A Cranberry Cake for Christmas: Brown Sugar Layer Cake with Cranberry Buttercream

I am just now getting around to blogging about the desserts I made for our holiday party last month. I always like to offer a few cakes along with a wide assortment of cookies, and I happened to come across a recipe from The New York Times for a Brown Sugar Layer Cake with Cranberry Buttercream while I was working out the menu. The cake was colorful, festive, and seemed perfect for a holiday party.

I made the cranberry jam a few days in advance by cooking fresh cranberries with sugar, water, orange juice, orange, zest, grated fresh ginger, and vanilla until jammy; and blitzing the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. I ended up with about two cups of jam.

For the cake batter, you beat softened butter with brown sugar, oil, and salt until fluffy; add egg whites; alternately add the sifted dry ingredients (cake flour, baking soda, and baking powder) and liquid ingredients (buttermilk and vanilla); and divide the batter between three 8-inch pans that are buttered, floured, and lined with parchment.

The frosting is a Swiss buttercream that you make by heating egg whites and sugar in a double boiler; whisking the mixture until stiff and glossy; gradually adding softened butter; and mixing in salt, vanilla, and some of the cranberry jam. The pureed cranberries made the frosting a lovely bright pink color. To assemble the cake, I filled the cake with the cranberry buttercream and more cranberry jam before covering the whole cake in buttercream.
This cake was beautiful, especially after it was sliced and you could see the tidy layers of pink buttercream and intense crimson jam inside. I loved the sharp flavor of the cranberries in the jam and frosting. I also liked the brown sugar flavor of the cake itself, but it was a little dry. The cake had a tight crumb but was not tender -- although it's quite possible that the texture would have been better if the cake had been at room temperature for a longer period of time before serving. I stored the assembled cake in the fridge (because of the cranberry jam filling) and took it out of the fridge about an hour before serving. Still, the buttercream was quite buttery, so the fact that the cake wasn't particularly moist didn't bother me all that much when I was eating the cake and frosting together. Our party guests loved it.

I would definitely make the cranberry jam and buttercream again, but I might combine them with a different cake recipe (like maybe Rose Levy Beranbaum's white butter cake, or the Restaurant Eve cake). But I'm still quite pleased with the way this cake turned out.

Recipe: "Brown Sugar Layer Cake with Cranberry Buttercream" from The New York Times.