While I can't claim credit for this recipe (I got it from a friend, who got it from another friend, and so it goes...,), it is known in these parts as "your cranberry cake." As my mother asked last week, "Are you bringing your cranberry cake to Thanksgiving?" And my sister said, "You better save some of your cranberry cake for me."
But it's not proprietary information. My cranberry cake can be your cranberry cake too.
The first time I made this soft, dense, lusciously buttery cake I ended up making it twice more, just for kicks. I couldn't get enough of it. It's sweet with a golden crumb, soft and moist, dense without being heavy, with juicy explosions of tart cranberries. The cranberries are left proudly to their own devices — no sugar bath, no orange zest. Just pops of scarlet sour fruit in buttery cake.
This cake is also a little unusual in its construction, at least for bakers like myself who are most accustomed to cakes leavened with baking powder. This is an old-fashioned butter cake that is leavened instead by whipping the eggs and sugar together for some minutes, until they are lightened and increased in volume. This produces an outrageously moist and tender cake, with the richness of a classic fruitcake. (I like to say this is a fruitcake for those wary of that good old English treat.)
If you have a stand mixer, the process is very easy; it comes together in about 10 minutes. The baking takes longer; depending on the size of the cake pan, this can take well over an hour to bake, but I promise it's worth it.
You can bake it in any size pan you like; I mixed it up last time with a double batch and did one in my usual 10-inch springform, plus some some cupcakes and small loaf pans. The loaves and smaller cupcake sizes make sweet and easy gifts for friends and coworkers; I handed one loaf over to our very deserving contractor.
When serving, I often cover this cake in kirsch-flavored whipped cream, but lately I have been baking it instead with a topping of pecans caramelized in butter and brown sugar. Or try walnuts, or almonds. Just another way to make it yours.
Beating the eggs and sugar: BEFORE & AFTER. On the LEFT: How it looks just a few seconds after beginning to mix them together. On the RIGHT: After several minutes of beating. Note how lightened and creamy the mixture looks, and how the drizzled batter stays on top without sinking back in.
Makes one 10-inch springform cake. Alternately: Four 4-cup loaves or 24 to 30 cupcakes.
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature for 1 hour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract, optional
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups cranberries (12-ounce bag)
Optional pecan topping:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup pecans, unroasted
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan (or a collection of smaller pans. This make 10 to 12 cups of batter.)
Use a stand mixer or hand beaters to beat the eggs and sugar until very smooth and increased in volume. If using a stand mixer, beat on medium speed for 4 to 7 minutes, using the whip attachment. If using hand beaters, beat on high speed for 6 to 8 minutes. The egg and sugar mixture will double in volume and turn very pale yellow, leaving ribbons on top of the batter when you lift the beaters.
Beat in the butter, vanilla, and almond extract, if using. Beat for 2 minutes or until the butter is smoothly incorporated.
Use a spatula to fold in the flour, salt, and cranberries. The batter will be quite thick. Spread gently into the prepared pan.
To prepare the optional pecan topping, heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir. Add the pecans and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, until the butter and sugar mixture is shiny and smooth and the nuts are well-coated with the butter and sugar. Spread over the cake batter.
Bake 60 to 80 minutes for the springform. For smaller pans, start checking after 30 minutes, but expect small loaves to take at least 40 minutes. Tent the cake with foil in the last 30 minutes of baking to keep the top from browning (this is especially important for the pecan topping).
Cool for 20 minutes then run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and remove the cake. Cool for an hour before serving.
The cake keeps and freezes well. To store, wrap the fully cooled cake tightly in plastic wrap and leave in a dry, cool place for up to 1 week.
To freeze, wrap the fully cooled cake in plastic wrap and then foil. Freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight at room temperature, still wrapped.
Gifting Cranberry Cake
For packaging cakes like these, I like to bake them in disposable but pretty loaf pans or cupcake liners. Then I use cellophane treat bags (find them at Michael's or other craft stores), plain kraft paper tags, and some pretty ribbon to wrap them up. The cellophane keeps the cake fresh, and the ribbons and tags are so easy.
(Image credits: Faith Durand)