This is not your ordinary cranberry orange cake. The cake is a very lightly spiced orange hot milk sponge. The filling is a light and creamy cranberry diplomat cream and it’s all held together with the BEST white chocolate buttercream.
I’m just going to be honest here, this cake is not “simple” to make as I claim a lot of my other recipes are lol. There’s a good amount of effort required here but I promise you, it’s so worth it and I’ll walk you through it step by step. There’s also ways to simplify the cake and still get great results.
If you’re skeptical (like my husband) or you just don’t like cranberries, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try this cake. I don’t like cranberries and this is the FIRST dessert I’ve ever made with cranberries that I actually LOVE.
Why you’ll love this orange cranberry cake
- There’s a lot to the recipe but I’ll walk you through how to break things up and prep ahead so it’s not overwhelming.
- The cake is light and fluffy, the filling is super creamy and the buttercream is smooth and silky.
- The flavors play SO WELL together. The cake is very lightly spiced and has a ton of orange zest, giving you the winter coziness but then the filling is so refreshing. The buttercream is subtle but perfectly sweet.
For some more holiday cake inspo, I think you’ll love my chocolate blood orange cake, raspberry almond cake, chocolate mousse cake, chocolate ganache cake, honey lemon cake (use any jam, try cranberry!)
I also the BEST cranberry orange cinnamon rolls and white chocolate cranberry orange mini pies coming soon!
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Butter: I prefer salted butter here but you can also use unsalted butter. Dairy free butter also works for the cake, diplomat cream and buttercream.
- Flour: I use all purpose flour and I haven’t tested this type of sponge cake with cake flour but I imagine it would work well with either. Can also use self rising flour, just omit the baking powder.
- I HIGHLY recommend using a digital scale, as flour is so often over measured.
- Baking Powder: to leaven the cake.
- Sugar: I used granulated sugar in the cake, the diplomat cream and the swiss meringue buttercream. I don’t recommend swapping it. If you want it less sweet, you can reduce the sugar in the diplomat cream by a couple of Tbsp and the buttercream by ¼ cup.
- Milk: I use 2% milk. Any milk will work for the cake, even dairy free.
- Eggs: use large eggs and make sure they’re at room temperature. Pop them in hot water for 5-10 minutes if you’re in a pinch.
- Egg yolks are used for the diplomat cream and then save the egg whites for the swiss meringue buttercream.
- Heavy Cream: I use heavy whipping cream to make the whipped cream for the diplomat cream.
- Make sure to use something between 35%-45% fat. I haven’t tried a dairy free cream but if you have a dairy free heavy cream or whipped topping you like, feel free to use that instead.
- This can also be replaced with a box of cool whip to make the recipe simpler and quicker. Just omit the gelatin and all the steps involving the cream and gelatin. Just mix the custard with the whipped topping.
- Gelatin: Diplomat cream is a custard mixed with whipped cream. If you make your own whipped cream at home, you’ll need to stabilize it with some gelatin. I use powdered gelatin.
- Cranberries: I used fresh cranberries. Frozen cranberries can also be used to make the jam for the diplomat cream but I imagine frozen cranberries probably won’t work for the sugared cranberry topping because they’ll get soft when they thaw.
- Spices/Orange: I used the tiniest amount of cinnamon in my cake because it pairs so well with the orange and the cranberry. I also used the zest of two medium navel oranges in the cake. Then use the juice from that orange for the jam.
- White Chocolate: I use whip chocolate chips in the buttercream. You can also use dairy free white chocolate or white baking chocolate, just chop it up and melt it gently.
Step 1: Bring the sugar and water to a boil and then place the cranberries in a pot for 1 minute. Transfer the cranberries to a plate or wire rack, to get rid of the excess liquid. Then toss them in a bowl of sugar. Repeat with the orange peels but let the orange peels soak for 10 minutes and dry for 5-10 minutes before tossing in the sugar. Set aside to dry.
Step 2: To give the syrup more flavor, toss in another set of cranberries and let them soak longer until they pop and release color. Discard the cranberries and strain the simple syrup. Set it aside to cool.
