Big Little Recipes

Sheet-Pan Cranberry Crisp Is a Statement Dessert for Thanksgiving

All you need is a few ingredients and one bowl—no special equipment.

November 23, 2021

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Inspired by the column, the Big Little Recipes cookbook is available now. Like, right now.


A native ingredient in what is now America, annually harvested as soon as the weather turns brisk in the Northeast, cranberries are unabashedly bitter. European colonizers considered them “too tart to eat by themselves,” according to the Cambridge World History of Food, “but made them into pies, puddings, tarts, relishes, preserves, and cranberry sauce.”

Today, cranberry sauce is a nearly nonnegotiable part of the Thanksgiving table. Online searches for cranberry sauce spike in November, and all but vanish for the rest of the year. Other cranberry recipes pale in comparison. Cranberry pie has a fraction of the search interest—literally five one-hundredths, or 5 percent, according to Google. And cranberry crisp is even worse.

There’s five times as much search interest in a cranberry apple crisp as there is in a straight-up cranberry one. But this is injustice. Cranberries alone are excellent. Does adding another ingredient actually yield a better dessert? Or just a sweeter one?

This cranberry crisp is exactly that—a cranberry crisp with no apple cushion. It is sour, yes, and proud of it, like an Olivia Rodrigo album. Something is only an insult if you interpret it that way. And in this case, tart isn’t a critique; it’s a compliment. After buttery turkey and cheesy macaroni and creamy greens, a loud-mouthed dessert that makes you straighten up in your seat is absolutely welcome.

The trick is to abandon the classic deep dish and use a sheet pan instead. This overhauls the typical crisp ratio—mostly fruit with a streusel blanket—and levels the playing field. When you stretch out the surface area, you end up with equal parts of juicy, jammy cranberries and oaty, crunchy streusel.

Plus, carrying an entire sheet pan of fruit crisp to the table is dramatic in a fun way.

Serve cranberry crisp with something lush, be it vanilla ice cream, crème fraîche, or heavy cream poured straight from the container. This isn’t meant to erase that sourness we’re chasing after—only soften it, just enough, so you can’t help but ask for a second helping.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in November 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

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