But at this point I had my heart set on a cranberry margarita, so I went back to the drawing board and decided to rework the recipe starting with more traditional margarita proportions. I ditched the cranberry jam for cranberry syrup and swapped the orange juice for unsweetened cranberry juice to bring out the tartness. I added just the tiniest hint of heat, which you can barely pick up in the finished product, but I think it heightens the flavor. The end result is a gorgeous deep scarlet drink, tart and strong and just barely offset with a bit of sweetness. It's my new favorite holiday cocktail.
Cranberry syrup (inspired by this recipe, makes about 1.5 cups, enough for 24ish drinks)
12 oz fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
1/2 jalapeno (optional), seeded and chopped
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup water
1 tbsp lemon juice
Pinch of salt
:: Place the cranberries, jalapeno (if using), sugar and water in a small saucepan. Simmer gently over medium low heat, until sugar is dissolved and syrup is red (about 10 minutes). Stir or swirl gently at least a few times during this process. I used a flexible spatula rather than a wooden spoon, to avoid breaking up the berries too much.
:: Strain through a fine mesh strainer, taking care not to press down too much on the solids, then stir in a pinch of salt and the lemon juice. Chill. You can make this several days ahead of time and keep it refrigerated until use.
Cranberry margaritas (makes one drink)
1 1/2 oz tequila blanco
1/2 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
1 oz unsweetened cranberry juice*
1/2 oz cranberry syrup
:: Combine everything in a cocktail shaker with two ice cubes, shake vigorously, strain and serve over ice.You can also do this in a make ahead version, which is critical for big gatherings. This is a cocktail that needs to be shaken with ice - the little bit of water you get while shaking it makes the consistency perfect and a pitcher pour won't compare. However, you can combine all your ingredients in the morning, keep them refrigerated and then simply pour and shake during the party. This is the only way I'll consider shaken cocktails if we have a group of more than five people. Obviously, you can scale the recipe however you'd like, but this was a good volume for pre-dinner cocktails for eleven people.
Cranberry margaritas for a party (makes 70 oz total, enough for twenty 3.5 oz pours)
30 oz (3 3/4 cups) tequila blanco
10 oz (1 1/4 cup) fresh squeezed lime juice
20 oz (2 1/2 cups) unsweetened cranberry juice
10 oz (1 1/4 cup) cranberry syrup
: Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher and stir well. Refrigerate until you're ready to start pouring. Shake two drinks (about 7 oz) with ice at a time, strain and serve. No need to wash the shaker between pours, of course. But do keep a towel handy.Non-alcoholic options - I had a little bit of cranberry syrup left over and I used it to mix up a small batch of drinks sans tequila. It's delicious with a splash of sparkling water and it's nice to have something on hand to offer people who don't drink. I used exactly the same proportions, just left out the alcohol.
* I get the unfiltered, unsweetened 100% cranberry juice in the glass jar from Trader Joe's and I think this point is fairly critical. The juice is mouth puckering and not at all sweet. If you can't track down unsweetened cranberry juice you might want to test out using a lower proportion of syrup. On the other hand, if you like your cocktails with a little more sweetness, you may prefer to use a cranberry juice blend.
In case you're curious, we use these Bormioli Rocco bodega glasses for cocktails and I love them to death. Inexpensive, sturdy, great proportions.