Fresh cranberries are a holiday favorite, but dried cranberries are enjoyed year-round, whether out of hand, on salads, with granola or yogurt, or included in breads, muffins, and other baked goods. They are easiest to make in a dehydrator but can also be successfully dried in your oven. Just follow a few steps for preparing, drying, and then conditioning the cranberries.
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 commercial brand "craisins" are sweetened. Unsweetened cranberries are likely to be sour and astringent.
- Place the fresh cranberries in a large metal 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 that didn't. You can deal with 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 sugar syrup using 2 parts water to 1 part sugar in a pot. You'll need 1/4 cup of simple syrup for 12 ounces of cranberries (the amount usually found in commercially sold bags of cranberries). Simmer the mixture until it is reduced by half.
- Mix the cranberries with the simple syrup in a large bowl.
- Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet. Cover it with two layers of paper towels and a sheet of parchment paper.
- Put the blanched, sweetened cranberries on the covered rack. With the tip of a paring knife, pierce any cranberries that didn't split before adding them to the covered rack.
- Leave about 1/4 inch of space in between the berries on all sides so that air can circulate between the fruits.
- Use additional baking sheets, racks, paper towels, and parchment paper as needed to hold your remaining cranberries.
Dry the Cranberries
The cranberries will need 8 hours to dry in an oven set as low as it will go. Make sure to let them cool before testing for dryness.
- Turn the oven on to its lowest setting. On many ovens, this is 150 F, but 135 F would be ideal if your oven goes that low. Put the baking sheet of cranberries (with the paper towel and parchment) in the oven for 8 hours or overnight.
- Check the cranberries after 8 hours. They should be fully dry but still somewhat leathery or pliable.
- You won't be able to tell if the cranberries are fully dehydrated until they have cooled. (This is similar to how cookies crisp up after they come out of the oven.) Once they seem dry, turn off the oven and take out the cranberries. Let them 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 dried, there may still be some residual moisture in the fruit that can go unnoticed. 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 "condition" the dried fruit.
- Put the dried, cooled cranberries into glass jars (or BPA-free food storage containers) filling the jars only about 2/3 full. Cover the jars and shake 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, the fruit isn't dried well enough yet and it needs to go back into the oven for a few hours.
- Once the dried cranberries are conditioned, store them in airtight containers away from direct light or heat. It's OK to fully fill the jars at this point.