This easy cranberry sauce is my favorite. When it comes to holiday side dishes, I’m fairly flexible. I’ll swapped out green beans for roasted Brussels sprouts and mushrooms, I’ll do a sweet potato souffle instead of the standard mash, or I’ll throw some sausage into the stuffing. But when it comes to the cranberry sauce, I won’t budge; it HAS to be this recipe. It’s sweet and tart, but not overly saccharine like many cranberry sauce recipes.

Close up of a spoonful of cranberry sauce, with the pot in the background.

Cranberry walnut sauce

Best of all, it has a nutty crunch thanks to toasted walnuts. James’s mom originally introduced me to the recipe (moms are the best!), and I’ve adapted it over the years to cut back on the sugar and amp up the flavors. It’s a cinch to make and can be prepared days ahead! [Don’t miss the Video below!]

The ingredients for the easy cranberry sauce recipe arranged on a counter.

Easy cranberry sauce (and its secret ingredients)

This sauce includes fresh or frozen cranberries as its base, but a few secret ingredients take the flavor and texture to new heights. These are pantry staples that you might already have on hand, including:

  • Cherry preserves: using jarred preserves creates a luscious body that’s set but not too firm 
  • Maple syrup: swapping out some of the sugar for maple syrup lends a rich depth of flavor
  • Cinnamon: a pinch of cinnamon provides sweet warmth 
  • Chopped toasted walnuts: walnuts not only add a nutty note but also create a delicious crunch (the nuts can be omitted for a nut-free version, or they can be swapped out for pecans)
  • Orange zest: a touch of orange zest brightens up all the other flavors
Close up of a bowl of cranberry sauce with a spoon.

Cranberry sauce recipe with orange 

The orange zest in this recipe brightens up the flavors but you can’t really taste it. However, if you prefer a more pronounced orange flavor you can simply add more zest!  

How do you make cranberry sauce?

This easy cranberry sauce takes minutes to assemble. The cranberries go into a pot with the cherry preserves, natural cane sugar (or you can use regular sugar), maple syrup, cinnamon and water. The sauce simmers until most of the cranberries have popped. Chopped toasted walnuts are then stirred in, along with orange zest. The sauce will thicken as it cools into a rich, spoonable texture. 

Process shot divided into four quadrants, showing the steps for making the easy cranberry sauce recipe.

Can you make cranberry sauce ahead?

Heck yes! This sauce can be refrigerated for 5 days. So go ahead and check it off your list early!

Healthy cranberry sauce

This cranberry sauce cuts back on the granulated sugar by swapping in cherry preserves and maple syrup. The result is a balanced sweet-tart flavor that’s not too saccharine. 

How else can you serve cranberry sauce?

This sauce is also fantastic over roasted pork tenderloin or duck, and it takes turkey or chicken sandwiches to new heights. 😍 I also love to eat it over Greek yogurt for breakfast (or on our morning waffles), and it’s lovely on toasted pound cake for dessert with a dollop of whipped cream. 

Recipe tips:

  • This sauce will seem quite thin at first, but it will thicken and gel as it cools (especially if it’s refrigerated).
  • If you prefer a sweeter flavor, stir in a couple more tablespoons of sugar once the sauce is cooked.
  • I use organic cane sugar in this recipe, but you could use regular white sugar instead.
  • You can use either a red or black cherry jam in this recipe. If you use a sour cherry jam you might need to add a bit more sugar, depending on the sweetness of the jam. You can also use black currant preserves.
  • Feel free to omit the walnuts or to swap them out for pecans.
Close up of a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce.

Other Thanksgiving dishes to try:

Watch the video!

Get the recipe!

Easy Cranberry Walnut Sauce

This is the ultimate cranberry sauce, with a balanced sweet-tart flavor and lush texture. A few secret ingredients take it to new heights. Cherry preserves provide body, maple syrup and a pinch of cinnamon lend warm complexity, orange zest brightens everything up, and toasted walnuts provide a wonderful crunch and nuttiness (but they can be omitted for a nut-free version). The sauce will thicken and gel as it cools.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cranberry sauce recipe, cranberry walnut sauce, easy cranberry sauce recipe
Servings: 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen and thawed cranberries
  • 1 cup cherry preserves
  • ¾ cup organic cane sugar (plus more as needed)
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
  • ½ teaspoon orange zest

Instructions

  • In a medium saucepan, combine the cranberries, cherry preserves, sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt and water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until most of the cranberries are popped but a few whole ones remain, about 30 minutes.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the walnuts and orange zest. Give the sauce a taste; if you prefer a sweeter flavor, stir in a couple more tablespoons of sugar to taste (remember that the flavors will meld as the sauce cools). Cool the sauce completely before serving (the sauce will thicken as it cools).

Notes

Do Ahead: The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.
Notes:
  • This sauce will seem quite thin at first, but it will thicken and gel as it cools (especially if it’s refrigerated).
  • If you prefer a sweeter flavor, stir in a couple more tablespoons of sugar once the sauce is cooked.
  • I use organic cane sugar in this recipe, but you could use regular white sugar instead.
  • You can use either a red or black cherry jam in this recipe. If you use a sour cherry jam you might need to add a bit more sugar, depending on the sweetness of the jam. You can also use black currant preserves.
  • Feel free to omit the walnuts or to swap them out for pecans.
  • Get more Thanksgiving recipes here!

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