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In this cranberry cake recipe, soft and fluffy vanilla butter cake is layered with vanilla buttercream and cranberry sauce for a festive show-stopping holiday dessert that’s perfect for Christmas or Thanksgiving.

festive cranberry christmas cake with slice removed

When it comes to holiday treats, I usually think of cookies first.

There are the classics that my mom made every year, like her frosted sugar cookie cut-outs and Russian Tea Cakes. And there are a few new favorites, like Maple Pecan Potato Chip Cookies.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to holiday deserts! There’s also fudge, chocolate rum balls, gingerbread caramels, and peppermint bark.

slice of vanilla cake with cranberry filling on individual plate with forkful of cake

And of course there are also a ton of festive-flavored drinks and baked goods of every kind. The one thing that doesn’t come to my mind is usually a festive cake! But this cranberry layer cake recipe changes that.

The flavors in this cake go together really well. The sweetness of the vanilla buttercream is a wonderful pairing with the sweet/tart cranberry sauce. Sandwiched between layers of soft vanilla-scented butter cake, it really is a lovely Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve dessert.

slices of festive cranberry dessert cake on white snowflake plates

The Story Behind This Holiday Cake

A couple weeks ago I was cleaning out my fridge and I noticed half a batch of cranberry sauce leftover from Thanksgiving. I had been watching reruns of the British baking show and so I had a classic Victoria Sponge Cake fresh in my head.

And then an idea took shape.

What about using cranberry sauce instead of jam and buttercream instead of whipped cream to make a holiday spin on a Victoria Sandwich?! It was an epiphany.

Add a few sugared cranberries on top (because I had just made those beauties and they were stashed in my fridge anyway), and it’s a beautiful way to gild the lily.

Plus sugared cranberries look like they’re covered in snow, which makes this cranberry cake even more perfect for the holidays, right?!

close up overhead view of sugared cranberries on top of cranberry cake

(Side Note: Check out my step-by-step photo directions for how to make sugared cranberries!)

I also added a little fresh rosemary as a garnish for a pop of green to get the red and green color scheme. Additionally, I like to use rosemary here because it looks like pine. Alternatively, you could use fresh mint leaves if you like.

This is the perfect treat to whip up for the holidays when you want to make something that’s festive, but just a little bit different.

partially eaten slice of cranberry cake on fesitve christmas plate

The Best Cranberry Cake Recipe

You might be surprised at how easy this beautiful cranberry cake is to make! It doesn’t require any special equipment and it doesn’t really take that long. And I have to admit, it’s a pretty great way to use up leftover cranberry sauce.

Pro Tip

an edible mosaic stamp logo 1200 square

If you don’t have leftover cranberry sauce on hand, this cake is worth whipping up a quick batch. My favorite is this easy apple cranberry sauce recipe, which only takes 20 minutes to make!

For this recipe I tweaked my recipe for Yellow Cake, but you could use your favorite yellow or white cake recipe instead. And if you’re pressed for time, even a box cake mix will work!

Ingredients

In this section, I explain the ingredients and give substitution ideas. For the full recipe (including ingredient amounts), please see the recipe card below.

Cake:

vanilla cake ingredients
  • Avocado oil – or vegetable oil
  • Butter – softened but not fully melted
  • Sugar – we use granulated white sugar here
  • Egg whites – for best results, use fresh egg whites (not the ones from the carton)
  • Pure vanilla extract – for flavor and aroma
  • Almond extract – this is optional; you won’t be able to pull out it’s flavor, but it’ll just add another dimension to the cake
  • Milk – whole milk or low-fat milk is fine
  • All-purpose flour – this is the base of our cake
  • Baking powder – the leavening agent
  • Salt – even in sweet recipes, salt is a flavor enhancer that pulls out the flavor of everything else

Buttercream:

vanilla buttercream ingredients
  • Unsalted butter – at room temperature
  • Pure vanilla extract – for flavor and aroma
  • Butter flavor – this is optional; it enhances the flavor of butter in this frosting
  • Salt – pulls out the flavor of everything else
  • Powdered sugar – this sweetens the buttercream, and also gives it stability and volume
  • Milk – for creamy texture

Other:

  • Butter – to grease the pans
  • All-purpose flour – to flour the pans
  • Cranberry sauce – this is the filling in this festive holiday cake; you don’t have to use homemade cranberry sauce, but it’s easy to make and so much better than store-bought!
  • Sugared cranberries – this is optional, and used for garnish (or you can use fresh cranberries)
  • Fresh rosemary – this is another optional garnish

How to Make Cranberry Cake

Make the Cake

how to make vanilla layer cake
  1. Beat together the oil, butter, sugar, egg whites, and extracts, and then beat in the milk.
  2. Add the dry ingredients and beat to combine.
  3. Prepare two round cake pans. Butter and flour them, and line each with parchment paper.
  4. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans.
  5. Bake until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Run a paring knife along the outside of the cakes to loosen them from the pans, and then turn them out onto a wire rack. Cool for 5 minutes and then peel off the parchment paper.
  6. Let the cakes cool and then slice them in half horizontally.

