cranberry snacking cake

i stole a piece already

This just might be the easiest cake to make period. Something to have on hand that you can whip up when company unexpectedly shows up as a fail-safe quick dessert. I wouldn’t be even the tiniest bit surprised if that, besides apple pie, of course, becomes your other favorite Thanksgiving dessert, (because no one grows weary of pie). Or perhaps, this snacking cake can become your morning-after-Thanksgiving coffee cake; you know, while you wait for the pancakes. It could also become your there-is-nothing-exemplary-about-today-so-I’m-going-to-make-cake cake, or your it’s-gray-depressing-and-cold-out-and-I want-my-house-to-smell-nice cake. Any of those descriptors can apply. But honestly, do you really need a reason to bake in this weather? I didn’t think so.

Also, something of an important thing to note: In the time that it took me to write out the above paragraph, you might have made your first cranberry snacking cake and I’m not even slightly exaggerating.

cranberry snacking cake

This cranberry cake is an adaptation of something my mother makes. A little while back, she gave me her recipe for it, but my mother is one of those cooks who, while in the kitchen, is guided entirely by cooking “na glazok”, which in Russian is loosely translates to “eyeballing”. This is a mark of knowing your way around the kitchen, but it does none of us any good because everyone eyeballs recipes differently, and if you want a recipe to work for you each and every time, you need to not just have the faith that the recipe has been tested backward and forward, but that it is written thoroughly and explicitly, leaving little to doubt or to imagination.

The recipes I have from my mom, emailed to me, and typed in a mix of English and Russian, commonly feature phrases like, “a dash of this” or “cook until looks done”. “1 cup” in my mother’s lexicon, is not “1 cup” in standard volume measurement, because, she will, literally, use a coffee or tea cup and add other ingredients until she gets a consistency that’s familiar to her well-trained eye. This is all fine and good, but where does that leave all of you?

When I was adapting this cake for the blog, I realized instantly just how forgiving it was. And even though I have given you volume and gram measurements, there’s no exact science to this cake so if your flour is slightly more compacted and weighs a little more, or you decide to, say, throw in a handful of nuts rather than measure them out, your cake will come out just as delicious if you measured everything down to a gram.

cranberry snacking cake

In addition to being immensely forgiving, this cake requires no stand (or hand) mixer, very few dishes to wash, and minutes to put together. While your oven is heating, you brown the butter, add it to your baking dish, dump the cranberries and nuts on the bottom, and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

In a separate bowl, you combine the flour, sugar, more brown butter, eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt until uniform. Pour over the cranberries and sprinkle with some more sugar of your choosing. Then you bake it, and roughly forty minutes later – you have an irresistible cranberry cake.

If you’re reviewing the last two paragraphs wondering if I’ve missed out baking soda and/or baking powder, don’t worry—you won’t be needing them here. That’s right, there’s no leavening agent in this batter and that’s just fine. The cake emerges moist and fragrant, generously studded with cranberries, which mellow out with heat and sugar.

And while I’m all for going all out and making fancy cakes and desserts for the quickly approaching holidays, there’s something to be said for fast, forgiving and utterly delicious dessert. You might feel like you cheated a little because I guarantee you: your guests will go crazy for this cake. Do me a favor and share the recipe with them—we could all use a few more forgiving and easy recipes. If only we could extend that to life overall.

Cranberry Snacking Cake

A few notes on this cake here, I reduced the amount of butter from my mom’s original (she uses 2 sticks) as it was a touch too rich. I browned the butter because it’s been awhile since I’ve done that in a recipe and it’s fall and I’m feeling like those notes are rather tasty in a cake. I threw in some lemon zest because I love lemon zest in most things. For a more wholesome cake, you can swap out half (or even all of) the all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour or play around with flours of your choosing. If you’re feeling particularly saucy, you might add some ginger to the nuts and cranberries. It’s never hurt no one.

I omitted weights for nuts because 1/2 cup of slivered almonds weighs differently than 1/2 cup of finely chopped walnuts or pecans. My one important suggestion to you is this: do not forget (or be lazy) and line the pan with parchment paper should you want this cake to be cut into pretty squares. From the pictures above, you can see that I got lazy and didn’t do that. I could lie and say I did it on purpose so you learn from my mistakes, but you know me better than that.

Finally, a note on different baking conditions. I am finding, more and more, that depending on the weather, baked goods behave differently. For example, on a perfectly dry, summery day, this cake took 50 minutes to bake. Today is rainy and humid and even after 65 minutes, my cake was still slightly more chewy than I would have ideally liked. Just keep checking on the cake, don’t be totally adherent to baking times and see how your oven/weather are behaving.

