What Are the Best Tips for Making Cranberry Pie?

Megan Shoop

Cranberry pie offers a tart yet sweet, rustic dessert for the wintertime dinner table. Bakers working with cranberries probably find that they require a lot of processing before they can be eaten easily. Long baking times risk scorching the crust, but there are a few tips for making a delicious and silky cranberry pie. These tips include macerating the berries, using low and slow baking techniques, and possibly skipping the crust altogether.

Cornstarch is often used to thicken the filling in cranberry pie.
Cornstarch is often used to thicken the filling in cranberry pie.

Macerating the berries is possibly the most important tip for making a cranberry pie. Whole berries, even when baked, can be hard and chewy. Softening them with a mixture of sugar and citrus juice usually helps them release their juices and soften while baking. About a cup each of sugar and citrus juice should do the trick. Add them and stir the berries vigorously with a wooden spoon, pushing and mashing them to break their skins. Lemon, lime, and orange juices will all complement the cranberries’ tart sweetness.

A cranberry pie.
A cranberry pie.

Time also helps cranberries macerate. After stirring, allow the berries to stew in their own juices for up to 24 hours. The acids in the citrus will soften the cranberries further and the sugar will dissolve. More mashing and stirring with a wooden spoon after the mixture has marinated should create a ruby-red, sticky paste. Those that like very smooth fruit pies may use an immersion blender to fully mix the berries and juices.

Another tip for making cranberry pie involves baking it at a low temperature for a long time. Some cranberry pies call for a mixture of beaten eggs and butter to create a custard-like filling, while others require flour and cornstarch to soak up some of the juices. Either way, a cranberry pie baked for about 40 minutes at about 325°F (about 163°C) should have plenty of time to allow the flavors to marry, creating a thick, rich cranberry filling.

Sometimes going crust-free is the best way to avoid burning pastry. Cranberry pie doesn't always require a crust, especially the custard kind. An egg-and-berry filling is already rich on its own and doesn’t need a crust to stabilize it. Leaving the crust out also cuts calories for the health-conscious. With this modification, cooks may want to turn the temperature down to about 300°F (about 150°C) to keep the cranberry pie from becoming dry.

Home cooks may find that some batches of cranberries can be overwhelmingly tart. In these cases, the addition of another fruit, rather than more sugar, can help balance the flavors in the cranberry pie. Apples have a mild, sweet flavor that marries well with cranberries. Raisins, dates, figs, and nuts often make it to winter tables, anyway, so it is not a stretch to mix them with cranberries. These sweeter fruits often disguise too-tart cranberries without overpowering them.

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Discussion Comments


@Krunchyman - Based on my experience, it's a lot better to use the whole ones. Not only are they fresh, but generally speaking, they have a lot more flavor than the dried ones. On another note, the dried cranberries are normally eaten by the handful, even though they might go well in muffins. Honestly though, can you imagine using the dried kind to make a pie or cake? I definitely can't.


When making cranberry desserts, such as pies and the like, is it better to use whole (fresh) cranberries, or the dried kind?


Has anyone ever tried cranberry pie during the Holidays? I've never done so, but after reading this article, I think I might give it a chance. It's amazing just how versatile cranberries are. There's cranberry juice, dressing, pies, cakes, you name it.

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