Tart and sweet, this homemade apple cranberry sauce is made with granny smith apples, fresh cranberries, brown and white sugars, a little cinnamon, and orange zest. This easy-to-make flavorful holiday cranberry sauce will be the perfect addition to your family’s table for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or another special event.
I’ve had fun experimenting with various homemade cranberry sauce recipes lately. Ever since I realized that cranberry sauce didn’t have to come from a can with all its ribbed-can-shaped solid jiggling mass glory, I’ve been obsessed with finding the perfect holiday cranberry sauce.
Making cranberry sauce is easier than you think. If you want basic cranberry sauce then it’s just a matter of cooking the cranberries with a little sugar water until they have popped.
BUT, if you like your cranberry sauce to be a little out of the ordinary, then you should try my two cranberry sauce recipes. This yummy recipe uses tart apples and cranberries, along with some orange zest and cinnamon for a holiday-inspired pop of flavor!
And if you are looking for something even more out of the ordinary, then you’ll love my homemade raspberry cranberry sauce made with crushed pineapple and Grand Marnier! Honestly, it’s a toss-up which one of my cranberry sauces I like best…so I usually make both and set them on opposite ends of the table…just to be fair!
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Ingredients needed to make homemade cinnamon apple cranberry sauce
- 16 ounces fresh cranberries – I use fresh but really, you can use fresh or frozen cranberries. The cooking time might be slightly longer to get the texture you are looking for.
- Granny Smith apples – You will be using two cups of peeled and diced apples. Two medium-sized apples are just about the right amount. You can substitute another apple of your choice. I particularly like the Granny Smith because of its bright tart flavor and texture when cooked.
- 1 Tablespoon orange zest – Don’t leave out the orange zest! It adds just that right citrusy sparkle of flavor to this cranberry sauce. It takes almost one whole orange to get one tablespoon of orange zest.
- brown sugar AND white (granulated) sugar – After making the cranberry sauce, give it a little taste and add more sweetener if desired while it’s still hot.
- ground cinnamon and salt
How to make homemade cranberry sauce with apples
The exact ingredients with measurements can be found in the recipe card below along with more concise abbreviated instructions. Read on for more details, tips, and tricks so that you will feel confident making this recipe.
Step one: Prep the fruit
Rinse the cranberries and allow them to drain well in a colander. I also take a minute to look through the fresh cranberries to check for any weird, bruised, or mushed cranberries. If you are using frozen cranberries, then chances are they are pre-washed/rinsed and ready to use. Read the packaging.
Zest the orange. It takes one good-sized orange to get one tablespoon of orange zest. I use this zester because it has a nice long handle and I’m less likely to scrape my fingers. Do watch the hand you are holding the orange with though. I cannot tell you HOW many times I’ve been in a rush and carelessly zested my fingers. Ouch!
Wash, peel, and dice the apples. After they cook you will be mashing some of them into the sauce. Most of the apples, however, will remain diced so make sure you dice them quite small – slightly larger than the cranberries.
If you end up leaving a few tiny little bits of peeling on the apples, that’s okay. It won’t really affect the texture or flavor of the cranberry apple sauce.
Step Two: Melt the sugars
In a heavy-bottomed medium/large saucepan, cook the sugars, cinnamon, salt, and water together over medium heat. Stir constantly until the sugars have dissolved. This shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.
It might be hard to tell if the sugar has melted or not because the brown sugar makes the liquid a little bit darker than if you had used only white granulated sugar. I dip my spoon in and hold it up the to light. If I can easily see the unmelted granules then I know I need to give it a little bit more time.
Step Three: Start with the apples
Add the diced apples to the melted sugar water. Allow the mixture to come to a boil and cook for two minutes before adding the cranberries and orange zest.
Step four: Cook the rest of the fruit
Add the cranberries and orange zest. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. You will notice some of the cranberries start to pop as they cook. It is not necessary to stir during this time.
Last step: Mash the fruit
After the cranberry mixture has cooked, take a fork or potato masher and smoosh things around a bit. You don’t want to smash all of the apple pieces and cranberries, but leave some of them whole.
At this point, you have a couple of decisions to make. First for flavor and then for texture. Take a little bit of cooked sauce on a wooden (or plastic) spoon and allow the sauce to cool enough to taste.
Despite the amount of sugar used, this apple cranberry sauce is naturally tart. BUT, if it is too tart for your liking you can add a little bit more sugar – up to one-quarter cup. Then continue to cook for a few minutes so that the sugar melts. Or, you can add some maple or agave syrup to sweeten your sauce if you are done cooking. (see next paragraph.)
The next decision you need to make is if your homemade sauce is thick enough. Keep in mind that the sauce will thicken when it cools. If it is truly more runny than you’d like, then continue cooking for another five minutes.
Some questions and answers about making your own apple cranberry sauce
You can serve your cranberry sauce warm, at room temperature, or chilled. My personal preference is after being chilled in the refrigerator for several hours. Give it a little stir before serving to mix in any liquid that might be sitting on the top.
Yes, this cranberry sauce recipe can be made a few days ahead of time if you keep it in an airtight container in the fridge.
Keep it for up to five days if you store it in an airtight container.
I was a little bit worried about this too because I wasn’t sure if the texture of the cooked apples would change in the freezer. As it turns, out, it was no problem at all!
Freeze for up to three months in an airtight container with a little headroom for expansion. Set in the refrigerator overnight to thaw before serving. It is just as delicious as the day you first made it!
For some other plant-based festive snacks and sides from Veggie Fun Kitchen, try:
The printable recipe card
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Homemade Apple Cranberry Sauce with Granny Smith Apples
- 16 ounces fresh cranberries
- 2 cups Granny Smith apples peeled and diced
- 1 Tablespoon orange zest
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Rinse the cranberries and set them in a strainer to drain. Wash, peel, and dice the apples. Zest the orange. Set all aside seperately.
- In a heavy-bottomed medium/large saucepan, cook the sugars, cinnamon, salt, and water together over medium heat. Stir constantly until the sugars have dissolved. This shouldn't take more than two minutes.
- Add the apples to the sugar water and cook for two minutes before adding the cranberries and orange zest. Allow to come to a boil and cook for two minutes.
- Turn the heat down to medium low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
- Begin to mash the fruit in the pan until the sauce reaches the desired texture.
- Give it a little taste while still hot and add in a bit more sweetener if desired.
- Remember that this cranberry sauce will thicken with cooling. If, however, it is still too liquidy for you after mashing, then continue cooking for another five minutes at low uncovered.
- You can serve warm, at room temperature, or cooled. The sauce will thicken upon cooling.
- You can freeze any sauce you don't use within five days. Defrost the cranberry sauce in the refrigerator overnight when you are ready to use it.