Sparkling Cranberries

By Ann Fulton

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What holiday spread wouldn’t be perked up by something colorful and sparkly?  These sweet-tart jewels are simple to make and can be used to decorate cakes and pies, sprinkled over a variety of salads in place of dried cranberries, or scooped into a small bowl as a pretty complement to a cheese board.

I first saw these little gems when a friend proudly shared a photo of the cake her daughter baked for their family’s Thanksgiving dinner several years ago.  The cranberries looked like glistening red beads against the white icing and made the cake look truly impressive.

In addition to the uses mentioned, the cranberries can be threaded on a toothpick and used as a holiday cocktail or mulled cider garnish, and the leftover cranberry-flavored syrup makes some of the best lemonade I’ve tasted!

The cranberries’ tartness is mitigated by the sugar coating and they have a nice pop to them…and even if you don’t want to eat them, a bowlful of these sparkling beauties makes a rather pretty decoration.

Sparkling Cranberries
Yield: 2 cups
Only two simple ingredients are required for a stunning holiday dessert decoration or cheese plate garnish. For an unusual sweet-tart snack, they can be eaten as is. For a unique salad addition, use them in place of dried cranberries in your favorite salad—especially one that includes blue cheese!
  • 2 cups or one (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup additional granulated or sanding sugar for rolling (see notes)




Rinse and drain the cranberries, and discard any damaged or squishy ones. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Combine the 1 cup granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and allow the simple syrup to cool for 5-10 minutes. Pour the mixture over the cranberries in the bowl. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Drain the cranberries in a colander over a bowl, reserving the steeping liquid, if desired. (The syrup will be infused with cranberry flavor and is delicious in lemonade, cocktails, etc.) Spread them out on a cooling rack (placed over a baking sheet or foil to catch the drips), and let dry for an hour. You want the cranberries to be tacky but not wet. (This helps the sugar to stick to the berries without clumping.)

Place the 3/4 cup sugar in a zip-top plastic bag—a paper bag works well, too. Add the cranberries, and gently shake to coat them with the sugar. Spread the sugared cranberries in a single layer on a baking sheet, and let stand at room temperature for one hour or until dry.

Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to a week. Use as a garnish or a snack. (Taste-wise, they are tart-sweet and still have a crunch to them. They are meant to keep their structure rather than soften during the soaking process.)



Originally, I found that superfine or sanding sugar was better for achieving an evenly coated, glistening cranberry. However, once I allowed them to dry on a rack for an hour after draining, I found that plain old granulated sugar worked well. If the cranberries are tossed with the sugar immediately after draining, there is still a lot of liquid clinging to them, and this makes the granulated sugar especially clumpy.

If you prefer the finer look of sanding or superfine sugar, you can create your own by briefly processing or blending granulated sugar. Don’t blend too long, however, or you will end up with powdered sugar. (see photo below recipe)

The Fountain Avenue Kitchen

The photo above shows the cranberries tossed in a variety of sugars.  Originally, I found that superfine or sanding sugar was better for achieving an evenly coated, glistening cranberry. However, once I allowed them to dry as described in the recipe, I found that plain old granulated sugar worked well. Details in the recipe above.


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  1. Karen

    These look great, but my dietary restrictions don’t include much sugar. Have you tried them with zylitol, or coconut sugar?

    1. Ann Post author

      I haven’t, Karen, but wouldn’t hesitate to try. You will likely be successful with a substitute that is most similar to basic granulated or fine sugar. You could even try a mix of both. Offhand, I’m thinking the color of coconut sugar is a little less white, so the xylitol may be my first choice. If you try, I’d love to know how you make out!

  2. Serenity

    I want to make these to top my cranberry cheesecakes, but I’ll be preparing them the DAY BEFORE. Will they stay sugared on top or will they melt into some sugary mess?
    Thank you!

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Serenity, You can store these in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to a week, so you should be just fine!