Step 3: Start by making the cranberry jam for the diplomat cream. Cook cranberries with the sugar and orange juice, just until it reduces and thickens. Allow it to cool a little, then blend it in a food processor.
Step 4: Make the custard for the diplomat cream by cooking the egg yolks with the sugar and butter until it’s thickened like lemon curd. Cover and set it aside to cool completely.
Step 5: For the cake, heat the milk and butter in a saucepan until the butter is melted and the mixture is hot but not yet simmering.
Step 6: Whip the eggs with the sugar and orange zest, until the mixture is super thick, fluffy and pale.
Step 7: Add the dry ingredients and then stream in the hot milk, mixing just until the batter is smooth.
Step 8: Bake the batter in two 8 inch pans. Let them cool and then slice them in half.
Step 9: Make the Swiss meringue buttercream by gently heating the egg whites with the sugar. Then whip them until they’re stiff and no longer warm.
Step 10: Add the butter slowly and once it’s come together, add the melted white chocolate.
Step 11: Finish the diplomat cream – press the jam through a sieve and discard the chunks. Mix the smooth jam with the cooled custard.
Step 12: Whip the cream and then fold ⅓ of the whipped cream into the custard, along with the gelatin. Then add all the whipped cream and mix just until it’s all combined.
Step 13: Brush the first layer of cake with 2-3 Tbsp of the simple syrup. Pipe a border of the white chocolate buttercream around the edge of the cake and then fill in the center with the diplomat cream. Repeat with the next two layers and then place the third layer of cake on top.
Step 14: Refrigerate the cake for at least 30-60 minutes before frosting the whole outside of the cake with the white chocolate buttercream. Top with the candied cranberries and orange peels.
How to make the cake simpler and easier
There are a few ways to make this cake a little simpler and easier.
The first one being to skip the candied cranberries and orange peels on top. With that, skip the simple syrup on the cake. I hardly used any simple syrup because I didn’t want the red to bleed through the cake. The cake was also perfectly moist and fluffy without it. The reason I included it in the recipe is because it’s in the photos and everyone instagram her my cranberry simple syrup saga lol. It does give the cake a little stronger cranberry flavor but I don’t think it would be missed.
The second way to make this cake is easier is to replace the homemade whipped cream and gelatin with an 8 ounce box of cool whip. Don’t use off brand whipped topping, they don’t all work the same.
The third way to simplify the cake is to use store bought jam and strain that. These are all different but if you look at my photos, you can see how thick the consistencies should be at each step.
What can I make ahead of time?
The white chocolate buttercream can be made in advance. If it’s just 1 day, you can cover it and leave it at room temperature. You can also cover it and place it in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze it for a few months. Make sure to bring it back to room temperature before using (I like to leave it out overnight to thaw).
The cakes can also be made in advance. If it’s 1 day, wrap them in plastic wrap as soon as they’ve cooled and leave them at room temperature. If it’s longer, freeze the cakes for a few weeks or months. Remove them from the freezer 1-2 hours before assembling. Slice them in half before assembling.
The sugared cranberries and orange peels, along with the simple syrup can be made 1-2 days in advance. The simple syrup would last even longer, weeks in the fridge, but the cranberries will get soggy quickly so I recommend making them a day in advance.
I don’t recommend making the diplomat cream in advance.
Expert tips on getting the perfect cake
- Don’t swap ingredients unless I mentioned them in the ingredient section above.
- Don’t reduce the sugar in the cake. If you want to cut out some of the sweetness, feel free to reduce the sugar in the Swiss meringue buttercream by ¼ cup (50g) or 2 Tbsp in the diplomat cream (25g).
- Weigh the ingredients with a digital scale.
- Weigh the batter for each cake to make them even.
- Use a light colored stainless steel cake pan for a more even bake and browning.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! I cannot wait to try similar cakes with different fruits. I would use a different flavor of jam but follow the same steps for the diplomat cream.
Feel free to swap the orange zest and orange juice with lemon zest and lemon juice when paired with other flavors like strawberry raspberry or blueberry.
Just like all the rest of my cakes, I test if it’s done baking by pressing gently on the tallest part of the cake. The cake will spring back if it’s done baking. If it stays indented, give it a few minutes in the oven, before testing again.
