Cranberry Orange Cake
Are you looking for a delicious and festive dessert that will impress your guests? Look no further than this delightful recipe for Cranberry Orange Cake filled with homemade cranberry curd and covered in orange cream cheese frosting. Bursting with the flavors of tart cranberries and zesty oranges, this moist and fluffy cake is perfect for any fall or winter celebration.
If you’ve been a Bunsen Burner Bakery follower for a while, you know I always seem to share at least one cranberry (often paired with orange) recipe each year. I can’t help myself – it’s such a perfect fall and winter flavor combination!
There’s something about the sweet-tart pop of cranberries that pairs so well with the citrusy punch from the orange. And of course, the bright, festive color is so perfect for this time of year!
I’ve done cranberry orange streusel muffins, cranberry orange babka, cranberry orange bundt cake, cranberry cheesecake, cranberry brownies, and cranberry curd pie. Now we’re going to expand into layer cakes with this beautiful cranberry orange cake.
Three thick layers of vanilla cranberry cake filled with homemade cranberry curd, all covered with cream cheese frosting with a hint of orange — it really does not get more fall and winter festive than this cake.
It’s delicious, it’s beautiful, and it’s just waiting for your next celebration!
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Butter: Unsalted butter at cool room temperature – the butter should be between 65 and 68°F to cream properly.
- Vegetable Oil
- Flour: Use all-purpose flour or a 1:1 gluten-free baking mix containing xanthan gum for a gluten-free cake.
- Baking Powder
- Baking Soda
- Buttermilk: Buttermilk is necessary to maintain the proper pH of the batter. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of whole milk, stir it, and let it sit for 5 minutes before adding it to the batter.
- Vanilla Extract
- Orange: You’ll need both orange juice and orange zest, so start with a fresh whole orange. You can also use clementines or tangerines, or try using limes or grapefruit for a different twist.
- Cranberries: Either fresh or frozen work. If you’re using frozen cranberries, there is no need to thaw – just add them from frozen.
- Cream Cheese: The cream cheese should also be at cool room temperature.
- Confectioners’ Sugar
- Sugared Cranberries: Optional, but the perfect decoration for the cake!
Cranberry and Orange Cake Recipe
First up, we’re going to make the cake. This is based on my favorite vanilla cake recipe but with cranberries, orange juice, and orange zest mixed into the batter.
First off, you might notice that this cake uses both butter and oil. Butter and oil each have benefits when it comes to cake, and by combining both, we’re getting the best of both worlds! Why is using both important? It’s time for my favorite subject… kitchen chemistry!
Unlike oil, butter has a rich flavor that is important in vanilla-based cakes. It also contains water, which evaporates during baking and creates steam which helps in the leaving process. Oil, on the other hand, contains 100% fat, adding additional moisture to the cake, and the fat remains liquid at room temperature, retaining the same soft, fluffy texture even after refrigeration.
In a chocolate cake, the chocolate carries the main flavor and the difference between butter and oil isn’t as noticeable. But in this cranberry orange cake, we want the cake itself to have the best possible flavor: hence, butter! But because of the cream cheese frosting, the cake has to be stored in the refrigerator. Butter-based cakes take on a stiffer texture and taste stale faster, so we’re using oil to keep the cake softer and extend the lifespan of the cake.
Making the cake itself is simple: beat together the oil, butter, and sugar until light and fluffy, followed by the eggs. Add half of the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt), then mix in the buttermilk, vanilla extract, orange zest, and orange juice, and end with the rest of the dry ingredients. Don’t overmix the batter – just mix until no streaks of flour remain.
End by folding in the cranberries and baking in three parchment-lined 8-inch baking dishes until golden brown and the top of the cake springs back gently when touched. Cool the cakes completely.
Thick and Smooth Cranberry Curd
While the cake is baking, it’s time to make the cranberry curd! I have a standalone Cranberry Curd post from earlier this year with all the specific details, tips, and tricks you need to make outstanding cranberry curd at home.
In that post, I use lime zest and lime juice, because I love the flavor combination. If you’d like to play up the cranberry orange flavor for this cake, use orange zest and orange juice. Or mix it up and use an entirely different citrus, like grapefruit or tangerine.
Once your curd is done, press it through a fine mesh sieve to ensure it’s silky smooth, then set it aside to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the curd for at least 30 minutes before using it in the cake.
