This little cake often shows up at our house during the holidays, and it never outwears its welcome. It makes dinner more festive, elevates brunch, cozies up to a cup of tea or coffee, and stays fresh for days. The rich, dense texture (like pound cake), cradling dried fruit redolent with brandy, leaves nibblers feeling all’s right with the world. In its own little way, it augments the joys of the season.
To work at our altitude, I increased the flour, flavorings and liquid, used superfine sugar and decreased the baking powder. Feel free to substitute other dried fruits for those I’ve recommended, just be sure to chop them all to the size of raisins. And crème de cassis, orange liqueur or even rum or orange juice can stand in for the brandy. The taste will be different but still good. Though it needs no accompaniment, you can fancy it up with a topping of hard sauce or a drizzle of brandy.
Holiday Cranberry Cake
Makes: 8-10 serving; total time: 3 hours
Adjusted for elevations of 7,000 feet and above. Make in an 8-inch springform pan.
For the glaze:
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons brandy
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup chopped dried apricots (chop to size of dried cranberries)
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole blanched almonds
½ cup superfine sugar, preferably Baker’s, divided
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, beaten
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons orange zest or ¼ teaspoon orange oil
For the glaze:
¼ cup apricot preserves or sweet orange marmalade
2-3 teaspoons orange liqueur
Sliced almonds, optional
Preparation: Center a rack and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Flip over the bottom of the springform pan so lip is down, and lock in place (this will make cutting and removing the baked cake easier). Grease the pan with a baking spray that contains flour.
Prepare the dried fruit: Combine the brandy, cranberries, apricots and raisins in a small microwave-safe bowl and toss to coat the fruit well. Cover and heat in a microwave until the fruit is quite warm and soft but is not cooked (I use No. 4 setting out of 10 for about 1-2 minutes). Set aside, still covered.
Combine the dry ingredients: Place the almonds in a food processor with 2 tablespoons of the sugar and process until finely ground. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse to combine well. Set aside.
Make the batter: Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and remaining sugar (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed. Slowly drizzle in the beaten eggs until blended (the batter will look curdled). Add the vanilla, orange zest or oil, and the fruit/brandy mixture. Beat at medium speed until well combined (about 2 minutes). With your mixer at its lowest speed, add the flour mixture (scrape the bowl of the food processor to get it all), stopping as soon as the wet and dry ingredients have blended. Use a silicone spatula to gently stir/fold the batter a couple times to complete the mixing.
Bake the cake: Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, level and smooth the top, and rap the pan on a counter a couple times to release any air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, from 35-45 minutes The edges of the cake will turn golden, the top won’t color much, may dome a bit as the cake bakes, and will be set and softly spongey when touched. Remove to a rack, run a knife, or thin metal spatula around the edges, pressing toward the pan, and let cool about 10 minutes.
Glaze the cake: While the cake cools, make the glaze by heating the preserves or marmalade in a microwave until liquid. Strain it into a small bowl to remove any solid pieces of fruit. Stir in the liqueur and keep warm. Carefully remove the sides of the pan and brush the glaze over the cake’s top. If using, place sliced almonds in a circle around the edge, pressing them lightly into the sticky glaze so they don’t fall off. Let the cake cool completely.
Store the cake: Once cool, cover well and store at cool room temperature for about four days, in the fridge for a few days longer or freeze. If possible, wait a day after baking before serving. Serve at room temperature.
This recipe is a variation of one from Gourmet Magazine.
Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at Garcia Street Books in Santa Fe). Contact her at email@example.com.