This easy cranberry Christmas cake is a rich, butter cake flavored with almond extract, orange zest, sour cream and fresh or frozen cranberries! To give this cake a festive holiday look, this recipe is finished with an orange glaze and topped with a sugared cranberry and thyme wreath!
For another yummy Christmas cake recipe, try our Eggnog Bundt Cake with Dark Rum Icing!
Why You'll Love This Recipe
This orange cranberry cake is the perfect dessert for Christmas! Here's why:
- SO EASY! This recipe makes a simple one layer cake that comes together quickly in one bowl.
- Moist, Buttery & Packed with Flavor. This cake recipe is made with sour cream and lots of butter for a rich and dense cake that stays moist and flavorful for days.
- Bursting with tart cranberries! The cranberries add the perfect sweet and tart punch for a festive flavor the whole family will love. You can even use up those frozen cranberries you have leftover from Thanksgiving!
- A show-stopping centerpiece! Aside from being downright delicious, this cake makes for a gorgeous Christmas spectacle! The sugared herb and cranberry wreath looks incredible and only takes a few minutes to make. WIN/WIN!
- Eat it all day long. Breakfast, brunch, yuletide snacks and, of course, dessert! This cake is yummy anytime. It is Christmas, after all!
This orange cranberry cake comes together with basic baking ingredients. The image below shows ingredients for the (optional) wreath topper. For the wreath, I used sugared thyme, cranberries and toasted almond slices.
- Sour Cream - Sour cream keeps this cake batter moist while imparting a subtle tangy flavor. You can also use full-fat Greek yogurt or buttermilk.
- Orange - A fresh orange is KEY for that incredible citrusy flavor. Orange zest gets used in the cake batter and the freshly-squeezed orange juice will be used in the simple powdered sugar icing.
- Thyme - I love the look and flavor of thyme paired with orange and cranberry. (I use a little minced thyme in the glaze - but that's optional, of course!) You can also use sugared rosemary or make a wreath entirely of sugared cranberries.
- Almonds & Almond Extract - You can omit the almond slices and substitute vanilla extract if you prefer that flavor or want to make this cake nut-free.
How To Make This Cake
This cake is super easy to make and only requires about 20 - 30 minutes of active time (plus baking and cooling). Here's how it's done:
1. Start by massaging some orange zest into the sugar. You can do this right in the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a medium mixing bowl). This process helps to release orange oils that flavor the cake.
2. Add the butter and cream for 5 - 8 minutes, until light and fluffy.
3. While mixing on medium low speed, add eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl as necessary. Then add almond extract and sour cream. At this stage, the batter will have a curdled appearance - that's okay!
4. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to your batter and mix on low speed just until the flour is absorbed. Do not over mix!
5. Fold the cranberries into the orange cake batter.
6. Transfer batter to a prepared cake pan and bake for 28 - 35 minutes or until the cake springs back when gently poked in the center.
7. Allow the cake to cool on a baking pan for a few minutes before taking it out of the pan. (We used a 10" springform pan, but a 9" round cake pan works, too.)
8. Allow the cake to cool completely (1 - 2 hours) before glazing and decorating.
Baker's Journal: Make It Ahead Of Time - Once the cake has cooled completely, the unglazed cake can be frozen for up to one month. Thaw it at room temperature overnight before icing, decorating and serving.
- To make the orange icing combine powdered sugar, orange zest, almond extract, salt and minced thyme, if using.
2. Add in orange juice, a Tablespoon at a time, and whisk until smooth. Add in enough juice to create a glaze with the consistency of honey.
3. Once completely cooled, use pastry brush to glaze the tops and sides of the cake. Allow the glaze to harden for 10 minutes. Then, add a second layer of icing.
4. Reserve any leftover icing to help secure the sugared cranberries and herbs. Once the glaze has hardened on the cake, transfer to a serving platter.
Sugared Cranberry & Thyme Wreath
Sugared cranberries and herbs are an easy garnish with beautiful results. This recipe makes a few extra sugared cranberries that you can serve with the sliced cake or snack on while you bake!
1. Start by making a small batch of 1:1 simple syrup. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Allow to cool slightly and stir in the cranberries. Toss to coat completely and transfer to a wire cooling rack.
2. Use the same syrup to coat the herbs. Give the sprigs of thyme (or rosemary) a little shake to remove excess syrup. Transfer to a wire baking rack to dry.
Pro Tip: Make a Cocktail! - The leftover simple syrup may have a slight pinkish hue, but it's still perfect for a holiday cocktail! (We love a strong Amaro Old Fashioned at Christmas time!)
3. Allow the simple syrup glazed cranberries and herbs to dry on the rack for 30 - 60 minutes or until dry and tacky.
4. Roll the cranberries in granulated sugar until completely coated. Sugared cranberries can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to one week.
5. Then, sprinkle sugar over the sprigs of thyme until completely coated.
6. Use the candied herbs to create a Christmas wreath on top of the cranberry cake. Overlap the herbs in a circular pattern.
