Cranberry Cake

A charming, festive buttermilk cranberry cake topped with a flood of vanilla-flecked buttermilk icing.

Cranberry Cake

This festive cranberry cake is a holiday version of a cake I’ve been baking for years — a decade? More? The foundation is inspired by a buttermilk cake by Nikole Herriott that ran in Anthology magazine forever ago. I do various rye flour versions and what you see here is 1 part dark rye flour to 3 parts all-purpose flour. It’s rich, moist, fragrant, vanilla-kissed, and cranberry studded. The buttermilk icing sets into a sweet, sugar crust.

A cranberry cake with vanilla icing decorated with sugared cranberries on a table

Cranberry Cake: The Ingredients

A couple notes related to some of the ingredients used in this cake.

  • Flours: You’ll be using a combination of unbleached all-purpose flour and rye flour for this cake. Ideally, you’ll use dark rye flour, it’s the whole grain version of rye flour and what I prefer here. But! If you have a lighter rye flour, feel free to swap that in. No rye flour? Go ahead and substitute more all-purpose flour.
    An undecorated cake cooling on a wire rack
  • Buttermilk: Low-fat is fine.
  • Cranberries: I tend to use fresh for the cake batter, but frozen is ok too. It might extend your baking time a bit. I use fresh (not frozen) to make sparkling cranberries.

A sliced cranberry cake with vanilla icing with cranberries dotting the crumb of the cake

Ideal Cake Pan Size

I’ve baked this cake in just about every cake pan imaginable. The cake pictured in the photos you see here was baked in an antique ceramic terrine mold (with similar volume as a 9x5 loaf pan). You can do a series of smaller cakes, a bundt version, or classic round. The main thing is to butter and flour your pans well, keep an eye on things while your cake(s) is baking, use a cake tester vigilantly, and adjust your timing. You’ll have about 7 1/2 cups of cake batter here. Alternately, I love cooking this batter in  a mix of old ironstone molds, the little cakes turn out incredibly charming.

A cranberry cake with vanilla icing decorated with sugared cranberries on a table

Cranberry Cake with Sparkling Cranberries on Top

I include an extra component in this cake recipe — the sparkling cranberries. They’re beautiful, festive and people love snacking on them. Use them to decorate your cake and then serve extras on the side or as a component in your holiday spread. They’re great on a cheese board, etc. That said, you can skip them and keep things mono-chromatic and snowy white if you like.
A sliced cranberry cake with vanilla icing with cranberries dotting the crumb of the cake on a sheet of parchment paper

The Icing

Vanilla beans are extra splurgy right now, so if you don’t have access to them, or they’re out of budget, a second choice is vanilla bean paste. Third choice, skip the vanilla in the icing, or replace a teaspoon of the buttermilk with vanilla extract. If you love icing, double up.

Full, unsliced cranberry cake with vanilla icing and powdered sugar decorated with sugared cranberries on marble

If you enjoy this cake, there’s another version in Near & Far using an even higher percentage of rye flour.

More Holiday Recipes

More Cake Recipes



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Cranberry Cake

5 from 5 votes

I prefer to use dark rye flour for this cake. But if you have a lighter rye flour on hand, go ahead and use that. A long, loaf-shaped cake pan is my go-to here, but often divide the batter across multiple smaller decorative cake pans. You basically have about 7 1/2 cups of cake batter to play with. On the cranberry front, feel free to dial up the amount of cranberries in your cake if you like more color and density. And if you love icing, make double and serve a bowl on the side so people can drizzle to their liking!

Ingredients
  • 1 cup / 112 g rye flour
  • 3 cups / 375 g unbleached all-purpose flour, plus a bit extra
  • 2 tablespoons aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 2 cups / 480 ml buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup / 225 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups / 250 g granulated cane sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups / 5 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • Vanilla Buttermilk Glaze:
  • 1 1/2 cups / 200 g confectioners' (powdered) sugar, plus more for dusting
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste)
  • Sparkling cranberries, optional
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F / 170°C degrees. Butter and flour a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Or, a series of smaller pans. If you end up with leftover batter, bake off a cupcakes or two. You can use whatever variety of pans you prefer, just be sure to only fill the pans 2/3 of the way full of batter, and keep an eye on the baking time.

Make the Cranberry Cake:
  1. Sift the flours, baking powder and salt together and set aside. In another bowl stir together the buttermilk and vanilla, set aside.
  2. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter until light and fluffy. With the machine on add the sugar. Beat until well incorporated. Be sure to turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides once or twice at this stage. Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating each egg before the next addition. Mix until the batter is uniform, creamy, and billowy.
  3. Either by hand or with the mixer on low, add one-third of the dry ingredients, then one-third of the buttermilk, stirring between each addition *just* enough to incorporate. Repeat until all the flour mixture and buttermilk ingredients are in the batter. Toss the cranberries in a bit of flour, shake off excess and fold into the batter, being mindful to avoid over-mixing.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and/or the top springs back. If you’re baking multiple smaller cakes, they will be done sooner than larger ones, usually 30 - 50 minutes. A 9x5 loaf pan, or equivalent, is usually more in the range of an hour or so. Set on a cooling rack to cool slightly before removing from the pan. Cool completely before icing.
Make the Vanilla Buttermilk Glaze:
  1. Meanwhile, stir together the glaze ingredients, whisking until nice and smooth. Drizzle over the tops of the cooled cakes, allowing a bit of extra glaze to run down the sides. If you're adding sparkling cranberries to the top, this is the time. Allow the icing to set before serving. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving for added winter vibes. I tend to leave this cake on the counter for snacking, but it can be transferred to an air-tight container and refrigerated if you want it to keep for longer.

Notes

Serves 12.

Serves
12
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
50 mins
Total Time
1 hr
 
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Comments

A bit ranmdom since this is a cranberry cake – but would there be something else we could sub for cranberries? Chocolate chips, blueberries, dates? Cake looks delicious but not a cranberry fan!

mayapapaya

    Blueberries would be beautiful! Or Raspberries. Or a mixed berry version!

    Heidi Swanson

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