Cranberry Cake

Everyone begs me to make this Cranberry Cake every Christmas! The moist, bakery style cake is the BEST ever and is easy to make!

White Cake with Cranberry Filling and Buttercream Frosting will be the hit of every holiday party with its moist, bakery style white cake (BEST white cake ever — the only white cake recipe you will ever need!) its festive sweet and tangy cranberry filling and luscious velvety Orange Buttercream Frosting.   And the best part is you can make the cake and filling a day ahead for a stress free, stunningly beautiful, melt in your mouth delicious dessert!

White Cake with Cranberry Filling and Buttercream Frosting.

Christmas Cranberry Cake Recipe

Can you believe December is just a few days away, which means it’s time celebrate the holiday season with lights, music, decorations and fooood!  Gingerbread, eggnog, peppermint, cinnamon and cranberries are what first come to mind when I think of Christmas food, or desserts, more accurately. I have you covered this season with upcoming Gingerbread Whoopie Pies, Cranberry Eggnog Cheesecake, Nutella Cookies (with customizable add-ins) Chocolate Raspberry Cake and this rave worthy orange cranberry cake.

I saw this cake on MyRecipes.com (by Southern Living) some time ago and it was so gorgeous with glowing reviews, I had to make it.  One of the reviews said, “This cake is incredible. Not only is it delicious, it makes an awesome presentation… I took it to a Christmas party and it was a huge hit. No one said, “who made it?” They said, “where did it come from?”

I had no idea this White Cake with Cranberry Filling recipe was so popular until after I had already made the cake and then googled it.  It has been done by many people, mostly the same way, but I humbly think my version is the best because any cranberry cake is only as good as the white cake itself, and this is the best white cake recipe EVER!

White Cake with Buttercream Frosting.

I adapted Baking Illustrated’s White Cake Recipe (and we all know Baking/Cook’s Illustrated knows their stuff) to fit the 3 layers required by this recipe.   The texture is perfection – so so tender, velvety with a very fine crumb and the flavor is wonderful all on its own with both almond and vanilla extract.  As Patrick dove into a plain cake (practice run), he said it reminded him of angel food cake – it is that light and airy and that good you will want to eat it plain!   If you have been searching for the perfect white cake recipe, this seriously is it.

What sets this White Cake apart is the mixing method.  After dozen of experiments, Baking Illustrated found that instead of creaming the butter and sugar as usual, if you work the butter into the flour and then whisk in milk with gently whisked egg whites, you don’t get an overglutenized cake that can be dry and riddled with small holes, but instead achieve a wonderfully velvety, soft, moist, tender cake.  Thank you, Baking Illustrated.

So now that we have the most glorious White Cake,  it its time to make it festive with cranberries!  The fabulous Cranberry Filling is s simple simmering of cherry preserves (I got mine on Amazon), sugar, orange juice and fresh cranberries to create a sweet and tangy filling to perfectly complement the sweet cake and buttercream frosting.  Along with the traditional butter and sugar, the Buttercream also includes cream cheese and orange juice for an extra dreamy creamy frosting with a hint of citrus to offset the sweet.

The Cranberry Filling gets sandwiched between the snowy white cake layers and then enveloped by Orange Buttercream Frosting for an impressive festive cake that will leave partakers coming back for more and more and more.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from my house to yours with cranberry cake; stunningly beautiful decadence and melt in your mouth deliciousness!

White Cake with Cranberries on top.

