Brown Sugar Cranberry Cake | Nik Snacks

Brown Sugar Cranberry Cake is good. So very good. The cranberries are in the running for Best Supporting Actress while the brown sugar is in the lead role but is CLEARLY carried by the rest of the cast. Inspired by NYT Cooking, I made my own brown sugar cake with cranberry frosting. This cake is NOT meant to be a layer cake like the original. It's more like a pound cake or if you're feeling rustic, a coffee cake (goes great with a French roast or Sumatra blend, I promise)

When I read the original recipe, it seemed like it was going to turn out dry and a little crumbly and I was right. According to some the comments the frosting was the worst (and most difficult part) and that was the part with the cranberries in it. I don't want you to make the same mistake so I make sure you've got some berries to grab and that they're not so tart. It's very easy to overbake (which makes it dry) but if you want to portion it into 3 8-inch cake pans and make it to a layer cake, I don't see anything wrong with that either.

The recipe may seem like a lot of steps, but it really comes together quite quickly after you read the instructions and get a sense of what you need.

Both fresh or frozen cranberries work

The brown sugar crust is integral to the structure of the cake. The sugar produces a thin caramelized layer of laced gold that helps the cake stand up by itself or lends a helping hand if you're frosting it. If you don't have brown sugar, granulated while sugar works the same. See this cake for an example.

I am the worst cake decorator in the world. I have every cake tool known to man in my kitchen, I have a certificate in pastry from Le Cordon Bleu and yet I cannot make a decent cake look good to save my life. I am the last person to come to for expert decorating advice, but I can tell you how to make your cake's frosting, buttercream, whipped cream, fondant or meringue taste good.

Brown Sugar Cranberry Cake

Brown Sugar Cranberry Cake

Yield: 16
Author: Nikki Miller-Ka of Nik Snacks
Prep time: 10 MinCook time: 1 H & 15 MInactive time: 1 H & 10 MTotal time: 2 H & 35 M


  • 1 Tablespoon butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
  • 6 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sugar for sprinkling
Sugared Cranberries & Simple Syrup
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup granulated sugar for coating


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Lightly grease an 8-inch springform pan with 1 Tablespoon of butter and coat the inside of the pan with brown sugar. Tap and turn the sides of the pan to make sure the brown sugar coats every part of the pan evenly. Set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, add the cranberries and 1/4 cup of the sugar and 2 tsp of water. Cook on medium heat until sugar dissolves and cranberries pop. Remove from heat. Add lemon extract and stir. Set aside to cool. Spoon onto a plate or piece of parchment paper and place under refrigeration to speed up the cooling process.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer cream together the butter and granulated sugar. Beat on medium-high for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed, until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and blend until combined.
  6. Sift together the flour, salt, baking power and baking soda. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Beat on low until incorporated. Add 1/3 of the milk and sour cream and blend until smooth. Repeat adding 1/3 of the flour and 1/3 of the buttermilk until all are incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
  7. Gently fold the cooled cranberries into the batter.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared Springform pan and spread evenly to the edges of the pan. Tap the pan lightly on a work surface to level the top and disperse any air bubbles.
  9. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean.
  10. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then open the clip on the side of the pan. If needed, use a knife to loosen the edges and carefully place the cake upside-side down onto the rack to cool completely.
  1. Combine ¼ cup of granulated sugar and ¼ cup water in a small saucepan. Heat on medium until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture just starts to boil. Remove from the heat and add 1 cup fresh cranberries and stir gently to coat.
  2. Allow the cranberries to rest in the syrup for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reserve the cranberry simple syrup to add to the cake later.
  3. Place the sticky cranberries on a cooling rack taking care to separate them. Allow them to dry for 5-10 minutes, then toss one or two at a time in a small bowl filled with 1/2 cup of granulated sugar. Return the coated cranberries to a clean rack to dry. Dry at room temperature for at least 1 hour, then refrigerate until ready to use.
Cake Assembly
  1. Place the cake onto a cardboard cake round or serving plate,flat side up top.Use a raw piece of spaghetti pasta to poke small holes in the cake. Begin on the outer edge and work your way inward to the middle.Slowly add 1/2 cup cooled, reserved cranberry simple syrup over the cake until it's all gone. 
  2. Wrap and refrigerate overnight before frosting, decorating with sugared cranberries or slicing.
Please consult a healthcare professional or dietician about nutritional needs for your diet. I am a communications professional, not a physician.
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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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