Cranberry butter can be one of two things: a cranberry reduction, often spiced, that spreads like butter or actual butter blended with cranberries. The two have little in common aside from the name and, of course, the presence of cranberries. A reduced cranberry “butter” is not really butter at all, but carries that name in reference to its creamy consistency. It is often used as a spread on muffins and breads, as well as a garnish for roasted meats, particularly poultry. Fruit-infused butter is often used just as butter normally would be, but with the added zing of cranberries.
Most of the time, the phrase “cranberry butter” refers to the fruit spread. This kind of cranberry butter is something like a cross between a jam and a sauce. It has less pectin and sweetness than a typical jam or jelly, but a thicker consistency than most cranberry sauce. Most also have a high spice content, generally incorporating cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.
Making this sort of cranberry butter is often easier than it seems. Cranberries are usually the only ingredient aside from spices and flavorings. They must be heated on the stove until they become so hot they burst. Cooking with cranberries can vary somewhat depending on the freshness and ripeness of the fruit, but most of the time, the berries contain a lot of latent moisture. Bursts usually release significant amounts of inner juices.
The berries must be simmered in their juices, adding water or other fruit juice in small amounts as necessary to keep the berries from jelling together or sticking to the bottom of the pan. Clear juices, particularly apple juice, are usually the best choice. Once the cranberries have completely broken down, forming a sort of thick gel, the mixture is ready to be chilled and served. Although this sort of butter is easy to spread, it is often served with a spoon.
A basic cranberry butter recipe is usually quite nutritious, particularly if no excess sugars are added. Eating cranberries has long been touted as healthy choice, and cranberries are considered by many health experts to be something of a “super food.” This designation owes in large part to the fruit's high concentrations of vitamins and helpful antioxidants. Choosing cranberry butter rather than a sweetened jam or sauce is a good way to realize the health benefits of cranberries without consuming excess sugar.
Many cooks make cranberry butter during the winter holidays. It cans easily, and makes a festive homemade gift. The butter is also popular when served alongside roasted turkey at Christmas dinner in many places. American and Canadian cooks often prepare the butter during annual Thanksgiving celebrations, as well.
The “cranberry butter” title can also apply to regular butter that has been blended with cranberry fruits. This sort of butter is generally used no differently than plain butter would be. It is popular on fruit muffins, scones, and bread of all varieties. Cooks often prepare this sort of butter as an interesting accent for fruit-flavored baked goods. Its color — usually creamy white with flecks of pink and red — also makes for an interesting table accent.