Cranberry Cake Ingredients

This orange cranberry cake recipe has three components: the white cake, the cranberry filling, and the orange buttercream frosting. Here’s what you’ll need to make this recipe:

  • All-purpose flour and cornstarch: May substitute the all purpose flour and cornstarch with 3 ⅓ cups cake flour.
  • Milk: Any kind of milk will work (use 2% or whole milk for the moistest cake).
  • Egg whites: Need to be room temperature before making the batter.
  • Almond extract: Adds a subtly sweet almond flavor. Don’t add more than the recipe calls for because it can easily overpower the cake.
  • Vanilla extract: Use pure vanilla extract for best results.
  • Granulated sugar: Sweetens both the cake and the cranberry filling.
  • Baking powder: Helps the cake rise in the oven.
  • Salt: Enhances the flavors and cuts through the sweetness.  You want to use good old table salt.
  • Butter: Please do NOT substitute it with oil or you will be missing out on some serious flavor. Use unsalted butter so we can control the salt in the recipe.
  • Cherry preserves: I bought mine on Amazon.
  • Orange juice: Freshly squeezed is a must for this recipe!
  • Fresh cranberries: Frozen cranberries, thawed, may be substituted.
  • Cream cheese: Needs to be softened to room temperature before making the frosting.
  • Powdered sugar: You may need to sift your powdered sugar if it’s been sitting in your pantry for a while.
Showing how to make cranberry filling for cranberry cake.

How to Make Cranberry Cake

  1. Make the cranberry filling: It’s as easy as throwing everything into a pot and simmering until the cranberries pop. Let the filling cool completely before assembling the cake.
  2. Make the white cake layers: Use an electric handheld mixer to make the batter. The white cake comes together much like a normal cake, with a few special steps (I’ve detailed everything in the recipe card below).
  3. Bake the cake layers: Turn the batter into three 9-inch cake pans. Bake until done, then set aside to cool.
  4. Make the orange buttercream: Beat butter, cream cheese and salt at medium speed with an electric mixer until very creamy, 1-2 minutes. Gradually add powdered sugar alternately with orange juice. Beat at low speed until blended and smooth after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
  5. Assemble the orange cranberry cake: I’ve given very detailed instructions in the recipe card below on how to assemble this three layer Christmas cake.

Tips for Making a Cranberry Cake

  • Use room temperature eggs. As in all my cake recipes, you will need room temperature eggs for this orange cranberry cake. Room temperature eggs mix much easier – you can literally feel the difference. This makes it hard to overmix your batter which results in a softer, fluffier, more tender cake. Cold eggs result in a dry, denser cake.
  • To quickly bring eggs to room temperature: Add warm (not hot) tap water to a bowl then add eggs (still in their shells) for at least 20 minutes. 
  • Don’t overmix. For the lightest, most tender cake, take care not to overmix the flour mixture, mix just until combined. You never want overmix a flour mixture once eggs have been added as this will overdevelop the gluten and result in a tough cake. 
  • Don’t open oven door early. It is important to not even crack the oven door until it’s time to check your cakes for doneness. Opening the doors can cause your cake to cook unevenly and to fall in the center. 
  • Don’t microwave cream cheese. NEVER MICROWAVE cream cheese for frosting. This will ensure your orange buttercream frosting is the perfect consistency and not runny.
Showing how to assemble a cranberry cake.

Recipe Variations to Try

You can’t tweak this cake recipe very much (baking is a science, after all!). But there are a few ways to subtly change it up:

  • Cranberries. Frozen cranberries, thawed and drained, may be substituted for the fresh berries.
  • Orange zest. Amp up the orange flavor by adding orange zest to the cranberry filling and / or buttercream frosting.
  • Flour. May substitute the all purpose flour and cornstarch with 3 ⅓ cups cake flour.

Can I Prep Cranberry Cake in Advance?

You should wait to assemble this cranberry cake until you’re ready to eat it, but you can prep the individual components in advance.

  • Cranberry Filling: You can completely make the cranberry filling and store in an airtight container 48 hours ahead of time.
  • Orange Buttercream: Buttercream is best when it’s freshly made, but you can whip it together up to 24 hours before assembling the cake.
  • Cake: The Cake layers can prepared one day in advance. Let the layers cool completely then wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

How to Store Cranberry Cake

If not serving immediately, the assembled and frosted cake should be covered with an inverted bowl or cake cover and refrigerated. It will stay fresh for up to 2 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Can I Freeze Cranberry Cake?

