Vanilla-Kissed & Cranberry-Studded: The Perfect Holiday 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.

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 9×5 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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