I want to put dried cranberries and sausage in my Thanksgiving turkey roll, but I don’t really need the extra sugar used in commercially dried cranberries, and the unsweetened kind are not available in any local stores I know of. Ideally, I would use a dehydrator, which I have wanted for years, but I don’t have one now, so I have to use the oven method. There seem to be two schools of thought on preparing the cranberries before drying: (1) cut the cranberries in half to prevent little berry explosions in the oven, or (2) pop the skins quickly in boiling water. After breaking the skins, methods vary on additives—sugar or artificial sweeteners to combat tartness, oils to moisten and prevent clumping—and on how to use the oven. I’m going to add an artificial sweetener plus vegetable oil to one batch and nothing to the other batch.
Oven Dried Cranberries: Two Methods
Method 1: Sweetened and Quick-Dried
Preheat oven to 200°; line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Rinse one 12 oz bag of cranberries and dry on a towel. Remove any stems.
- Cut berries in half and place in a large bowl.
- Stir in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons of agave syrup—you could use other artificial sweeteners, but I think liquids would work better than powders. The source suggests no-sugar-added fruit syrups, also.
- Spread out cranberries on baking sheet and dry in oven for about 2 hours. The source recommends 2-3 hours, but I think even 2 hours was too long. I pulled them when it looked like a few might burn, probably the result of the oil and sweetener. At first some were a little crunchy, but after sitting in an airtight container for a few hours, they took on the right chewiness—also probably the result of the oil and sweetener.
All in all, I recommend this method, but you need to watch the berries carefully in the oven after the first hour. I didn’t add a lot of sweetener, but I think it had a small effect that would make them good for snacking, and as soon as this post is done, I’m putting some in a bowl with almonds for just that purpose. After they cool, put them in an airtight container to develop chewiness.
Method 2: Unsweetened and Slow-Dried
Recipe Source: http://www.cranberries.org/cranberries/recipes_dried.html
Preheat oven to 350° about 10 minutes before freezing period is done; line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Rinse and remove stems of one 12 oz bag of cranberries; pour in strainer that fits in a large mixing bowl.
- Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Pour water over berries and let sit for a few minutes until skins pop. You will hear the skins pop as soon as you begin pouring the water over them. When the popping quits, lift the strainer, draining the berries as much as possible.
- Spread out the berries on the baking sheet and place in freezer for 2 hours.
- Preheat oven 10 minutes before taking berries out of freezer.
- Place sheet of frozen berries in oven, then turn the oven off and let the berries sit in the oven *overnight.
*What is overnight? For me it would be 8 hours; for others it might be 4-5, so this step is not clear. Maybe it means at least 4 hours (?). I don’t know, but I know that my gas oven goes stone cold long before 8 hours, and I have a hard time believing that the berries dry without heat. So, I took them out after 4 hours and they were going nowhere. Maybe the idea of freezing them for two hours works if you are using a dehydrator, but I’m thinking that most of the initial heat in the oven went to thawing my berries. So, I ended up doing steps 4-5 two more times, turning the oven on to 200° for the last round.
I don’t recommend this method using the oven. Maybe it would be different in a dehydrator. Popping the skins in boiling water results in crispy balls of air after drying. I threw them away.
A side-by-side comparison of the first two tries:
One More Try: Freezing the Berries First
So, I’m going to do both methods again, at the same time, but with adjustments. I had two more bags of cranberries, but they were in the freezer where I usually store cranberries. Note to self: get some more. I let them thaw for an hour, then proceeded with the above methods.
- I cut one group in half and coated them with just 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, but no sweetener. I don’t see why I need them to be sweetened either for the stuffing or to use in baked goods.
- I popped the skins of the second group in boiling water.
- Both went into the 200° oven on separate sheets.
- After one hour, I checked them every half hour and took them out after 2 1/2 hours.
- Thawed frozen berries are wet and squishy to begin with, so cutting some in half required a thin, sharp serrated knife. Those berries, with a little oil, came out similar to the ones that weren’t frozen, with some chewiness. Clearly, it’s the oil.
- Pouring boiling water over thawed berries seemed to make them lose even more of their interior. When you lift them out of the bowl and the remaining water is pink, you know a lot of your flavor is lost. These were even crunchier than the first batch. I can’t recommend the boiling water method at all.
- Just for fun (?), I tried reconstituting some of each to see if they react like raisins and plump up. The halved ones did, but the other ones were still like leather, hollow leather.
I have to question why so many sites suggest the method of popping the skins in boiling water first, and I wonder if it’s one of those recipes that people repeat without testing first. As I said, maybe it would work in a dehydrator, but it does not work well in the oven, at least not for cranberries.