Cranberry Upside Down Cake

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Cranberry upside down cake with caramel cranberry topping and orange zest speckled sour cream cake.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

This is probably TMI, but for years I’ve harbored a fantasy of creating a holiday card of me lying in bathtub covered with cranberries. Sort of like that Annie Lebovitz portrait of Whoopi Goldberg in a tub of milk, but holiday themed, with cranberries.

It’s a fun idea visually, in my mind, which is where it will likely stay. (How many cranberries does it take to fill a bathtub?)

You too can fantasize about swimming in a sea of cranberries, especially if they are baked into an upside down cake like this one. Cranberry jewels surrounded by a caramelized sauce cover the surface and bleed their tart sweet flavor into a dense, orange-zest speckled cake.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Upside down cakes are somewhat of an obsession around here. We love our pineapple version (the most requested cake at our family gatherings), and my father is known for trying every upside down cake recipe he sees.

He gave this cranberry cake his seal of approval, by coming back for more, even after I sent him home with half the cake.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake Recipe

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  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 8 to 10

Baking times will vary, depending on the brand of flour, size of pan, thickness of sour cream. The batter should be gloppy, not runny, so add a little more flour to get to gloppy if your batter is too thin.

Some readers have needed to cook this cake longer than the baking times indicated, so definitely test before turning out!

Ingredients

Topping

  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 4 Tbsp (1/4 cup or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries

Cake

  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Scant pinch ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temp (plus more for buttering the pan)
  • 1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp orange zest
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (or greek yogurt)
  • 1/4 cup of milk

Equipment

  • A 9-inch cake pan with at least 2-inch high sides

Method

1 Butter a 9-inch cake pan: Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch diameter cake pan.

2 Make caramel topping with brown sugar and butter: In a small saucepan, place the 1/4 cup of butter and the 3/4 cups of packed brown sugar. On medium high heat, stir the sugar as the butter melts. Once the butter is melted and mixed in well with the sugar, stop stirring and let the mixture simmer for 15 seconds or so.

3 Pour brown sugar mixture into cake pan and top with cranberries: Pour the brown sugar butter mixture into the prepared cake pan. Spread the cranberries on top of the sugar butter mixture.

4 Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves: Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl vigorously whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground cloves.

5 Beat butter, add sugar, add eggs, stir in zest: In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter until light. Add the sugar and beat together the sugar and butter until fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in the orange zest.

6 Alternate adding sour flour mixture and sour cream, then add milk: Mix a third of the dry ingredients into the mixture. Beat in half of the sour cream. Mix in another third of the dry ingredients.  Mix in the remaining sour cream. Beat in the remaining dry ingredients and then the milk.

7 Pour batter into cake pan and bake: Pour batter over the cranberries in the cake pan, and smooth the surface.

Place in the preheated oven and lower the heat from 350°F to 325°F. Bake until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs, and pressing down on the surface bounces back, 55 minutes to an hour.

8 Cool cake in pan, run knife around edge, turn over onto a serving plate: Cool cake in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes.

Run a blunt knife around the inside rim of the cake pan to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Then turn the cake out onto a platter.

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Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Showing 4 of 153 Comments

  • Deb

    Elise, I love this dessert around the holidays–it’s just so beautiful! However, the center NEVER is baked all the way through, even when keeping the temp at 350 the entire time (I do make this with a GF flour blend so that may be part of my problem, although it seems others struggle with it as well). I recently bought a Bundt pan with hopes that that will solve the underbaked center (because there is none!), but would I need to alter the batter part of the recipe at all to prevent it overflowing the pan, or not baking to doneness since it will be thicker? Please share your thoughts if/when you get a chance. Thank you!

  • Kasia

    I made this cake couple of times already. It’s a beautiful and delicious cake! I’m planning to bake it again and freeze. I read the comments- nobody freeze it yet.. o well, let me test it:). I let you know around Christmas:)

  • Roxie

    Love your site and have been using your recipes for over two years with much success :) Until I made the upside-down cranberry cake tonite. Followed recipe exactly.. it did not bake in middle at 325 for 60 mins. Looked baked and came out clean.. outside was okay lol. Perhaps baking it at 350 in my oven might do it ? Love the flavour.

  • Jemima

    This looks really similar to a microwave (if you can believe that!) cranberry coffee cake that my mom used to make for breakfast sometimes in the 80s and early 90s! The recipe was from a book that came with her microwave and got lost or given away at some point during a move between countries. I’ve been looking for the recipe ever since as it was delicious, the whole family loved it! I think I will give this a try! Thank you!!!

  • Susan

    Yum, I’m making this for Thanksgiving. I’m sure it is delicious, as is every one of your recipes, Elise. About that ‘cranberries in the bathtub’ photo idea, remember that cranberries float so you wouldn’t need that many! Be sure to let us know if you decide to go ahead…

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