberry sauce can be canned using the water bath canning method. Check out my post on the basics of water bath canning for a step-by-step tutorial. Since cranberries are naturally acidic, there is no need to add additional acid such as lemon juice or citric acid. Simply fill clean and sterile pint or half pint jars with the hot sauce and leave ¼-inch of headspace. Process for 15 minutes.
Pair fresh cranberry sauce with:
More Cranberry Recipes:
- Cranberry Spiced Apple Cider
- Spicy Jalapeno Cranberry Chutney
- Glazed Cranberry Chicken Thighs
- Cranberry White Chocolate Bread Pudding
Fresh Cranberry Sauce with Bourbon and Vanilla
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup bourbon
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup cranberry juice
- 1 12-oz package, about 3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
- 1 whole vanilla bean halved and seeded
- Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan, including the seeded vanilla bean pod. Heat over medium high heat until it starts to boil.
- Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium low. Continue to simmer for 7-10 minutes until the cranberries begin to soften and pop and the liquid thickens.
- Remove the cranberry sauce from the heat.
- Remove and discard the vanilla bean pod.
- Remove one cup of the cranberry sauce from the pan and set aside.
- Puree the remaining sauce. Add the reserved cranberry sauce back to the pan and stir.
- Allow the cranberry sauce to chill for 4-8 hours before serving. Sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.