7. Finish decorating the Christmas wreath cake by adding the sugared cranberries and almond slices, if using. You can use a little additional icing to help stick the berries and other decorations in place. I like to bunch the cranberries in groups of three to resemble holly.
Serving & Storing
The wreath on this cake is all about making a gorgeous festive appearance on the dessert table. When it comes time to cut the cake, I recommend removing the candied herbs. If you'd like, the herbs can be repurposed as a fun cocktail garnish.
This cranberry Christmas cake is super moist and stays rich and flavorful for several days at room temperature. I usually just put a large upside-down mixing bowl over the cake on the countertop. There is no need to refrigerate.
Frequently Asked Questions
No! Raw cranberries can be added directly to your cake batter.
Yes! Frozen cranberries can be used instead of fresh cranberries for most baking recipes. We recommend thawing frozen cranberries to room temperature before adding them to the cake batter.
Yes! Simply omit the almond extract and sliced almond topping to make this cake nut free. If you'd like, you can substitute vanilla extract in the cake batter and glaze.
Yes. This orange cranberry cake can be baked ahead of time and frozen until ready to eat. To freeze, allow the cake to cool completely then twice wrap in plastic wrap. Freeze for up to 1 month. When ready to eat, thaw completely at room temperature and finish with the icing and toppings, as desired.
More Holiday Baking Recipes
Check out these other yummy holiday recipes that you may like:
Orange Cranberry Christmas Cake with Sugared Cranberry Wreath
- Stand Mixer with Paddle Attachment ( (or Electric Mixer))
- 10" Round Cake Pan ((or 9" Round Cake Pan))
- Pastry Brush
- 1 ½ Cups all-purpose flour plus more for preparing the cake pan
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine kosher salt*
- 1 Cup granulated sugar
- Orange zest from ½ navel orange
- 1 Cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature (2 sticks); plus more for preparing the cake pan
- 4 large eggs room temperature
- 1 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla extract
- ¼ Cup full-fat sour cream room temperature
- 1 Cup fresh cranberries or frozen and thawed to room temperature
- 1 ¾ Cups powdered sugar
- Orange zest from ½ navel orange
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme optional, minced
- ½ teaspoons almond extract or vanilla extract
- 1 pinch fine kosher salt*
- Freshly-squeezed orange juice from the juice of 1 orange, as needed (about 3 - 4 Tablespoons)
Sugared Cranberry & Thyme Wreath
- ½ Cup granulated sugar (for simple syrup)
- ½ Cup water
- ½ Cup fresh cranberries or frozen and thawed to room temperature
- ½ ounce fresh thyme sprigs or rosemary (½ - 1 small package)
- granulated sugar as needed for coating cranberries and herbs
- 2 Tablespoons almond slices toasted
- Arrange a rack in the center third of the oven and preheat to 350° Fahrenheit (180° celsius). Meanwhile, prepare the cake pan with additional butter, flour and a parchment circle (recommended). Set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, add flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or medium mixing bowl), rub sugar and orange zest together until well combined and aromatic. Add softened butter and mix on medium speed for 5 - 8 minutes or until pale and fluffy.
- While mixing on medium-low speed add eggs, one at a time. Scrape the bowl as necessary. Add almond extract and sour cream. Mix until well combined. At this stage, the batter may have a curdled appearance. That's okay, it will come together in the next step.
- Add the flour mixture and gently pulse the mixer on low speed (or mix by hand) until the flour is just absorbed and creates a thick, homogenous batter. Do not over mix. Fold in the cranberries with a rubber spatula.
- Transfer batter to the prepared cake pan and level. Bake for 28 - 35 minutes or until the cake is lightly golden, pulling away from the edges of the pan and springs back when gently poked in the center. Allow to cool for a few minutes in the pan before transferring to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
- In a small mixing bowl combine the powdered sugar, orange zest, thyme (if using), almond extract and a pinch of salt. Add orange juice, a splash at a time, and whisk until smooth. Add enough orange juice to create a glaze with the consistency of honey.
- Once the cake is completely cooled, use a pastry brush to brush the orange icing over the top and sides of the cake. Allow to set for about ten minutes and repeat with a second layer of icing. Reserve any leftover icing to help secure the decorative toppings.
Sugared Cranberry & Thyme Wreath
- In a medium sauce pot, combine equal parts of sugar and water. Bring to a boil and set aside to cool slightly.
- Add cranberries to the simple syrup and toss to coat completely. Use a slotted spoon to remove cranberries and transfer to a wire rack to dry. Repeat the process with sprigs of thyme (or rosemary). Give the herbs a little shake to remove excess syrup. Transfer to the wire rack and allow to dry for 30 - 60 minutes until tacky.
- Toss the berries and herbs in additional granulated sugar until coated. Arrange the candied herbs, sugared cranberries and toasted almond slices in a wreath pattern on top of the iced cake. Use remaining orange icing to help secure toppings, as needed.
* A Note About Salt
Unless otherwise noted, all recipes on The Sage Apron are developed using Diamond Crystal Kosher salt. It is a great all-purpose salt for cooking and baking. If using table salt, reduce quantities by about half.