The first time I made this soft, dense, lusciously buttery cake I ended up making it twice more, just for kicks. I couldn't get enough of it. It's sweet with a golden crumb, soft and moist, dense without being heavy, with juicy explosions of tart cranberries. The cranberries are left proudly to their own devices — no sugar bath, no orange zest. Just pops of scarlet sour fruit in buttery cake.
This cake is also a little unusual in its construction, at least for bakers like myself who are most accustomed to cakes leavened with baking powder. This is an old-fashioned butter cake that is leavened instead by whipping the eggs and sugar together for some minutes, until they are lightened and increased in volume. This produces an outrageously moist and tender cake, with the richness of a classic fruitcake. (I like to say this is a fruitcake for those wary of that good old English treat.)
Makes one 10-inch springform cake. Alternately: Four 4-cup loaves or 24 to 30 cupcakes.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon almond extract, optional
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature for 1 hour
- 2 1/2 cups cranberries (12-ounce bag)
Optional pecan topping:
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup pecans, unroasted
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan (or a collection of smaller pans. This make 10 to 12 cups of batter.)
Use a stand mixer or hand beaters to beat the eggs and sugar until very smooth and increased in volume. If using a stand mixer, beat on medium speed for 4 to 7 minutes, using the whip attachment. If using hand beaters, beat on high speed for 6 to 8 minutes. The egg and sugar mixture will double in volume and turn very pale yellow, leaving ribbons on top of the batter when you lift the beaters.
Beat in the butter, vanilla, and almond extract, if using. Beat for 2 minutes or until the butter is smoothly incorporated.
Use a spatula to fold in the flour, salt, and cranberries. The batter will be quite thick. Spread gently into the prepared pan.
To prepare the optional pecan topping, heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir. Add the pecans and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, until the butter and sugar mixture is shiny and smooth and the nuts are well-coated with the butter and sugar. Spread over the cake batter.
Bake 60 to 80 minutes for the springform. For smaller pans, start checking after 30 minutes, but expect small loaves to take at least 40 minutes. Tent the cake with foil in the last 30 minutes of baking to keep the top from browning (this is especially important for the pecan topping).
Cool for 20 minutes then run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and remove the cake. Cool for an hour before serving.
The cake keeps and freezes well. To store, wrap the fully cooled cake tightly in plastic wrap and leave in a dry, cool place for up to 1 week.
To freeze, wrap the fully cooled cake in plastic wrap and then foil. Freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight at room temperature, still wrapped.