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" Why won’t my cranberry sauce gel? "

Dear Anne and Sue,

Why is it that homemade cranberry sauce never really gels like the canned variety? Is there a missing ingredient to my sauce?

Chris Wallace
Ann Arbor, Michigan


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Hello Chris,

You need only three ingredients for a basic cranberry sauce: cranberries, sugar, and water.

Cranberries are naturally rich in pectin, so they gel easily under the right conditions. The ingredient proportions and cooking time determine whether you end up with a sauce that's too runny, a sauce that's perfectly thickened, or a gel that's firm enough to cut with a knife.

To make 2 1/4 cups of cranberry sauce, boil together 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Add 3 cups fresh cranberries and simmer, stirring occasionally until the berries are translucent. Continue to simmer until roughly half the berries pop open and release their pectin. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

If you want a cranberry mold that holds its shape, continue to boil the mixture so that more pectin is released from the fruit, additional water evaporates, and the sauce becomes thick enough to set into a firm gel. Use a candy thermometer to test the sauce: You can be certain the sauce is ready to gel when the syrup reaches 217°F (103°C). If you cook it to a higher temperature than this, too much water evaporates and the gel will be rubbery in texture. When cooked to the correct temperature, the gel will hold its shape after it has cooled and been turned out of the mold.

The proportions of ingredients as stated above are important: Recipes that contain too much sugar are more difficult to get to the gel point because sugar raises the boiling point of the mixture.

So no tricky ingredients! Some careful attention to proportions and cooking time will give you exactly the consistency you want.

Holiday Cheers!
Anne & Sue


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