Published November 1, 1999.
Back-of-the-bag recipes aren't bad, but we found a way to make a dramatic improvement.
While canned cranberry jelly has its place, it's no substitute for a lush, tart-sweet sauce made from fresh, whole cranberries.
The best cranberry sauce has a clean, pure cranberry flavor, with enough sweetness to temper the assertively tart fruit but not so much that the sauce is cloying or candylike. The texture should be that of a soft gel, neither too liquidy nor too stiff, cushioning some softened but still intact berries. What combination of basic ingredients--cranberries, sweetener, and liquid--would do the job?
For the most part, it turned out that simpler was better. Use white table sugar, which, unlike brown sugar or honey or syrup, balances the tartness of the cranberries without adding a flavor profile of its own. Simpler was also better when it came to liquid: except in a couple of recipe variations that add a dash of champagne or liqueur, water--not cider, orange juice, or cranberry juice--won out. We also discovered that adding just a pinch of salt brought out an unexpected sweetness in the berries, heightening the flavor of the sauce overall.list of recipes