Citrus and Cranberry Christmas Cake
Updated: Jan 15
Cranberry Cake and I were first introduced in my sophomore year of college, when my small group leader asked me if I could make the recipe for our weekly bible study gathering. I wish I could say it was love at first recipe sight, but to be honest, I was skeptical. It seemed far too simple to produce a good, let alone impressive, result. If you couldn't tell, I was still in a stage of life where I believed superlative pastry needed to be complicated ... (Oh the foolishness of youth.)
In my resistance, I searched the web for another, more "convincing" recipe but could not find one. Begrudgingly I made the original suggested recipe, and took a suspicious bite of the warm cake as it exited the oven. In that instant, I became a Cranberry Cake convert, and this recipe has formed the cornerstone of my holiday party dessert offerings ever since. I honestly can't believe it has been almost a decade since I first made it ! Although a humble recipe, it can easily be dressed up -- which is exactly what I decided to do this year for our annual Christmas party.
The finished cake is composed of three main elements: the cranberry cake, a swiss meringue buttercream filling, and sugared cranberries for decor.
Recipe adapted from One Cake Two Cake: https://onecaketwocake.com/2010/11/01/quick-cranberry-cake/
3 large eggs 350 g (1.5 cups) sugar 170 g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla 2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon salt zest of 1 lemon
260 g (2 cups) flour 2 1/2 cups cranberries (12 ounce bag)
Preheat oven to 320°F. This temperature is intentionally lower than normal, to create a flatter cake top. Grease two, round 6 inch x 3 inch cake pans. (Alternatively, you can make the recipe in a 9" x 13" pan.)
In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar for ~ 10 minutes, until mix is pale and fluffy, and has doubled in volume. Add butter, and mix until smooth. Then add vanilla extract, milk, ginger powder, lemon zest, and salt before mixing again.
Stir in flour by hand, then gently fold in cranberries. Do not overmix ! Divide batter evenly into the two pans --> I find this easiest to do by weight.
Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 200 F. At this temp, an inserted knife should come out clean. Allow to cool 15 minutes on a wire rack, then unmold by running an offset spatula or butter knife around the edge, and flipping over.
For the filling/ frosting, I used a super easy Swiss Meringue Buttercream base recipe by Liv for Cake, and added vanilla extract and salt to boost the flavor. For an extra-wintry citrus vibe, I incorporated the zest of two limes, a lemon, and an orange, which perfectly complemented the tartness of the cranberries.
Recipe adapted from Liv for Cake: https://livforcake.com/swiss-meringue-buttercream-recipe/
CITRUS SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM
yields 3 cups, enough for a 6 layer cake
3 large egg whites
200 g (1 cup) granulated sugar
226 g (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 2 limes, 1 lemon, 1 orange
Put a pot of water on the stove to heat, while you whisk together the egg whites and sugar in a glass or metal bowl. Over the simmering water, heat the egg and sugar mixture to 160 F, whisking constantly. At this point, the sugar granules should have dissolved, and the mix will no longer feel grainy to the touch.
Use an electric mixer to whip for ~ 15 minutes, until the meringue is cooled and can form stiff peaks. Alternatively, if you are using a stand mixer, do the initial steps in the bowl of the mixer, and whip for ~ 10 minutes.
Slowly incorporate the softened butter, and continue to whip. Add vanilla extract, salt, and citrus zests, and voila ! You're done.
150 g sugar
100 g water
118 g, or 6 oz (half a standard size bag) fresh cranberries
Bring sugar and water to a boil. Let cool for 5 minutes before adding cranberries, lest they pop in the hot syrup ! Allow to soak 30 minutes, up to overnight. Strain, and reserve syrup if desired. Spread cranberries in a single layer on a cling-filmed wire rack; let dry for 1 hour. Place 200 g (1 cup) of sugar in a wide but tall dish, and roll cranberries to coat.
Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
I left a few of my soaked cranberries as is, because I find the shine quite charming.
Divide each cake into three layers each, forming six layers total. Divide buttercream into 5 equal portions. Center the bottom cake layer on your chosen cake platter, and use an offset spatula to spread one portion of the buttercream evenly across. Repeat with the following layers of cake and buttercream until you have a lovely 6 layer stack.
You can leave the buttercream edges as is, for a rustic and equally appealing aesthetic, or you can use the offset spatula to smooth them into the cake.
At this point, we're ready to decorate so let your creativity run wild ! I chose to top our cake with lightly sweetened whipped cream (1/2 cup heavy cream and 1 teaspoon sugar brought to soft whip) and sugared cranberries. Mint leaves nestled between the berries, and pressed onto the cake sides, provided the finishing festive touch.
That's it ! Now sit back, relax, and enjoy a generous slice of cake. You've earned it.
~ Bon appetit !~