Homemade Holiday Molded Cranberry Sauce Recipe Without Pectin and Without Gelatin

Grab your Santa hat and a bag of fresh cranberries cause we’ve got holiday cranberries on the brain!  We’re going to cook up a batch of sweet and simple jellied cranberry sauce (well, okay, some folks call it cranberry jelly or molded cranberry salad). Then we’re going to chill it, chill it good. THEN we’re going to steal a bit of it, puree it, swirl in some old-fashioned cream cheese buttercream frosting and toss in some chopped strawberries for a Berry Berry Cake Filling.  You’re going to have yourself a nice jellied cranberry sauce for a holiday dinner side dish using this recipe AND you’ll have the beginnings of a merry little cake filling just right for the loverly Vintage Whipped Cream Cake. No need to mess with gelatin and you’ll get plus points from your vegetarian friends for that.

The center filling is going to look just like this…

And the Berry Berry Cake Filling will be all hidden away as a sweet holiday surprise inside the Vintage Whipped Cream Cake…hee hee 🙂

But all this vintage cake goodness STARTS with a fresh batch of homemade cranberry sauce. As in, old-fashioned cook-it-on-the-stove cranberry sauce.  Well, I suppose you COULD start it off with a CAN of jellied or whole cranberries — but let’s NOT go there.  ‘Specially since this is so very easy to prep and because the bright flavors have that extra kick of goodness that adds a cool oomph to your kitchen crafted goodies.

This recipe has a tad more sugar than your typical homemade cranberry sauce. This is partly because the family seems to prefer it gently sweet with just a twid of orange goodness (I made up that twid word, could you tell?) AND because it’s better for the cake filling to be a little on the sweeter side than on the tart side. It’s also a little different because it contains no gelatin. Why?  Not necessary – at all. 🙂 Cranberries have a natural pectin that, combined with the sugar syrup, cause it to thicken all on its own without the need to add gelatin or pectin.

Slow Cooking Warning: It doesn’t take long (let’s put a number of 15 to 20 minutes for the prep time) but overnight refrigeration is required. Make-ahead planning is a good thing during the holiday season (am I right?) so this comes in right handy as a do-ahead double-duty recipe. I trust this is a dish you will want to serve your family and friends at holiday dinners. PLUS!  You’ll need just a swipe of this ruby-red side dish for the Whipped Cream Cake filling  for the Whipped Cream Cake so this recipe is good on two very important fronts: the dinner table and the dessert table.  Besides, it gets lots of oohs and aahs for its festive color, either as a stand-alone side dish or, in its altered state, as cake-y filling. 🙂

Okay, let’s Go Country and do this thing…

Tools Needed for Homemade Cranberry Sauce:
Large pot
Wooden spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Small grater or zester (for lemon and orange peels)
Small knife (to chop zests or grated peels smaller)
Potato Masher (substitute: fork for mashing)
Small bowl (2-cup size or larger for molding and chilling)
Plastic wrap (for easy mold release)

Ingredients for Cranberry Sauce:
12 ounces (about 3-1/3 cups) of whole fresh cranberries
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 medium fresh lemon for:
1 teaspoon fresh lemon peel, grated, lightly packed
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 medium fresh orange for:
1 teaspoon fresh orange peel, grated, lightly packed
2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, fine quality

Directions for Cranberry Sauce:

Prepare by rinsing to clean and removing any stray stems of:
12 ounces (about 3-1/3 cups) of whole fresh cranberries

Using a small grater or zester, grate a fresh lemon to achieve:
1 teaspoon of fresh lemon peel, lightly packed (chopping finely if using a zester that produces long strips)

Cut the lemon in half and squeeze to produce:
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Using a small grater or zester, grate a fresh orange to achieve:
1 teaspoon of fresh orange peel, lightly packed (chopping finely if using a zester that produces long strips)

Cut the orange in half and squeeze to produce:
2 teaspoon fresh orange juice

Boil in a large pot:
prepared fresh cranberries
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
prepared lemon peel
prepared lemon juice
prepared orange peel
prepared orange juice

Bring the berries to a full boil and then reduce heat to achieve a low boil.

The cranberries will soften as they gently boil…

After the berries have gently boiled in their syrup for 10 minutes (no less), remove them from the heat.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in:
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, fine quality

Leaving the berries in the pot and using a potato masher (or fork as a substitute), mash the berries until they are nicely smooshed (okay, smashed).

Let the berry sauce come to room temperature (about 30 minutes) and give them another stir.The sauce should be thickened somewhat (more of that to come in the fridge).

Right here: Taste it. Just make certain it has enough sweetness for your taste and don’t be afraid to add a little more sugar if you prefer. It will taste exactly how it tastes now when it is served unmolded so get it just how you like it. A little tang and a little sweet combo. 🙂

Line a small bowl that will be your mold (2-cup size or larger) with a large sheet of plastic wrap with edges overhanging the bowl on all sides by double the size of the opening of the bowl (so you can fill it up and flap over the plastic wrap to close ‘er up tight).

Spoon the prepared sauce into the plastic-lined bowl.
Tip: Mounding the cranberry sauce over the top of the bowl is fine because we will be slicing away 1/4 cup of the sauce from the top of the bowl to use for the cake filling.

Cover tightly with the plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to chill thoroughly prior to unmolding. I’m told this can stay refrigerated for a week (some folks say up to 3 weeks) in a tightly covered dish so check with the cranberry experts to be sure if you plan to refrigerate it longer than a couple of days.

Remember: Before you unmold to serve with dinner, reserve 1/4 cup (just scrape or slice a little off the top before unmolding) for your cake filling. 🙂

When it’s time to serve this as a side dish alongside your turkey and ham, just flip the bowl over onto a lovely plate and remove the plastic wrap. Voila! Perfection right before your very eyes (no messing with hot water tubs trying to melt the thing out of a dish lock). 🙂  You might serve your beautiful molded cranberry sauce with some simple orange slices around the rim to brighten your table. 🙂

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Vintage Whipped Cream Cake recipe. 🙂 It’s a pleasant little vintage cake to make and, using a bit of this homemade cranberry sauce is just an easy way to up-it a notch for your special holiday cake. Hope you have fun with it and let me know how it goes in the comments section. I love hearing from you all!

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Happy holiday season to you,


Leslie Macchiarella in orange

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