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Festive holiday Cranberry Christmas Cake!
Tart cranberries and bright orange zest combine in this moist and flavorful cake.
Christmas is an amazing time for those of us who love to bake and for those who love a great treat! There’s so many wonderful recipes to share, it’s hard to decide what’s next. So I thought I’d make your decision a little easier today. Our dazzling, flavorful Cranberry Christmas Cake is always a hit and a welcome addition to any holiday table.
This delightful Cranberry Christmas Cake is made with a rich sour cream batter.
I’m a nut for sour cream cakes. The cake batter is thick enough to hold the fruit in place and the tangy flavor adds a richness not found in some recipes.
Cranberries, orange and sour cream have been the winning base for many of our favorite holiday recipes. If you adore this combo too, you’ll love these popular Cranberry Orange Muffins, our one-layer Cranberry Cake with Orange Glaze and the classic Cranberry Orange Bread.
Ingredients needed for our Cranberry Christmas Cake:
For the cake layers:
- unsalted butter – make sure the butter is at room temperature for easy blending. Substitute salted butter if needed. Cut the additional salt in half.
- granulated sugar
- eggs – you’ll need 2 large room temperature eggs.
- vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- cake flour – you can substitute all-purpose flour if desired. The cake will not be as tender, but still delicious.
- baking powder – now is a good time to made sure your baking powder is still active. Try our simple test to ensure you get plenty of lift in your holiday baked goods.
- baking soda
- sour cream – room temperature
- milk – I use whole milk but 2% will work too
- fresh squeezed orange juice
- orange zest
- fresh or frozen cranberries
- simple syrup for brushing on the baked layers (reserved from making the sugared cranberries) Don’t skip this step!
For the frosting:
- cream cheese, room temperature
- unsalted butter, room temperature
- powdered sugar
For the garnish:
- sugared cranberries – for variety I left some of the cranberries plain. For a pretty shine, dip in the simple syrup and skip the sugar coating.
How to make Cranberry Christmas Cake:
1. Make sugared cranberries:
- Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar is dissolved and the simple syrup just starts to a boil. Remove from the heat and cool for a minute or two.
- Add the cranberries and stir to coat. Allow the cranberries to rest in the syrup for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the cranberries from the simple syrup using a slotted spoon. Reserve 1/4 cup of the simple syrup to brush on the baked, cooled cake layers.
- Transfer the cranberries to a wire rack to dry taking care to separate each one so they won’t stick together.
- Once dried and tacky, roll half the cranberries in coarse sugar. Transfer to a clean wire rack to dry. Refrigerate until needed.
- The sugared cranberries can be made a day or two in advance.
NOTE: You can also make sugared rosemary branches using the same recipe. Rosemary sprigs make a beautiful addition to the cranberry decorations as we’ve done on our Red Velvet Cake.
2. Make the cake layers:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Combine the butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time blending well after each addition.
- In a small bowl combine the wet ingredients. In another bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. Alternate adding the wet and dry ingredients blending after each addition.
- Finally, fold in the orange zest and cranberries. If using frozen cranberries there’s no need to thaw first.
- Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Smooth the tops and bake.
- Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
3. To make the frosting:
- Combine the cream cheese and butter and beat until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Add a little milk or more sugar as needed for desired consistency.
NOTE: Leftover frosting can be spread between graham crackers creating sandwich cookies. Keep refrigerated or freeze in an airtight container.
4. Assemble the cake:
- Trim the cooled cake layers flat. Brush each layer with the cranberry infused simple syrup.
- Place one layer on a platter or cake stand.
- Spread 1/3 of the frosting between the layers.
- Spread remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake.
- Decorate the top with sugared cranberries as desired.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Our Cranberry Christmas Cake can be made into a one layer, two layer or three layer cake.
For the cake pictured here we used two (9-inch) cake pans. For a towering treat use three (8-inch) cake pans. Reduce the baking time to about 18 to 20 minutes.
Our Cranberry Christmas Cake can also be made into a single layer cake using a 13×9-inch pan. Omit adding the cranberries to the cake batter. Instead, sprinkle the cranberries on top of the unbaked cake, then top with a hefty helping of coarse sugar.
If using coarse sugar on top of a 13×9-inch cake, skip the frosting and sugared cranberries or make a simple glaze with powdered sugar and orange juice. It’s all good!
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Cranberry Christmas Cake
For the cake:
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature (170g)
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar (300g)
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 2 ½ cup cake flour (292g)
- 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sour cream (8oz)
- ½ cup milk (4oz)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup fresh orange juice, strained of seeds and pulp (2oz)
- zest of 1 orange
- 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen cranberries (145g)
- ¼ cup simple syrup for brushing on baked layers, reserved from the sugared cranberries
For the frosting:
- 8 ounces cream cheese room temperature
- 16 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature (226g)
- 24 ounces powdered sugar, about 6 cups
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- Sugared cranberries
- Rosemary sprigs
To prepare the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 2 (9-inch) round cake pans. Set aside.
- Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Blend again just until combined.
- In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
- In a separate small bowl whisk together the sour cream, milk, vanilla and orange juice. Set aside.
- Add ½ of the sour cream mixture to the butter sugar mixture and blend on low until incorporated. Next add ½ of the flour mixture and mix on low until blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the remaining sour cream and then all the remaining flour. Blend on low just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl with a spatula. Using a spatula, gently fold the zest and cranberries into the batter. Do not beat!
- Divide the batter equally between the prepared cake pans. Tap the pans firmly on the countertop to release any air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Do not over bake!!! Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.
To prepare the frosting:
- Combine the cream cheese and butter and beat until creamy. Add the powdered sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the vanilla and mix on low until smooth and creamy. Add a tablespoon of milk or cream as needed for desired consistency.
To assemble the cake:
- If desired trim the cake layers to create a flat surface. Brush each layer with the reserved simple syrup.
- Place one layer on a cake stand or plate. Spread ⅓ of the frosting on top. Repeat with another layer of cake then frost the top and sides as desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Garnish with sugared cranberries.
- This cake can be baked into 3 (8-inch) layers. Reduce baking time to 18 to 20 minutes.
- The cake is also good baked in a 13x9-inch pan. Omit adding the cranberries to the batter but instead sprinkle on top before baking. You can also add a hefty layer of coarse sugar over the cranberries and skip the frosting.
- Cake layers can be baked a day in advance. Cool completely, then cover lightly and refrigerate until ready to assemble.
- Store the frosted cake in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature 30-minutes before serving.
- For clean slices run a large thin knife under hot water then carefully dry. Repeat between slices.
- The frosted cake can also be frozen. Cut into individual slices and layer between wax or parchment paper. Freeze in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
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