I haven’t tested gluten-free flours with sponge cakes but I really don’t see why it wouldn’t work with a 1:1 substitute. It works for all the rest of my cake recipes.
Dairy free butter works in the whole recipe, along with dairy free milk in the cake. The whipped cream in the diplomat cream can be replaced with coconut whipped cream but I haven’t tested any other whipped cream replacements.
I baked these cakes in two 8 inch cake pans and then sliced them in half to make four layers.
You can also bake the cake:
– four 6 inch cake pans
– three 7 inch, 8 inch, or 9 inch cake pans and don’t cut them in half (+/- 5 minute bake time)
– two 7 inch cake pans and cut them in half to make four layers.
How to store this cranberry cake
Cover the cake with foil, a cake dome or a cake carrier and refrigerate for up to a week.
If it’s any longer, feel free to freeze the cake. Slice it and place the slices in an airtight container and freeze for 2-3 months.
Thanks so much for reading today’s post, if you have any questions just comment down below. Make sure to leave it in the comment section because I can’t answer in the rating section.
If you make this show-stopping cranberry cake, I’d love it if you left a star rating for me. If it’s less than five stars, please leave a comment with the rating so I know why! 🙂
As always, have a blessed day and happy baking!
Sugared Cranberries/Orange Peels & Simple Syrup
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (240mL) water
- 8 oz (about 2 cups) cranberries
- Peel of 1 naval orange, sliced thinly (save juice for the jam)
- 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar for tossing
- 4 oz (about 1 cup) fresh (or frozen) cranberries
- 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup (60mL) orange juice
Cranberry Diplomat Cream
- 4 egg yolks, room temperature (save egg whites for buttercream)
- 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (113g) salted butter, room temperature
- 1 tsp (3g) unflavored gelatin powder
- 1 Tbsp (15mL) water, warm
- 1 1/4 cups (300mL) heavy whipping cream, cold
- 2 cup (400g) granulated sugar
- Zest 2 large oranges (some juice is used for the jam)
- 2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 cup (240mL) milk
- 1/2 cup (113g) salted butter, cold
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs
White Chocolate Buttercream
- 4 large (120g) egg whites
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (227g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup (6oz) white chocolate chips, melted and cooled
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
Sugared Cranberries & Orange Peels and Simple Syrup
- In a medium pot, bring the sugar and water to a boil and then place half of the cranberries in the pot for 1 minute.
- Transfer the cranberries to a plate or wire rack, to get rid of the excess liquid. Then toss them in a bowl of granulated sugar.
- Repeat with the orange peels but let the orange peels simmer in the hot sugar for 10 minutes and dry for 5-10 minutes before tossing in the sugar. Set aside to dry.
- To get a more flavorful syrup, simmer the other half of the cranberries in the sugar water for 5-10 minutes as well, allowing them to burst open and release color and flavor. These cranberries will be too soggy to roll in sugar so you can discard them.
- Strain the simple syrup and set aside to cool (refrigerate overnight).
Cranberry Jam for Diplomat Cream
- Place the cranberries, sugar and orange juice in a small pot, over medium heat. Stir frequently until the cranberries begin to pop and the liquid reduces.
- Then stir continuously until it’s thickened to a loose jam. The cranberries will be mushy and chunky.
- Place it into the bowl of a food processor and let it cool while you make the custard for the diplomat cream. Then pulse the jam in the food processor to get it as smooth as possible.
- Place the jam in a container, cover it and set aside to cool completely.
Custard for Diplomat Cream
- Place the egg yolks, sugar and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and whisk continuously for about 5 minutes.
- The mixture will look chunky before it melts. After it melts, continue cooking until it thickens enough to hold a streak for a few seconds and can coat the back of a spoon. It should resemble lemon curd.
- Remove it from the heat, pour it into a container and cover it with a lid. Set it aside to cool completely to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 350F/177C convection (325F/163C conventional) and grease and line two 8 inch cake pans with baking spray and parchment paper.
