Cranberry Christmas Cake


It's the sweet-tart holiday dessert that'll find it's way onto your holiday sideboard again and again.

cranberry christmas cake
Photo: Photographer: Frederick Hardy II, Food Stylist: Margaret Dickey, Prop Stylist: Christina Daley
Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs

This Cranberry Christmas Cake is the prettiest finale for your holiday meal. We'll let you in on a secret, though: It only requires about 20 minutes of hands-on time. Thanks to a bit of buttermilk in the batter, the layers are extremely tender. A hint of cinnamon adds warmth, while tart cranberries balance the flavors out beautifully and add a nice chewy texture. A tip from the Test Kitchen: Be sure to gently fold in berries with a rubber spatula so as not to overwork the batter and to keep from breaking up the berries. The Orange Buttercream is slightly tangy from the cream cheese, which is lovely paired with a splash of orange juice. This Cranberry Christmas Cake finds a perfect harmony of not-too-sweet and not-too-tart. A halo of rosemary sprigs garnished with orange slices and sparkling cranberries makes for a beautiful cake topping that doesn't take insane decorating ability. Our Test Kitchen Pros said the first time you make this cake definitely won't be the last.



  • 1 cup (8 ounces) salted butter, softened

  • 2 cups granulated sugar

  • 4 large eggs

  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest (from 1 orange)

  • 3 cups (about 12¾ ounces) all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • ½ teaspoon table salt

  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 ½ cups whole buttermilk

  • 1 ¼ cups coarsely chopped fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (from 10 ounces whole cranberries)

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • Baking spray with flour

Orange Buttercream

  • 1 cup (8 ounces) salted butter, softened

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

  • ¼ teaspoon table salt

  • 1 (32-ounce) package powdered sugar

  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice (from 1 orange)

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 tablespoon whole milk, if needed

Optional Garnishes

  • Rosemary sprigs

  • Orange slices

  • Fresh or sugared cranberries


  1. Prepare the Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°F with racks in center and lower third positions. Beat butter with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating just until combined after each addition. Beat in orange zest just until combined, about 30 seconds. Set aside.

  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl until well combined. Add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, beating on low speed just until combined after each addition. Fold in cranberries and vanilla using a rubber spatula until just combined.

  3. Coat 3 (9-inch) round cake pans with baking spray. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper, and lightly coat with baking spray. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans. Bake 2 pans on center rack and 1 pan on lower rack in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in centers of cake layers comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes. Let cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and let cool completely on wire racks, about 1 hour.

  4. Prepare the Orange Buttercream: Beat butter, cream cheese, and salt with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium speed until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add powdered sugar alternately with orange juice, beating on low speed until combined and smooth after each addition. Beat in vanilla. If desired, beat in milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until Orange Buttercream reaches desired consistency.

  5. Assemble the cake: Place 1 cake layer on a platter or cake stand; spread top with about 1 cup Orange Buttercream. Add second cake layer; spread top with about 1 cup Orange Buttercream. Top with third cake layer; frost top and sides with remaining Orange Buttercream. Decorate with desired garnishes.

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