Make the Buttercream

how to make vanilla buttercream
  1. Beat together the butter, extracts, and salt, and then beat in the powdered sugar.
  2. While beating, drizzle in enough milk so the buttercream is thick and creamy.

Assemble the Cake

assembling cranberry layer cake
  1. Place one cake layer onto a cake plate and frost the top with buttercream.
  2. Measure out 6 tablespoons of cranberry sauce on top of the buttercream, and spread it out evenly.

Repeat this process twice, and then place the remaining cake layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake. I like to do a somewhat thin layer of frosting on the outside because I like the “naked cake” look.

If desired, decorate the top of the cake with sugared cranberries and fresh rosemary.

close up top view of slice of cranberry layer cake with vanilla buttercream

How Long Will Cranberry Cake Last?

Store this cranberry Christmas Cake wrapped in the fridge for up to 4 days.

How to Use Leftover Cranberry Sauce

If you’re looking for more ways to use up cranberry sauce after Thanksgiving, here are some more ideas:

front view of thanksgiving cranberry cake on glass cake stand

More Holiday Cake Recipes

close up front view of slice of cranberry christmas cake

Let’s Connect

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Cranberry Cake Recipe

Prep Time45 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Servings: 20 servings
In this cranberry cake recipe, soft and fluffy vanilla butter cake is layered with vanilla buttercream and cranberry sauce for a festive show-stopping holiday dessert that's perfect for Christmas or Thanksgiving.

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Ingredients
 

Cake:

Buttercream:

Other:

Instructions
 

For the Cake:

  • Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour 2 9-inch round cake pans. Place a piece of parchment paper that’s been trimmed to fit in the bottom of each pan.
  • Beat together the oil, softened butter, sugar, egg whites, vanilla extract, and almond extract in a large bowl. Beat in the milk. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and beat to combine.
  • Pour the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted inside comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
  • Run a paring knife along the outside of each cake to loosen them from the pans. Turn the cakes out onto wire racks, let them cool for 5 minutes, and peel off the parchment paper.
  • Cool each cake completely, and then carefully use a serrated knife to slice each in half horizontally, so you end up with 4 layers of cake.

For the Buttercream:

  • Beat together the butter, vanilla extract, butter flavor, and salt in a large bowl.
  • Beat in the powdered sugar, drizzling the milk in until it reaches a buttercream consistency.

To Assemble the Cake:

  • Place 1 cake round on a cake plate. Spread on a layer of buttercream. Top with 6 tablespoons cranberry sauce, and then spread it out onto an even layer on top of the buttercream. Repeat this process twice.
  • Place the final cake round on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake. I like to do a thin layer of frosting on the outside for a "naked cake" look.

Optional Decoration:

  • If desired, top the cake with fresh cranberries or sugared cranberries and fresh rosemary for decoration.

Notes

  • Storage: Store this cake wrapped in the fridge for up to 4 days.
  • Nutritional Information: The nutrition information listed doesn’t include the optional sugared cranberries or fresh rosemary garnishes.

Nutrition

Serving: 1slice | Calories: 440kcal | Carbohydrates: 64g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 37mg | Sodium: 202mg | Potassium: 130mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 48g | Vitamin A: 444IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 58mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutritional information is automatically calculated and should be used as an approximate.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Cranberry Cake, Cranberry Cake Recipe, Cranberry Christmas Cake, Cranberry Layer Cake

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festive cranberry cake pin

This post was first published on An Edible Mosaic on December 24, 2020 and updated on December 10, 2023.

Faith, author of An Edible Mosaic.
About Faith

I’m the writer, recipe developer, photographer, and food stylist behind this blog. I love finding the human connection through something we all do every day: eat! Food is a common ground that we can all relate to, and our tables tell a story. It’s my goal to inspire you to get in the kitchen, try something new, and find a favorite you didn’t know you had.

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2 Comments

  1. This cake looks spectacular. Wondering if you can bake the cake portion. Cool, wrap well and freeze? Defrost overnight and continue with recipe. Thank you

    1. Teresa, Absolutely! Once it’s cool, you can freeze the cake for up to 2 months before assembling.

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