- Place the sugar in a large bowl and zest the oranges on top of the sugar. Use your fingers to rub the orange zest with the sugar until they’re well combined. Be thorough.
- Place the flour, cinnamon, baking powder and sea salt in a medium bowl and whisk them together until they’re evenly distributed.
- Place the milk with the butter in a small pot and heat it gently over medium-low heat, for 2-3 minutes, just until the butter is fully melted and the mixture is hot but not yet simmering. Remove from the heat.
- Place the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer, fit with the whisk attachment, and begin beating at medium-high speed, until the eggs begin to fluff up. Reduce the speed and add the orange sugar in 3-4 increments.
- Add the vanilla extract and turn the mixer up to full speed, allowing it to beat for a few minutes, until the sugar egg mixture is thick, fluffy and pale.
- Sift the dry ingredients over the egg mixture, turn the mixer up to low speed and stream in the milk and butter. Scrape the edge of the bowl and give it one more mix, just until the last streak of flour is combined.
- Divide the batter into the prepared pans, about 23 ounces each, and bake for 22-25 minutes, until they're golden brown and release from the edge of the pan.
White Chocolate Buttercream
- Bring a small pot with 1/2 cup of water to a boil and then reduce the heat to low so the water is gently simmering.
- Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and place the bowl over the simmering water (don't use the glass bowl Kitchen aid bowl like I did in the photos - it can shatter) for 5-10 minutes, whisking intermittently, until the granulated sugar is completely dissolved (eggs are safe to eat at 160F).
- Once the sugar is dissolved, remove the bowl of egg whites from the heat. Use the whisk attachment to beat the egg whites with the sugar. Beat for 7-10 minutes on high speed.
- Place the white chocolate chips in a medium bowl and microwave it for 15 seconds, then stir it. Repeat until the white chocolate is all smooth and melted. Allow it to cool (stirring intermittently) while you finish the buttercream.
- Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and add the butter into the meringue in 5-6 increments. Once all the butter is added, turn the mixer up to high speed for a few seconds, until it comes together.
- Use a rubber spatula to scrape the edge of the bowl. Add the melted white chocolate, vanilla extract and salt and mix just until it's fully combined.
- Use the paddle attachment at low speed or a rubber spatula to press the buttercream back and forth against the edge of the bowl to remove the excess air bubbles.
Finish the Diplomat Cream
- Once the custard as cooled completely, press the pureed jam through a sieve. This can be a little tedious since it’s not runny so you’ll have to use a spoon to actually press it through and collect the smooth jam from the other side of the sieve. Do this until you get as much smooth jam as you can.
- Mix the smooth jam with the cooled custard until it’s well combined.
- In a small bowl, mix the gelatin with water and allow it to dissolve.
- Place the heavy whipping cream in a large bowl and use an electric mixer to beat it at medium speed until it begins to thicken.
- Increase the speed to high and beat just until stiff peaks begin to form.
- If the gelatin has set and isn't liquid anymore, microwave it for 5 seconds, until it's liquid again and mix it in with the custard.
- Use about 1/3 of the whipped cream to thin out the custard then add the custard mixture to the whole bowl of whip cream and beat at full speed for 30-60 seconds, just until it’s smooth. Make sure to scrape the edge of the bowl and fold just until it’s fully combined.
- Assemble immediately, do not refrigerate the diplomat cream before assembling or the gelatin will set and the cream will no longer be smooth.
- Use a large serrated knife to slice each layer of cake in half. Place the first layer of cake on a flat surface and use 2-4 Tbsp of the simple syrup to drizzle onto the cake.
- Place the white chocolate buttercream into a piping bag and pipe a border around the edge of the cake. Fill the center in with the diplomat cream. Repeat with the next layer and then top with the last layer.
- Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes and then use the rest of the white chocolate buttercream to frost the outside of the cake. You should have enough to lightly frost the cake like I did.*
- Refrigerate the cake for at least 2-3 hours so the gelatin can set before serving. Serve the cake just slightly chilled.
*feel free to do 1.5x or double the buttercream recipe if you want to do any fancy decorations on the cake.
- There are a lot of notes in the blog post on shortcuts for this cake and how to make things ahead of time.