Dried cranberries are great eaten out-of-hand, sprinkled on salads, mixed into granola or yogurt, or included in muffins and other baked goods. If you own a dehydrator, they are easy to make at home, but there are a few necessary steps before and after the drying process that you need to follow.
Prep the Cranberries
Before you can dry the berries, you must blanch and sweeten them. You can omit the sweetening step if you wish, but keep in mind that most of the commercial dried cranberries are sweetened. Unsweetened cranberries are likely to be sour and astringent.
- Wash the cranberries. Place them in a large bowl or pot and pour boiling water over them. Let them soak in the hot water for 10 minutes. They should "pop" or split open, but don't worry if there are a few duds that don't; you will take care of those a bit later.
- Drain the cranberries in a colander, then gently wrap them in a clean dish towel to get rid of as much of the water clinging to them as possible.
- Make a simple syrup using 1 part sugar to 2 parts water. Stir 1/4 cup of the simple syrup along with the cranberries in a bowl.
- Cover the bottom of the dehydrator (below the lowest tray) with a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil to catch any drips from the fruit or the syrup.
- Put the blanched, sweetened cranberries on the dehydrator trays. If there are any cranberries that did not split, pierce with the tip of a paring knife before adding to the trays.
- Leave about 1/2 inch of space in between the berries on all sides so that air can circulate among the fruits.
Dry the Cranberries
The cranberries will take up to 14 hours to dry in the dehydrator. Make sure to let them cool before testing for dryness.
- Place the trays of cranberries in the dehydrator. Turn the dehydrator on to 150 F for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 135 F.
- After 8 hours, start checking the berries. They should be fully dry but still somewhat leathery or pliable.
- You won't know for sure whether or not the cranberries are completely dehydrated until they have cooled (similar to how cookies crisp up after they're taken out of the oven). Turn off the dehydrator and open it to let the cranberries cool for 20 to 30 minutes.
- After the cooling-off period, tear one of the berries in half; there should be no visible moisture along the break.
Condition the Cranberries
Even after the cranberries are correctly dehydrated, there may still be some residual moisture in the fruit that you can't feel. This shouldn't be enough to prevent the fruit from being safely preserved and mold free, but you'll have a tastier, better product if you do what is called "conditioning" the dried fruit.
- Put the dried, cooled cranberries into glass jars or BPA-free food storage containers, only filling the jars about 2/3 full, and cover the jars. Shake the jars a couple of times a day for one week. This redistributes the berries as well as any moisture they may still contain. If any condensation shows up on the sides of the jars it means the fruit isn't dried well enough yet and needs to go back into the dehydrator for a few hours.
- Once the dried cranberries are conditioned, place in airtight containers (it's OK to fully fill the jars at this point). Store away from direct light or heat.