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
To play up the orange part of the orange cranberry cake, we’ll cover the cake in cream cheese frosting. The tangy flavor of cream cheese pairs so nicely with the sweet-tart cranberries.
To make the frosting, beat together the room temperature butter and cream cheese until fully combined. Add in the orange zest, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt (to prevent the frosting from tasting too sweet), then slowly beat in the powdered sugar until completely combined. End with the orange juice and beat on high speed to whip extra air into the frosting. If the frosting is too stiff, add another splash of orange juice; if it’s too soft, add an extra tablespoon or two of sugar.
If you’re not into traditional cream cheese frosting, any of these other options will be delicious on the cake with a little orange zest!
Assembling the Cake
Before you start assembling the cake, make sure you have the following components ready:
- Cranberry Orange Cake: Three layers baked and cooled.
- Homemade Cranberry Curd: Chilled for easy spreading.
- Orange Cream Cheese Frosting: Whipped to a smooth, spreadable consistency.
Now it’s time to assemble and frost the cake!
- Level the Cake Layers: If your cake layers have domed tops, use a serrated knife to level them for a flat, even stack.
- First Layer: Place the first cake layer on your cake stand or turntable. This provides a stable base to work on.
- Spread Cream Cheese Frosting: Spread a thin layer of frosting across the top of the cake. Pipe an additional thicker border of frosting along the edge of the cake.
- Add the Cranberry Curd: Using your offset spatula, spread a generous layer of cranberry curd over the top of the frosting, inside the thicker border along the edge.
- Add the Second Layer: Carefully place the second cake layer on top of the first, aligning it so that it’s centered and stable.
- Repeat the Frosting Layer: Add another thin layer of frosting on top of the second cake layer with a thick border along the edge, just like the first.
- Repeat the Curd Layer: Spread another layer of cranberry curd over the second cake layer, just like the first.
- Top with Final Layer: Place the third cake layer on top, this time with the bottom side facing up. This ensures a smooth, flat top, ideal for frosting.
- Crumb Coat: Apply a thin layer of orange cream cheese frosting over the top and sides of the cake. This initial coat, known as the crumb coat, helps to seal in any crumbs and creates a smooth base. Chill the cake for about 15-20 minutes to set the crumb coat.
- Final Frosting: Once the crumb coat is set, apply a generous layer of frosting to the top and sides of the cake. Use the offset spatula to smooth it out. For a smooth finish, hold the cake scraper against the side of the cake while rotating the turntable. This will smooth and straighten the frosting.
- Decorative Touches: If desired, use a piping bag fitted with a star or round tip to pipe decorative borders or rosettes around the top edge or the base of the cake. You can also add some fresh or sugared cranberries or orange zest, candied oranges, or rosemary for a festive look.
- Chill and Serve: Once the cake is fully assembled and frosted, chill it for at least 30 minutes to set everything. This makes slicing easier and ensures the layers remain intact.
Recommended Tools to Make Orange Cranberry Cake
- Stand Mixer: An electric mixer is necessary to cream together the butter and sugar; either a stand mixer or hand mixer will work.
- Beater Blades: I always pair a Beater Blade with my mixer – the blade scrapes down the side of the bowl for you, so you don’t have to stop and scrape everything down to the bottom of the bowl.
- 8 Inch Cake Pans: These are my favorite cake pans; you’ll ideally want 3 so you can bake all three layers at once.
- Parchment Rounds: I used to cut parchment paper into a circle to line my cake pans, but with how frequently I bake cakes, buying precut parchment rounds has been such a timesaver!
- Bake Even Strips: I always use these Bake-Even strips, soaked in water, around the outside of the cake pans to prevent the cakes from doming.
- Cooling Racks: Turn your cakes out of the pans onto cooling racks to cool completely. This set is 3 tiered and folds easily for storage.
- Offset Spatula: An offset spatula is my favorite way to smoothly frost a cake.
- Cake Turntable: A rotating cake stand makes it easy to decorate a cake by smoothly rotating in a full circle.
Tips and Tricks for the Best Cranberry Orange Cake
- Fresh or Frozen Cranberries: The cake and curd can be made using either fresh or frozen cranberries. While the texture isn’t as good, dried cranberries can be substituted for the cake. Soak them in warm water for 10 minutes and then drain before adding to the cake batter.
