This sweet-tart, lightly-spiced Brandied Cherry Cranberry Sauce is an elegant twist on the classic Thanksgiving side. Make it in advance of the big day for easy entertaining!
Brandied Cherry Cranberry Sauce
I’ve become something of a homemade cranberry sauce aficionado over the years. I really do love the stuff, and I think it’s fun to be creative with adding different flavors and textures to riff off of the classic recipe.
A few years ago, I decided to go with a cran-cherry theme and make Cherry Cranberry Sauce for our Thanksgiving dinner. Tart cranberries and sweet, plump cherries make a beautiful flavor pairing.
Simmered with brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and brandy (because what’s better than brandied cherries for a holiday-worthy recipe?), this Cherry Cranberry Sauce has earned a permanent spot on my Thanksgiving menu rotation.
Making Brandied Cherry Cranberry Sauce
The process for making cherry cranberry sauce is the same as making any whole berry recipe. Simmer the berries with sugar and liquid until the cranberries pop and the mixture is a soft, jam-like consistency.
The difference in this recipe is that you’ll need to add significantly less liquid to the pot at the start.
As the frozen cherries defrost and cook down in the pan, they’ll release a considerable amount of juices into the sauce. You’ll only need to add 1/3 cup of additional liquid, instead of the standard 1 cup in classic cranberry sauce recipes.
About the Brandy
To turn this into brandied cherry cranberry sauce, I use brandy for the added liquid. You can use any brandy you have on hand (I always recommend cooking with something you wouldn’t mind drinking). I like to use cognac.
As the cranberry sauce simmers, the brandy will add a nice depth of flavor to the background. If you prefer a stronger, boozier flavor, add an additional splash of brandy after the sauce has finished simmering.
Wondering the difference between brandy and cognac? All cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac. To be cognac, the brandy must be produced in the Cognac region of France, with certain grape, distillation, and aging specifications. Read more about brandy vs cognac in this article.
Adjusting the Sweetness
Like any cranberry sauce recipe, you can easily customize the sweetness level of this cherry-infused sauce to your personal preferences. I do find that some bags of frozen cherries are sweeter than others (just as some cranberries are more tart), so it’s best to assess it on a batch by batch basis.
For a sweet-tart sauce, I use a full cup of lightly-packed brown sugar. If you prefer more of a pucker to your sauce, reduce that quantity to 3/4 cup. If your berries are on the tarter side, or you prefer a sweet sauce, increase to 1-1/4 cups of brown sugar.
Knowing when the Sauce is Ready
It only takes about 10 minutes of simmering for cherry cranberry sauce to cook down. As the cranberries burst, they release their pectin into the sauce, which helps to create that jam-like texture we’re looking for.
The best way to know is to do an eye and spoon test. First, look at the sauce. Have the berries burst? Does the sauce look slightly thickened and glossy? If so, it’s ready.
Then, dip a spoon into the pot. If it coats the back of the spoon, and you can draw a line through it with your finger (that doesn’t immediately flood with cranberry juice), you’re good to go.
Remember that the sauce will continue to thicken pretty significantly as it cools, and especially with refrigeration. So, the texture you have right out of the pot while the cherry cranberry sauce is hot will be thinner than what you’ll be serving.
Visual texture comparison: The photo directly below is of the sauce right out of the pot. You can see that it looks “juicier” than the first and final photos in this article, which were taken after refrigeration.
Yes. Omit the brandy and use an equal quantity of water, orange juice, apple juice, or apple cider. I like to add about a half a teaspoon of vanilla extract when using another liquid to introduce the warm notes that the brandy brings to the recipe.
Yes. This sauce will keep for up to 5 days, covered, in the refrigerator. You can also freeze it for up to 2 months. For either storage method, return the sauce to room temperature before serving.
I’ve tested this recipe extensively with both fresh and frozen cranberries and found that the texture was a bit looser with frozen. Otherwise, the flavor was the same.
If using frozen cranberries for this particular recipe, I’d recommend defrosting them first.
The thickness of the sauce will be directly dependent on how long you’ve simmered it on the stove. If it’s too thin, it wasn’t cooked long enough. If it’s too thick, it was simmered for too long.
See Knowing When The Sauce is Ready for tips assessing doneness.
More of our Favorite Cranberry Sauce Recipes:
Brandied Cherry Cranberry Sauce
- 12 ounces fresh cranberries
- 12 ounces frozen dark sweet cherries * (not frozen in syrup)
- 1/3 cup brandy (plus an optional additional 1 tablespoon addded after cooking)
- 1 cup light brown sugar , lightly-packed**
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- Stir together all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pot (using 1/3 cup brandy). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, until cranberries burst and sauce has a slightly-thickened, jammy consistency, 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat. If you prefer a stronger brandy flavor, stir in an additional 1 tablespoon before transferring cranberry sauce to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled. Sauce will thicken as it cools.
- Store sauce, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. When chilled, I like to return the sauce to room temperature before serving.