Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

A perfect winter treat, this cranberry upside-down cake with caramel cranberry topping and orange zest will be your new favorite.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake
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
Elise Bauer

Why an Upside-Down Cranberry 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.

Making Cranberry Cake in Advance

For this recipe you need to turn the cake out before the caramel cools down. So, it should be inverted according to the recipe directions and not left in the pan, where the cooled caramel will solidify like cement and keep the cake glued in there.

The cake will keep well at room temperature for a couple of days, but you can also refrigerate it for about a week.

To freeze, wrap in plastic wrap first, then in foil to avoid freezer burn. Cranberry upside-down cake will keep for up to 3 months in the freezer.

To thaw the cake simply leave out on your counter at room temperature overnight.

Size Matters: The Right Cake Pan Size

This recipe needs a 9-inch pan with a minimum of 2-inch sides. It’s important! Higher is better to hold all the batter. A 9 x 9-inch square pan also works. 

One reader used a spring form pan with an oven bag as a liner to avoid leakage. Worked like a charm!

Another reader used a Dutch oven for this and it worked great. They were able to make the caramel, then add the berries and batter, and "whoosh into the oven."

This recipe can also be made in cupcake tins filled 2/3 full. Just be sure to decrease the cooking time, checking at 30 to 35 minutes.

Readers' Suggestions to Adapt This Cake

  • "I baked it in two 6" pans and put the cranberry tops together in the middle to form a filling between the 2 layers. Then I did a "naked" frosting of the 2 layer cake with buttercream made with orange juice instead of milk. I decorated it with sugared cranberries and fresh rosemary and a tall red birthday candle." - Gwen
  • "I didn't have sour cream so I subbed it for homemade buttermilk (1/2 of milk + 1/2 tbs lime juice)" - Génesis
  • "Added extra orange zest and squeezed the juice from the orange over top of the cranberries before putting the batter in." - Ashley
  • Use plain or plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

5 Desserts for Cranberry Lovers

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 70 mins
Total Time 90 mins
Servings 8 to 10 servings

Baking times will vary, depending on the brand of flour, size of pan, and the thickness of your 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 tablespoons (58g) unsalted butter

  • 12 ounces (340g) 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

  • 8 tablespoons (117g)  unsalted butter, at room temperature (plus more for buttering the pan)

  • 1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar

  • 3 large eggs

  • 1 tablespoon orange zest

  • 1/2 cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt)

  • 1/4 cup milk

Equipment

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

Method

  1. Preheat the oven:

    Set the oven to 350°F.

  2. Butter a 9-inch cake pan:

    Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with sides at least 2 inches high.

  3. Make the caramel topping:

    In a small saucepan, place the 4 tablespoons 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.

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    Elise Bauer
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    Elise Bauer
  4. Pour the caramel into the 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.

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    Elise Bauer
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    Elise Bauer
  5. Whisk together the dry ingredients:

    In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground cloves.

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    Elise Bauer
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    Elise Bauer
  6. Beat the butter, then add sugar, eggs, and 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.

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    Elise Bauer
    cranberry-upside-down-cake-method-8
    Elise Bauer
  7. Alternate the flour mixture and sour cream, then add the 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.

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    Elise Bauer
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    Elise Bauer
  8. Pour the batter into the pan and bake:

    Pour batter over the cranberries in the cake pan, and smooth the surface.

    cranberry-upside-down-cake-method-11
    Elise Bauer
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    Elise Bauer

    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. When pressing down on the cake, the surface should bounce back, about 55 to 60 minutes.

  9. Cool the cake in 10 minutes, then invert:

    Cool cake in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes.

    cranberry-upside-down-cake-method-13
    Elise Bauer

    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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    Elise Bauer
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    Elise Bauer
Cranberry Upside Down Cake
Elise Bauer
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
434 Calories
18g Fat
66g Carbs
5g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 10
Amount per serving
Calories 434
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 18g 23%
Saturated Fat 10g 52%
Cholesterol 100mg 33%
Sodium 238mg 10%
Total Carbohydrate 66g 24%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 46g
Protein 5g
Vitamin C 6mg 28%
Calcium 105mg 8%
Iron 2mg 9%
Potassium 120mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.