Brown Sugar Cranberry Cake | From

Brown Sugar Cranberry Cake

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: brown sugar, cranberry, layer cake
Dessert Type: Cake, Thanksgiving Desserts
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings: 16 servings
Calories: 755kcal
Author: Elizabeth LaBau
This Brown Sugar Cranberry Cake is the perfect ending to any holiday dinner! It features a moist brown sugar spice cake, brown sugar Swiss meringue buttercream, and a tangy filling made from fresh cranberries. I love bold flavors in my spice cake, so I like to use ALL the spices when I make one! You can adjust the spice quantities and spices used depending on what you have—pumpkin pie spice is a good substitute if you don’t have a lot of the individual ones listed.
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For the Brown Sugar Cake:

  • 16 oz cake flour (4 cups)
  • 7 oz C&H® Granulated Sugar (1 cup)
  • 7.5 oz C&H® Dark Brown Sugar (1 cup)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • 9 egg yolks
  • 11 oz sour cream at room temperature (1 1/3 cups)
  • 1 TBSP vanilla extract
  • 12 oz unsalted butter at room temperature

For the Brown Sugar Buttercream:

  • 9 egg whites
  • 16 oz C&H® Dark Brown Sugar 2 cups + 2 TBSP
  • 24 oz unsalted butter softened but still cool
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Gel food coloring I used burgundy, red, and navy blue

For the Cranberry Filling:

  • 12 oz fresh cranberries (about 3.5 cups)
  • ¼ cup orange juice or water
  • 7 oz C&H® Granulated Sugar (1 cup)

To Decorate:

  • Fresh rosemary
  • Fresh clementines
  • Fresh pomegranate arils
  • Fresh cranberries


To Make the Brown Sugar Cake:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line four 8-inch cake pans with parchment rounds, and spray the parchment and pan sides with nonstick cooking spray.
  • Combine the cake flour, both sugars, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and all spices in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 1-2 minutes to combine the dry ingredients.
  • Lightly whisk together the egg yolks, 1/3 cup of sour cream, and the vanilla extract, and set aside for now.
  • Add the remaining 1 cup of sour cream and the softened butter to the large mixing bowl and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Turn the mixer to medium speed and mix for a minute and a half.
  • Add the egg yolk mixture in three batches, mixing for 20-30 seconds after each addition, until you have a smooth batter. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and give the batter a few more stirs to make sure everything is incorporated. Divide the batter between the four prepared pans. If you’re using a kitchen scale, each pan should get about 13 oz of batter.
  • Bake the cakes at 350 F for about 30 minutes, until the sides just start pulling away from the pan, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Let the cakes cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then gently turn them out and let them cool completely before using. I find it’s easiest to work with cakes that have been chilled, so if you have time, wrap them with plastic wrap and put them in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, until they are firm but not frozen all the way through. If you are making these in advance, they can stay in the freezer for up to several weeks. Let them partially defrost before assembling.

To Make the Brown Sugar Buttercream:

  • Combine the egg whites and the brown sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer, and whisk them together. Choose a small saucepan that lets you fit the base of the stand mixer snugly into the top of the saucepan, add a few inches of water to the saucepan, and bring the water to a simmer over medium heat.
  • Place the mixing bowl on top of the saucepan of simmering water, making sure that the bottom isn’t in contact with the water, and heat the egg white mixture. Whisk frequently so that the egg whites don’t cook. Continue to heat the whites until they are hot to the touch, and when you rub a bit between your fingers, you don’t feel any grittiness from the sugar. Once the whites are hot, transfer the mixing bowl to your mixer and fit it with a whisk attachment.
  • Beat the whites on medium-high speed until they are a shiny, stiff, voluminous meringue, and are no longer warm to the touch—feel the outside of the bowl, and make sure that it is around room temperature. Depending on your mixer and the temperature of your environment, this may take up to 15-20 minutes.
  • Switch to a paddle attachment, and reduce the speed of the mixer to medium-low. Add the softened but cool butter in small chunks, a tablespoon at a time, making sure to wait in between additions. It may separate or look a little gloopy at this point—this is normal! Once all of the butter is added, increase the speed again and whip until it comes together and is light and fluffy. If, after 5 minutes, it hasn’t come together, refrigerate the mixing bowl for 5-7 minutes, to cool the mixture down, and whip it again until it has thickened and is smooth and silky. Add the vanilla extract and salt.
  • The buttercream can be made in advance and kept at room temperature if you’re going to use it the same day, or refrigerated. If it has been chilled, let it sit at room temperature until completely soft, then re-whip it to get the smooth texture back before you use it.
  • To Make the Cranberry Filling:
  • Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until the cranberries pop and the mixture thickens. Once most of the cranberries have popped, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool completely before using.
  • The cranberry filling can be made up to a week in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To Assemble:

  • Place the cake rounds on 8-inch cardboard cake circles.
  • Fit a piping bag with a coupler or a large round tip, and fill it with buttercream. Place one layer on a cake turntable. Pipe a circle of frosting around the outside edge of the cake layer. Spoon half of the cranberry filling inside the frosting circle, and spread it out to the edges until it meets the frosting. The frosting acts like a barrier to prevent the cranberry from seeping through the edges of the cake.
  • Top the cake round with a second cake layer. This time, spread a layer of frosting about ½-inch thick over the top of the cake, and smooth it into an even layer.
  • Top the cake with a third cake layer, and repeat the frosting circle/cranberry layer on top of this one. Finally, add a fourth cake layer on top. Cover the top and sides of the cake with a very thin layer of frosting—this is the crumb coat, which locks crumbs into the frosting and also provides some stability to the cake.
  • Refrigerate the cake for 45-60 minutes, until the crumb coat is set and the cake feels firm and stable. If the buttercream has started to get spongy, re-whip it briefly until it is smooth and silky. Spread a thicker layer of frosting on the top and sides of the cake. Use a metal offset spatula or bench scraper to smooth out the frosting. Refrigerate it for about 10-15 minutes—it doesn’t need to be fully firm, but let the outside of the frosting set a bit.
  • While the cake is chilling, color the remaining frosting a deep cranberry color. I used mostly burgundy food coloring, with a bit of red and navy blue added to get my desired shade.
  • Use a metal spatula to spread the cranberry colored frosting along the top edge of the cake—make the layer about 1-inch tall and fairly thick, almost ¼-inch or so. Wipe off the spatula, then hold the end of the spatula against the top of the cake and drag it downwards, spreading the red frosting down in a streaking line. Repeat around the entire cake, wiping off the spatula when necessary. For the top, place the spatula at the edge of the cake, and drag it towards the center in a curved motion. Repeat all around the edge of the cake.
  • Decorate the top of the cake with segments of fresh rosemary, clementine sections, pomegranate arils, and fresh cranberries. (Since I find the taste of raw cranberries to be too strong on a cake, I like to use sugar-coated cranberries instead. To make these, just roll cranberries in egg whites, then in granulated sugar. The sugar will dry to be a crackling coating on the berries, which helps temper the sour flavor.)
  • This cake is best served at room temperature, and can be kept, well-wrapped, at room temperature for 2-3 days or in the refrigerator for 5-6 days.


Calories: 755kcal | Carbohydrates: 50g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 58g | Saturated Fat: 36g | Cholesterol: 257mg | Sodium: 357mg | Potassium: 184mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 27g | Vitamin A: 1880IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 85mg | Iron: 0.8mg