Once assembled, I don’t recommend freezing this cake since the cranberry filling would make the cake layers soggy. However, you can cool and freeze the individual cake layers for up to 3 months. The cranberry filling and frosting can be stored in individual freezer-safe containers and frozen for up to 3 months as well. To thaw, refrigerate overnight.

A layered cranberry cake with a slice of cake being served.

Looking for more Holiday Cake Recipes?

Want to try this White Cake with Cranberry Filling?

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White Cake with Cranberry Filling and Buttercream Frosting – everyone always asks me for this recipe! The moist, bakery style white cake is the BEST ever and the sweet and tangy cranberry filling is melt in your mouth delicious and Christmas festive!

Cranberry Cake

Servings: 12 -16 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

WHITE CAKE

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups milk at room temperature**
  • 9 large egg whites at room temperature**
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 18 tablespoons butter, softened, cubed small (2 ¼ sticks)

CRANBERRY FILLING

  • 1 12 oz. jar cherry preserves
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 3 1/2 cups fresh cranberries

BUTTERCREAM

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 32 oz pkg. Powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk (optional)

Instructions

CRANBERRY FILLING

  • Add all of the Cranberry Filling ingredients to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Continue to boil for 5-6 minutes, while stirring, or until cranberries pop. Transfer Cranberry Filling to a bowl and let cool completely (about one hour) then cover and refrigerate for 8 hours up to 2 days.

WHITE CAKE

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare three 9-inch cake pans by spraying with nonstick cooking spray WITH FLOUR (or grease and flour pans) then covering the pan bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.
  • Add milk, egg whites, and extracts to a medium bowl and mix with fork until blended. Mix flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at low speed. Add butter, and beat on medium-low for about 2-3 minutes or until the mixture resembles moist crumbs. (You may have to break up some of the butter cubes with your fingertips)
  • Add all but ¾ cup of milk mixture to flour mixture and beat at medium speed for 1 ½ minutes. Add remaining milk mixture and beat for 1 minute.
  • Divide batter evenly between the three prepared cake pans. Bake for 23-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cakes rest in pans for 3 minutes then invert onto a plate then reinvert onto racks. Let cakes cool completely (about 1 ½ hours).****

BUTTERCREAM

  • Beat butter, cream cheese and salt at medium speed with an electric mixer until very creamy, 1-2 minutes. Gradually add powdered sugar alternately with orange juice. Beat at low speed until blended and smooth after each addition. Beat in vanilla. To thin if needed, beat in milk, 1 teaspoon at a time to reach desired consistency.

ASSEMBLE

  • Place four strips of parchment paper around the edges of platter or cake stand to create a square with an open space in the middle (to keep cake stand clean). Place a small dollop of frosting in the center of the cake stand to keep the cake from moving and top with one leveled cake.
  • Spoon 1 ½ cups buttercream into pastry or plastic freezer bag. Snip 1 corner of freezer bag to make a small hole. Set aside. Spoon 1 cup frosting into a small bowl to use first to create a crumb coat ("Crumb Coat Frosting").
  • Top cake with a thin layer of Crumb Coat Frosting and spread evenly. Pipe a ring of frosting just inside the top edge of cake then spread ⅓ of chilled Cranberry Filling on top of thin layer of frosting, spreading to edges of piped frosting. Top with second leveled White Cake Layer. Repeat procedure with frosting/piping and ⅓ of Cranberry Filling. Top with third layer.
  • Create a crumb coat by frosting the cake using reserved Crumb Coat Frosting starting with the top and working down until the cake is evenly frosted, removing any excess frosting. Refrigerate Cake 30 minutes or until crumb layer has set. If remaining frosting gets too soft, refrigerate as well then whip a few times before using.
  • Frost the outside of cake as you desire with the remaining frosting. Pipe a ring of frosting around top cake layer just inside the top edge. Spread remaining Cranberry Filling (now Topping) over top cake layer, spreading to edge of piped frosting. Remove parchment paper then pipe a ring of frosting around the bottom of the cake.

