Cranberry-Maple Christmas Layer Cake Recipe

This decadent, cardamom-scented cake features a colorful surprise inside: cranberry-orange filling. A light-as-air maple frosting, sugared cranberries and a pecan garnish make this cake fit for a celebration.


Photo by: Jason Kisner © 2013, DIY Network/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Jason Kisner, 2013, DIY Network/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

By: Liz Gray

Serves 10-12


For the sugared cranberries:
1-3/4 cups granulated sugar
1-3/4 cups water
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 cups cranberries
3/4 cup superfine sugar

For the cranberry filling:
4 cups fresh cranberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups cherry jam
1 teaspoon orange zest

For the cake:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) room-temperature unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 room-temperature eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional, but recommended)

For the frosting:
6 egg yolks
2 cups pure maple syrup
1 pound (4 sticks) chilled, unsalted butter

For garnish:
1/2 cup pecan halves
1 cup chopped pecans


For the sugared cranberries:
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine granulated sugar, water and maple syrup. Heat until sugar is dissolved, but don’t boil; you don’t want the cranberries to pop, just be slightly heated. Remove from heat and mix in cranberries. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for 8 hours or overnight.

Drain the cranberries well, reserving maple simple syrup if desired. Place superfine sugar in a shallow dish and roll the cranberries, a few at a time, in the sugar to coat. Spread out on a baking sheet and allow to dry completely before serving or storing in an airtight container. (This should take about an hour.)

For the cranberry filling:
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine 3 cups cranberries, sugar, cherry preserves and 1/4 cup water. Cook the mixture until sugar and preserves melt and cranberries begin to pop, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining 1 cup cranberries. Refrigerate mixture until ready to assemble cake.

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Sift together flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, baking soda and spices. In an electric mixer, cream butter on medium-low speed until light and fluffy. With the mixer on, gradually 1-1/2 cups sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping sides after each addition.

Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk in three additions, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Mix until just combined. Turn off mixer and scrape down bowl once more, making sure the batter is completely mixed.

Divide the batter evenly between two pans. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack.

For the frosting:
Cut chilled butter into small pieces. Return to refrigerator until ready to use. With an electric mixer, beat egg yolks until fluffy and pale yellow, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat maple syrup over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. Using a candy thermometer, cook until the syrup reaches 240 degrees F. Remove from heat.

With the electric mixer running, add the syrup to the egg yolks in a slow, steady stream down the side of the bowl. Once the syrup is fully incorporated, beat for an additional 5 minutes. Add butter, one piece at a time, until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes more.


Photo by: Jason Kisner © 2013, DIY Network/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Jason Kisner, 2013, DIY Network/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

How to Assemble

For easier prep, make the sugared cranberries and cranberry filling ahead of time, then make the cake and frosting the day before you plan to serve the cake.

Each cake layer will be cut in half to create four thin layers total. Put cake layers in the freezer for 15-20 minutes before for simpler slicing. Using a long serrated knife (such as a bread knife), cut straight across the center of the cake layer. Gently pull the two layers apart and set aside, the repeat with remaining cake layer.

Set the flattest layer half cut-side up on a cake plate or stand. Starting in the center, spread on half of the cranberry filling. Add a second layer, cut-side down, on top of the first. Spread on a layer of maple frosting. Add the third layer, cut-side up, and spread with the remaining cranberry filling. Add the final layer, cut-side down.

Starting in the center of the cake, begin spreading a thin "crumb coat" of maple frosting with an offset spatula. Then, add a large dollop of frosting in the center and spread down the sides of the cake. Once you have a thick layer of frosting on top, Make wave-like movements with the spatula to create a pattern in the frosting.

Add a layer of pecan halves around the sides, lining the tip of each piece up with the top of the cake. Chop the remaining pecans. Get a handful of pecans and press onto the sides of the cake, adding more pecans when necessary, until fully covered.

Top with sugared cranberries just before serving. Serve additional sugared cranberries on the side.

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