A starring-role ingredient that makes recipes homey and classic or tart and innovative, cranberries ripen as the holiday season approaches, bringing an air of harvest and an eagerness to sample all of the bounty of nature. Cranberries actually have a wealth of purposes that extend far beyond the well-trafficked holiday staples, or they can be used in unexpected ways in well-loved dishes.
We’ve rounded up a collection of sweet and savory garnishes, side dishes, desserts, and breads featuring cranberries to invite you to find new ways of unlocking all the flavor this little berry has to offer.
1. Cranberry Orange Scones
We all love flaky, buttery biscuits, but the British really do it right with tea time scones. Elevating a plain pastry with flavors and garnishes, scones still keep things light enough to qualify as a snack that doesn’t weigh you down. In this recipe the festive tang of cranberries pairs perfectly with the sweetness of oranges for soft, cakey scones topped with elegant and oh-so-easy glaze.
These confections actually come together using ingredients you probably already have around your house, including dried cranberries which are often sprinkled on cereal or granola or eaten by themselves as an antioxidant-rich snack.
2. Cherry Cranberry Sauce
When it comes time for holiday gatherings, those averse to spending time in the kitchen clamor to be the one to bring the cop-out cranberry sauce. Maybe they overlook the fact that it’s one of the keystone elements of the meal as poultry and other mains can sometimes be pretty bland without it. Made with fresh whole cranberries (or you can thaw high-quality frozen), cranberry juice cocktail, and dried cherries, ingredients are simmered to thicken into a sauce and then seasoned with cloves and orange zest.
I would make a double portion as this makes a great addition to various sandwiches for that sweet and savory combination.
3. Cranberry Pecan Oatmeal Cookies
If you favor soft cookies like I do, then oatmeal might be the first type of cookies you reach for on the dessert tray. Oats work wonderfully for turning out moist cookies sweetened with rich brown sugar and aromatic cinnamon. In this recipe you’ll replace the standard raisins with zingy cranberries, which pair well with cinnamon oats like raisins do but add a fruity tang.
Chopped pecans provide a crunchy contrast to the soft and chewy dough, and the nutty taste contributes to the harvest theme of this cookie. These are easy to bake and make a great choice for cooking with others.
4. Leftover Cranberry Sauce Bars
In the midst of fall, thoughts turn to gratitude for our many blessings, not the least of which is the bounty on our tables and in our refrigerators. Even if we may find it challenging to make our way through all those leftovers, wasting food just does not line up with a thankful spirit. Recipes like this creative use of cranberry sauce are fantastic for making something delicious and new instead of letting leftovers sit in the fridge.
Sandwiching the cranberry sauce between a buttery crust on the bottom and crumbles on top turns these bars into an elevated PB&J pastry. Great for breakfast on the go!
5. Cranberry Jalapeno Dip
With hot and spicy jalapeno, rich cream cheese, tangy cranberries, and fresh herbs, this dip pleases everyone at a party. Use fresh cranberries for bright and clean flavor, pulsing them in a food processor to get to a salsa consistency. They combine with jalapenos and scallions to bring the savory and spicy tones, then fresh cilantro and lime juice are added before letting the mixture rest so the flavors can meld together.
The salsa is seasoned with both sugar and salt and strained to keep the consistency thick and chunky. When spread over a bed of cream cheese, the 2-layer dip is bright and celebratory in both color and taste.
6. Butternut Squash Apple Cranberry Bake
Warming and lightly sweet, this layered and baked plant-based dish makes a standout side or a light main course. Steps of slice, layer, and cook allow for quick and convenient preparation, and the combo of chock-full-of-health fruits and veggies get an appealing sprinkle of a brown sugar crumb mixture on top. You can use either fresh or thawed frozen whole cranberries in this recipe; the baking process will make the berries and chopped pieces tender and bring crispness to the butter-based topping.
This casserole works for any meal, including breakfast, and of course, you can feel good about the ingredients.
7. Slow Cooker Cranberry Meatballs
Showing up at a gathering with an appetizer of party meatballs coated in zesty homemade barbecue sauce, every chef recognizes the eyebrow-raised look when they tell someone that grape jelly went into the recipe. To seasoned cooks it only makes sense—barbecue sauce combines savory, spicy, and sugary. So from there, it’s a short leap to trying out variations on the sweet ingredient.
Substituting canned cranberry sauce makes for an even tangier barbecue flavor, and cranberry alongside protein already stands firm as a classic. Chili sauce is added for spice alongside refreshing chopped parsley. Let these simmer in the slow cooker for 4 hours for effortlessly tender beef.
8. Cranberry Brie Bites
These pretty handheld star-shaped appetizers mingle beautifully amongst other party fares, and with only 3 ingredients you can put them together even if you’re pressed for time. Use double cream brie for a high fat content that brings a rich and creamy pairing with tart and sweet cranberry sauce. Crescent dough is cut into tiny squares and easily folded to the center to hold cranberry and brie fillings, forming elegant little bites.
You’ll bake for 11-13 minutes or until you see dough starts to brown and cheese melt. Alternately you could bake these in a mini-muffin pan for open cranberry-brie cups with pointed kerchief edges.
9. Cranberry Pie
I love making fresh homemade pie crust whenever I bake a pie—I’m already making a home-baked dessert, so I want to ensconce all that filling in made-from-scratch buttery pastry. It’s not nearly as daunting as you might think, and this recipe walks you through the steps of making fall-themed cutout shapes from extra crust to place along the edge. Beautiful! Cranberry filling made from fresh berries is adjusted with a generous helping of sugar and a bit of flour and cornstarch so it won’t be excessively tart.