STORE

  • If not serving immediately, assembled and frosted cake should be covered with an inverted bowl or cake cover and refrigerated. It will stay fresh for up to 2 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Notes

*May substitute the all purpose flour and cornstarch with 3 ⅓ cups cake flour.
**These ingredients MUST be at room temperature in order for the cake to be a success.
***Frozen cranberries, thawed, may be substituted.
****The Cake layers can prepared one day in advance. Let the layers cool completely then wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

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White Cake adapted from Baking Illustrated, pg 352-353

Cranberry Filling and Buttercream from Southern Living

Carlsbad Cravings© Original

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13 Comments

    • Jen says

      Thank you thank you Eva! And it tastes even better than it looks! Hope you can make it soon!

  1. Aubrey says

    Jen, your photos are absolutely gorgeous as always! Can’t wait to make this cake!

    • Jen says

      You are too kind Aubrey, thank you so much! I am excited for you to try this cake too, I think you will love it!

  2. Hannah says

    This looks heavenly! I am interested in trying the white cake as I already have a recipe I love but your description sounds pretty convincing. I’ll check back and let you know!

    • Jen says

      Thank you Hannah! Yes, please let me know how this recpie compares to your white cake – I think you will love it – SOOO tender!

  3. Rachel says

    I made this cake this week and it was a huge hit at work. Loved the texture. I used strawberry preserves instead of cherry since that’s what I could find at the store. I thought the almond extract was a little heavy. Next time I would use lemon extract for a citrus note against the cranberry sauce, which also turned out well. One of my favorite cakes of 2016.

    • Jen says

      Hi Rachel, I am thrilled you made this cake already and that it was such a hit with all your coworkers! Thanks for the tip on the strawberry preserves – I think I will add that to the notes so people can make it more easily. Happy holidays!

  4. Patricia says

    Oh my goodness! I make a birthday cake every month for those in the office having birthdays that month. I was talking to one of the January birthday girls and she said to make it fruity. I’d been looking at several chocolate cakes but with that request the search was on. I generally think of cranberries as a winter fruit although I love them year round and always have some in the freezer. When I found this recipe I knew it was THE cake.

    I make 10-inch cakes and usually have a piece or two left for the following day. But this cake, crumbs and all, gone before the end of the day. Absolute, total, success! Everyone raved and I have to say this may be my new favorite cake. It will definitely get made at least once every year.

    The only thing I changed was the assembly and the filling. My filling was pretty juicy so I drained off a lot of the juice. It is now cranberry syrup destined to be served with pancakes made with some orange extract and zest. I could also see in the photos that the fillling was seeping into the cake so I began with a crumb coat and then put frosting on the layers before the filling. It sat in the fridge overnight and when we served it on Tuesday it was still beautiful.

    This is truly one of the best cakes I have ever made and I make a lot of cakes!

  5. Darla says

    I am really looking forward to making what I can only imagine to taste absolutely Heavenly cake for Christmas. I’m thinking of substituting the almond extract for maybe orange extract. I just don’t care much for almond.
    Do you think this will work with the vanilla extract or do you suggest another?

    • Jen says

      Hi Darla, I’m excited you’re excited! Yes, I think you can use both orange and vanilla extract, but I would use a little less orange extract as I find it a little stronger. Merry Christmas!

  6. Lisa says

    I made this cake some months back and I’m making it again because it’s just so good! My family and friends absolutely loved it. One thing that I noticed about it is that it actually tastes better the day after its served. I think the extra time allows for the flavors in the cherries and cranberries to come together. Whatever it is, the left over slices are just as amazing as the moment it’s served.

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Lisa for taking the time to comment! I love hearing this cranberry cake is a repeat favorite and thanks for the tip about serving it the next day! Merry Christmas!