This cranberry orange brown sugar cake has a moist and fluffy warm brown sugar cake, fresh orange cream cheese frosting, filled with a tangy cranberry compote.
The Perfect Brown Sugar Cake
This brown sugar cake is one adapted from Martha Stewart. I love that it has rich brown sugar flavor without being dense like a pound cake. It’s light and moist and the flavor pairs perfectly with the orange cream cheese frosting and tart cranberry compote.
This cake traditionally calls for sour cream but I like to use Greek yogurt instead and I really haven’t noticed a difference with the swap! This cake is pretty simple, nothing super complicated going on with it.
Why do I have to mix the Greek yogurt and baking soda separately?
In the recipe you’ll see that we mix the baking soda and yogurt together before adding it into the cake. There is a reason for this! Have you ever mixed baking soda and vinegar together and watched it fizz up? Well, something similar is going on here. Yogurt is the acidic fermentation of milk, so, like the vinegar it is acidic. So when we mix the baking soda and the Greek yogurt together the mixture will become airy and kind of fizzy. This reaction is going to help our cake rise so it is nice and light!
Making the Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
I love this orange cream cheese frosting! It’s hard to not just eat it by the spoonful, but resist so that you have enough for your cake! This is not a super strong cream cheese frosting, just a little bit of cream cheese to give it a little tang, and make it not too sweet when paired with the sweet orange flavor and sweet brown sugar cake.
Why are we adding lemon zest to an orange frosting?
Lemon really just brightens the flavor of food, and when adding it to this orange cream cheese frosting it really makes the orange flavor more intense without it being too sweet.
I like to use lemon zest instead of just lemon juice for a couple of reasons. Lemon zest has a more intense lemon flavor so it’s going to do more with less. Also because lemon juice is pretty acidic you can split your frosting if you add too much to it. Splitting is when your frosting starts to look a little curdled, and we definitely don’t want that.
Assembling the cake
Putting this cranberry orange brown sugar cake should be pretty easy. You should have baked the brown sugar cakes in two 8-inch pans. These Fat Daddio’s cake pans are my favorite brand, I’ve found they give you a super even bake!
Level off the top of the cakes so they’re completely flat. This will help you get a nice even stack! Then you’ll want to slice the cakes in half horizontally so you have 4 cake rounds. I like to use a cake leveler and slicer like this one, but you can use a regular serrated knife too!
Pay attention when you slice your cakes in half. Make sure you reserve at least one cake bottom for the top layer of your cake. The cake rounds on the bottom are smooth and flat from being against the bottom of the pan. You’ll want to flip one of these bottoms upside down so that the smooth bottom is the very top layer of your cake. This way you’ll have smooth flat top with minimal crumbs when it comes to frosting the cake.
Assembly: Frosting and Filling
Spread a thin layer of frosting across the first layer of your cake and pipe a rim of frosting around the edge of your cake. This will help prevent the cranberry compote from seeping down into the cake too much and keep the compote from leaking out the sides. Repeat this process until you get to the top!
Crumb Coating Your Cake
Once you’ve finished stacking your layers it’s time for a crumb coat! A crumb coat is thin layer of frosting applied all around the cake which you then chill. Once the frosting is set you can apply your final layer of frosting. The crumb coating prevents any loose crumbs from showing through on the final frosting coating!
I like to apply the frosting super thick and use a cake scraper like this one, to smooth out the frosting!
Quick Measurements for Reference
I know it can be super confusing sometimes when things say: 1 tablespoon orange zest and you’re thinking well how many oranges do I need to buy? Or if it a says 1 pound of powdered sugar and you’ve dumped all your powdered sugar into a big bucket and you’ve got no idea how much 1 pound of powdered sugar is!
So, for your convenience, here are some conversions:
- 1 orange = 1 tablespoon zest
- 1 orange = ¼ up orange juice
- 1 lb powdered sugar = 4 cups, 1 cup = 4 ounces
Try out these Other Holiday Favorite Recipes:
- Gingerbread Cinnamon Rolls
- Cranberry Orange Shortbread Cookies
- Ginger Gringles (Our Favorite Gingersnap Cookie!)
- Cranberry Almond Baked French Toast
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Cranberry Orange Brown Sugar Cake
Brown Sugar Cake:
- 1 cup butter
- 3 cups cake flour measured correctly
- 2 cups dark brown sugar packed
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 6 eggs
- 2 tablespoons vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces Greek Yogurt or Sour Cream
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups fresh cranberries
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup citrus juice Use the juice from the oranges and lemons you are zesting for the frosting. Set aside orange juice for frosting first. If you do not have enough for a full ½ cup, supplement with water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
- 4 ounces cream cheese room temperature
- 1 ½ cups butter
- 3 tablespoons orange zest
- 1 ½ tablespoons lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4-5 tablespoons orange juice fresh (see notes)
- 9 cups powder sugar sifted
Brown Sugar Cake:
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare your cake pans, take two 8-inch round pans, grease your cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
- In a small bowl mix together your sour cream or Greek yogurt and baking soda. Set aside
- In a separate bowl beat your butter and sugar
together for 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add your eggs one at a time, beating each egg into the mixture thoroughly before adding the next. Add in your salt, beat until mixed in.
- Alternate adding in your flour and sour cream mixture—add ⅓ of your flour mixture and then ⅓ of your sour cream mixture. Continue doing this until the flour and sour cream mixture is gone.
- Your batter should be smooth with no lumps. Divide your batter into your tow pans. Bake for about 50 minutes until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
- Let your cakes cool for about 30 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans. Let cool completely leveling off the top of your cakes and assembling.
- in a medium saucepan over medium add your cranberries, sugar, and citrus juice. Stir your mixture until the sugar dissolves, let the mixture heat and cranberries start soften.
- Use your wooden spoon and start mash the cranberries as they soften. Remove a few tablespoons of warm liquid and add them to bowl and whisk in your cornstarch. This is to ensure you have not lumps of cornstarch in your mixture. Then add your cornstarch slurry back into the saucepan.
- Let mixture simmer for 5-10 minutes until you have a thick jam-like mixture. Stir in your vanilla and salt and transfer to a bowl. Cover and let cool completely in the refrigerator.
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting:
- Beat cream cheese until fluffy, add in butter and cream together until fluffy and smooth.
- Add in orange zest, lemon zest, vanilla, and salt. Mix until thoroughly incorporated.
- Add half of the orange juice and half of the powdered sugar. Beat until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remaining orange juice and powdered sugar. Beat until smooth and fluffy.
- If your cakes have domed in the middle, cut off the tops so that they are completely flat. The slice each cake in half horizontally so that you have 4 cake rounds.
- Take a little bit of frosting and dab it on your plate or cake board, then place your first cake layer down—the frosting will help the cake adhere to board or plate.
- Then take your orange frosting and spread a thing layer over top of the first cake round. Pipe a rim of frosting around the edge of the cake round so that when you add your cranberry compote it won’t spill out. Then take ⅓ of the cranberry compote and spread it evenly over the top of your first cake layer. Repeat with the next two layers. Place your last cake layer crumb side down, with the bottom of the pan side on to —this will help your get a smooth layer on top.
- Apply a crumb coat—Take your frosting and spread a thin layer of frosting all over the cake and then refrigerate for an hour or freeze for 20 minutes. This will help catch any crumbs and prevent them from showing through when you apply your last frosting coat.
- Remove your cake from the fridge/freezer and apply your second coating of frosting. Then apply your frosting. I like to use a cake scraper—holding it straight up and down against the cake, scrape the frosting so that its smooth and even around the cake.
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