Vanilla also helps neutralize the strong flavor and a sprinkling of ginger adds another hint of fall.
10. Cranberry Chicken
Luckily this recipe isn’t just another juicy white meat main course with cranberry sauce on the side. In fact, each ingredient in the gravy has its own powerful, stand-alone flavor, but blended together they make a lively dish out of mild and tender chicken. The procedure is actually so simple that you don’t even need to mix anything.
You’ll simply layer the ingredients for the sauce over chicken breasts and bake: canned whole berry cranberry sauce, onion soup mix, chopped pecans, Craisins, and Catalina dressing. The sweet dressing and cranberry flavors get tempered by earthy nut and onion, and the rich sauce works well over a variety of sides.
11. Cranberry Nut Bread
This one’s a classic that you don’t need to save for a specific time of year, even though cranberries are in season during the winter. Fresh or frozen whole berries spread thickly throughout this moist bread give it oodles of flavor, and the tang is boosted by orange zest as well as orange juice. In its previous form, the recipe called for fewer berries but decided to adjust it for a stronger cranberry taste, which makes it stand out among traditional bread made with fruit or vegetables.
12. Cranberry Sausage Stuffing
This stuffing recipe calls for dried cranberries or Craisins, and sure doesn’t skimp on them even though stuffing is considered a savory side dish! The foundation is of course the standard toasted bread cubes, of both white and wheat bread, but spicy and salty sausage provides the savory balance to one and a half cups of sweet, tart-dried cranberries.
This dish’s robust flavors are complemented by a bevy of herbs–parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme—as well as a light crunch from onions and celery baked in.
13. Cranberry Pear Salad
Though some may groan at the thought of a salad being a sumptuous meal, I can think of fewer things more decadent or delicious than fresh herbs on just about anything. A really fresh, crisp salad comes close to that, and when it comes to exploring new flavor combinations I love trying creative new salad recipes. The juicy sweetness of pears stands up to bold flavors like strong cheeses and tart ingredients.
Greens here are topped with sliced pears, Havarti cheese, pecans toasted to bring their aromatic qualities to their height, and chewy dried cranberries, and dressed with a house-made, fragrant balsamic vinaigrette.
14. Slow Cooker Cranberry Beef Brisket
As slow cooker recipes go this one makes putting together a fantastic dinner a breeze, which is the shining advantage of so many slow cooker meals. The cranberry glaze that the beef cooks in, however, elevates this to a fancier meal than homey and familiar comfort food. You’ll mix dried cranberries, one can of whole berry cranberry sauce, onion soup mix, and sparkling ginger ale into a sauce that will marinate and tenderize beef brisket slowly over 8 hours.
When ready to serve, add an additional can of cranberry sauce to the cooking juices for a glaze popping with flavor.
15. Cranberry Bread Pudding
Those who rightly recognize carbohydrates as their soulmate will appreciate one wonderful thing (bread) being the basis for another (dessert). Bread pudding takes the soft, spongy goodness of bread and fills the gaps in between with wonderfully warm baked custard. Make the rich custard with milk, cream, and eggs, flavored with cinnamon, cranberries, golden raisins, and lemon zest along with vanilla bean seeds.
Bake covered for one hour to set the custard, and then 15 more minutes uncovered for a browned and slightly crisp surface.
16. Cranberry Walnut Belgian Waffles
We go to Belgian waffles over regular when we want more of the big, fluffy, crisp waffle goodness, and this recipe makes sure to fill every bite to bursting with big cranberry flavor. Brunch foods always bring on the smiles, and with plenty of cranberries in the batter as well as a sauce of cranberry maple syrup, these waffles are something special. You don’t even have to treat them as a guilt-laden indulgence, because the batter is based entirely on whole grains, with flaxseed, whole wheat flour, and oats.
The procedure involves simple mixing and simmering while your waffle iron does the work, so the unique taste and pretty presentation make this recipe great for inviting friends over.
17. Cranberry Trifle
If you feel you can’t ever get a pie crust or cake frosting to come out looking neatly and expertly done, make trifles one of your mainstay desserts. It’s quite easy to create a stunning trifle, and seeing all the layers and varied colors and textures lets everyone know they’ll be treated to an elaborate, multi-faceted confection. You can choose store-bought or homemade versions of each component, but for this trifle you’ll assemble vanilla pound cake, golden custard, and cranberries simmered with sugar and cinnamon and then chilled.
The final layer is covered in whipped cream and glittering candied cranberries.
18. Sticky Cranberry Gingerbread
Reminiscent of moist and gooey British classics like sticky puddings, these soft and chewy bars are made of homemade gingerbread dotted with fresh cranberries (or frozen will work too). I love the from-scratch ingredients here like molasses, freshly grated ginger, and maple syrup. 2 cups of cranberries give the bars lots of sweet tang, and you’ll use these to make a homemade cranberry sauce which gets spread on top of the gingerbread batter and swirled throughout.
Although these would be appealing at any time of year, they would pair perfectly with a movie like A Christmas Carol, also something I could enjoy any time of year.
19. Cranberry Christmas Cake
Much like Mom’s pancakes on Saturday mornings, Cranberry Christmas Cake only needs a handful of ingredients but ends up soft, tender, and airy thanks to beating eggs and sugar together to form a meringue-type consistency. Besides the vanilla extract, almond extract brings an unexpected pop of extra sweetness for a festive flavor combination. Fresh cranberries wilt and soften during baking and provide an attractive contrast within the white cake.
Instead of a heavy frosting, the top of the cake is dusted with confectioners’ sugar, letting the cranberries and almond extract be the statement flavors. Serve this moist and fluffy cake with sprigs of fresh mint for a holly wreath-like look.