- Zest Carefully: When testing the oranges, avoid the white pith underneath the skin. Only zest the colored part of the peel for the best flavor.
- Perfectly Level Cakes: For perfectly level cake tops, use insulating baking strips. No baking strips? Level the baked cake with a knife before frosting.
- Chill the Curd: Refrigerate the cranberry curd for at least 30 minutes before using it to assemble the cake. This will make it easier to spread and prevent it from leaking over these sides of the cake.
- Spreadable Frosting: If your cream cheese frosting is too stiff, add a few teaspoons of orange juice until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Start with a Crumb Coat: Don’t skip the crumb coat (thin layer of frosting) on your cake. This will both help hold any crumbs from the side of the cake and keep the cranberry curd in place.
- Make Ahead Option: The cake layers can be baked 2 days ahead of time and stored at room temperature, or frozen for up to 3 months. The cranberry curd can be made up to a week ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. The cream cheese frosting can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator; beat it again with an electric mixer before using. The fully assembled cake can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
- Size Adjustments: This recipe is written for three 8-inch cake pans. To bake in 6-inch pans, halve the ingredients. To bake in 9-inch pans, multiply each ingredient by 1.5.
More Celebration-Worthy Cakes:
- Best Chocolate Layer Cake
- Chocolate Oreo Cake
- M&M Candy Cake
- S’mores Cake
- Chocolate Cherry Cake
- Caramel Apple Cake
- Rainbow Layer Cake
- All Cake Recipes ≫
For the Cake:
- 1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup (99 grams) vegetable oil
- 3 cups (594 grams) granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs, room temperature
- 3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (227 grams) buttermilk, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1/4 cup (56 grams) fresh orange juice
- 2 cups (198 grams) fresh or frozen cranberries
For the Cranberry Curd:
- 18 ounces (510 grams) cranberries, fresh or frozen
- 1 1/2 cups (297 grams) granulated sugar
- juice and zest of 1 medium orange
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 3 egg yolks, room temperature
- 3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
For the Orange Cream Cheese Buttercream:
- 1 cup (226 grams) butter, room temperature
- 8 ounces (226 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons orange zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5 cups (568 grams) confectioners' sugar
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- sugared cranberries for decorating
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper, then spray parchment paper with nonstick baking spray.
- Make the cake batter. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, oil, and sugar until light and fluffy, 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add half of this mixture to the butter and eggs and beat until just combined. Pour in the buttermilk, vanilla extract, orange zest, and orange juice, mix to combine, and follow with the remaining flour. Beat until just combined and no lumps remain. Fold in the cranberries.
- Bake the cakes. Divide the cake batter into three equal portions. Scrape the cake batter into each of the three prepared pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out with a moist crumb. Remove from the oven, allow to cool in the cake pans for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- Make the Cranberry Curd. While the cakes are cooling, prepare the cranberry curd following these directions. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to use, at least 30 minutes.
- Make the cream cheese frosting. Beat together the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until creamy and fully combined, 2 to 3 minutes. Add in the orange zest, vanilla extract, and salt, stirring well to combine. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add in the confectioners' sugar until completely combined. Add the orange juice and beat on high for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix for 1 additional minute on low speed.
- Assemble the cake. To assemble the cake, spread a thin layer of frosting on the bottom of a cake plate to help prevent the cake from sliding. Place a layer of cake on the plate and spread a thin layer of frosting across the top of the cake. Pipe an additional thicker border of frosting along the edge of the cake. Fill in the center with cranberry curd. Repeat with the next layer of cake, frosting, and cranberry curd, followed by topping with a layer of cake. Crumb coat the cake with a thin layer of frosting. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes to set the frosting and prevent the curd from leaking out. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread the remaining frosting along the sides and top of the cake. Decorate with sugared cranberries and sprigs of rosemary, if desired.
- The cake layers can be baked 2 days ahead of time and stored at room temperature, or frozen for up to 3 months. The cranberry curd can be made up to a week ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. The cream cheese frosting can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator; beat it again with an electric mixer before using.
- The fully assembled cake can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
- This recipe is written for three 8-inch cake pans. To bake in 6-inch pans, halve the ingredients. To bake in 9-inch pans, multiply each ingredient by 1.5.
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