Posted by: Erica Retrochef | November 19, 2012

Cranberry Candles

In 48 hours, we’re driving from South Carolina to Chicago to spend time with family. This has been an annual tradition for a really long time — although it was a little easier when we lived in Indiana and didn’t have three small kids. Oh well, I guess that’s why they invented coffee…

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to make a cranberry recipe this week. Last year we tried Cranberry Maple Pie and Cranberry Noel Dessert, both fairly tasty. This year… well, just take a look.

Cranberry Candles

1 (1 pound) can whole cranberry sauce
1 cup boiling water
1 (3 ounce) package strawberry flavored gelatin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup HELLMANN’S Real Mayonnaise
1 apple, diced
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Heat cranberry sauce; strain. Mix liquid, boiling water, and gelatin, stirring until completely dissolved. Add lemon juice and salt. Chill mixture until slightly thickened. Add Real Mayonnaise; beat with rotary beater until fluffy. Fold in reserved cranberries, apple and nuts. Stir and chill until slightly thickened. Fill sauce can 3/4 full for largest candle. Spoon remaining mixture into assorted cans or glasses. Chill until firm. Insert birthday candle halves into unmolded candles. Makes 6 servings.

Now that’s festive!

We tried a little experiment, and after a lot of tries finally managed to create a mayonnaise candle. Seriously — that’s just a heap of mayo, with a bit of string for a wick, and it’s burning. (In fact, it burned for a really long time. Make note of this, my coastal relatives: if the power goes out, set fire to your mayonnaise for light since it’ll be spoiling anyway.) But the “burning” question is, will this cranberry mayonnaise salad actually work as a candle? Can we eat it without feeling ill? Will I ever be invited back to the annual family Thanksgiving dinner if I show up with some of these as a centerpiece?

I personally don’t like canned cranberries, but mostly because it’s fun to cook fresh ones.

It’s less fun to cook the canned stuff, since it’s just melting.

And it took a good five minutes to melt, which was pretty tedious. It was hard to tell whether lumps were jelly or cranberries!

Chopping walnut and apples was faster.

The first time I whipped the mayo and jello together (after an hour), it wasn’t solid enough; it took another 60 minutes and very vigorous whipping to become fluffy.

But eventually it was gooey enough to fold in the solid bits.

One “candle” was molded in the can as the recipe suggested, while the remaining jello mayo stuff went into small cups. (It was very hard to unmold them from the cups!)

And look at the pretty candle!

Surprisingly, there is absolutely no mayonnaise flavor at all. (In fact, we couldn’t figure out what the heck mayo brought to this party, aside from “increased fat content,” which I wouldn’t think a cranberry salad really needs. It is not enough mayonnaise to actually catch fire.) It’s actually pretty tasty, although it would be rather unpleasant without the apples, walnuts, and whole cranberries to add texture and complexity.

The visual appeal, however, is lacking. It looks almost nothing like a candle (even when there’s a lit candle burning in it), because in order to have enough structural integrity to stand up straight, it has to be fairly wide and short. Also, it is really unlikely that you will be able to get a birthday candle down in it far enough without running into an apple chunk, which will push it off to the side. I’d certainly be surprised and amazed if this showed up at a holiday celebration, but not like, “wow, that’s innovative and beautiful!” — more like, “wow, my hostess has some strange ideas about candles.”

(And we tried putting a wick in the salad itself and lighting it with no success. The salad melts from the heat, but all the released water overwhelms the mayo and prevents it from staying on fire.)

Cranberry candles lit up the internet via Aimee Bakes on Flickr. A similar version of the ad was briefly net-famous in a number of other blogs, including Bon Appétit.


  1. You are a bold bold woman for making this monstrosity! My hats off to you 😀

  2. *points, gobsmacked at the mayonnaise*

    I mean, the whole dish has shades of wrongness (this must have been created by some piqued chef in response to being served Baked Alaska or something), but the mayonnaise… just WOW. I might accept it with yogurt or creamed cheese or something more flavorful, but mayo in my jello is a yuck.

    Still. Well played for the holiday centerpiece, ma’am. Well played.
    ☺Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. I saw on Facebook (after the hurricane) a picture of an “emergency candle” someone suggested: get this: a wick inserted in a can of shortening! Light the wick and voila, a loooong burning “candle”. The thing is, shortening doesn’t come in metal cans any more AFAIK, made of foil and cardboard. Sounds like an accident waiting to happen!….as for this recipe, I think a jello mold made of the ingredients would be pretty tasty. Inserting a candle sounds like an early Martha Stewart effort from decades ago.

    • If you know what you’re doing, I suppose any kind of fat can be used to make a candle. I remember distinctly seeing a tin of greasy wax being sold at a gift shop in rural New Hampshire, and emergency candle was one of the many uses listed. (Also listed were at least fifteen other possible uses, including wood finish, leather softener, lubricant, and lip balm. I remember this because it was about 10 degrees out, and I had forgotten my own chapstick, which made the open sample tin of that grease a true treasure for my cracked lips.)

      To get the mayonnaise burning actually required a little bit of care. The gel had to be melted enough to soak into the wick before the flame could really get going. As noted in the post, attempting to do the same thing with the cranberry mix resulted in a liquid mixture that was simply too watery to work the same way.

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