UPDATE: Totally forgot to include this tidbit: if you leave the cake, uncovered, overnight, it dries/firms up nicely, making for much easier cutting. It also develops a nice toothsome quality to it.

1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons; 142 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (115 grams) cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds, or any nut of your choosing
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar, divided
1 1/4 cups (156 grams) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, room temperature
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon (4 grams) vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
Demerara sugar for sprinkling, optional

1. Position the baking rack in the middle and heat the oven to 350oF (click here for Celcius/Gas Mark). In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over low heat and cook it until the solids become milk chocolate brown. This can take anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes, so use your sense of smell to rely on when the butter has browned. When you smell the nuttiness and the foaming and bubbling generally ceases—your butter should be ready. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Line a 9-inch square cake pan with a strip of parchment paper in both directions so that all four sides of the pan have a little extra paper peeking out, and brush the bottom and sides with 1 tablespoon of the melted, browned butter. In a medium bowl, toss together the cranberries, walnuts, and 1/2 cup sugar until combined. Transfer the mixture to your baking dish and set aside.

3. Check the brown butter and make sure it’s cooled slightly. Into a large bowl add the flour, remaining sugar, remaining butter, eggs, zest, vanilla, and salt and mix until well combined. Pour the batter over the cranberry-nut mixture and sprinkle with a little demerara sugar on top, if you like. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 55 to 60 minutes (add a few extra minutes if using frozen cranberries – mine took 65 minutes), or until a cake tester comes out without batter or crumbs. You want it to be a consistency of a slightly more baked than a chewy cookie. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature before slicing.

Makes 9 (3-inch) squares.

For more cooking conversions click here.


  • Val

    How much of the browned butter do you add into the baking dish first, with the cranberries? Or do you add it all at once, to the flour mixture?

  • Gail

    This is also a perfect cake to have out for your cleaning lady. You know, an after-nap snack.

    I’m STILL scratching my head over that one!

  • Nisrine

    Lovely cake! I haven’t seen any fresh cranberries yet but I know they’ll be in markets soon and this is a perfect way to use them!

  • Beth (OMG! Yummy)

    Love this – it might become my winter fruit crisp. I’ve become rather famous for making crisps all summer long with all kinds of combos of berries and stone fruits. This seems like the super easy winter version of that. And I think I have a bag of cranberries in the freezer!

    And what Gail said :-)

  • Sara

    I love the name “snacking cake”–it’s just implicit permission in the title. I still have a few frozen cranberries from LAST year and I need to use them up–so thank you for this!

  • Dana

    If my kitchen had a counter, or running water, or wasn’t all boxed up right now I would make this today. I may need to dig through some boxes and make it anyway. Renovations are so much fun… right?

  • Radish

    Sara – so do I! That’s how I made mine.

    Dana – I can’t even imagine. Good luck with the renovations and hopefully you’ll be back to baking in no time.

  • Emily@ Totes Delishy

    I imagine a cake with no leavener to be ooey gooey and rich, and than a little zip from the cranberry….yum. Can’t wait to try it. Snacking cake in my house means eat the whole thing in one day and not feel at all bad about it.

  • Tiff

    My mom made a cake very similar to this, however, once cut and on individual plates, a warm, sweet butter sauce was poured over it. The sweet with the tart of the cranberries was AMAZING! I imagine it was only butter and sugar warmed on the stove until the sugar melted. I’m telling you, it is one decadent desert served that way! I appreciate the memory this brought for me. I’m going to have to go through her box of recipes and find this one. It’s perfect for cranberry season!

  • kickpleat

    I so want this! I have a bag of cranberries left from our Thanksgiving celebrations a couple of weeks ago and a nice sweet/tart cake sounds lovely. Quick cakes are my favorite!

  • Stefanie

    I definitely fall into the “need no reason to bake this cake” descriptor. And just by naming it a Snacking Cake, I already feel better about all the little squares I’m going to cut away and enjoy! Thank you, Olga. Happy Fall!

  • Holly G

    We made this cake 2 days ago and it’s SO delicious! Although I didn’t have a lemon so I used an orange for its zest and it was so Fall-ish and yummy! My husband and kids loved it too!

  • Heather K

    This was a HUGE hit with everyone who tried it. I wanted to try it before I commented, and I have nothing but praise. I followed the recipe pretty closely (we had all the ingredients, so i didn’t need to make any substitutions, and it was devoured. the 2nd time, we added more cranberries than called for (mostly so I wouldn’t have this pathetic half cup rattling around in the bottom of the freezer) and that also worked perfectly.

    Thank you and your Mom for sharing!

  • Lori G.

    Hmm, my batter was not thin enough to pour – had something closer to sugar cookie dough in my bowl. I ended up adding about 1/2 cup of milk in dribs and drabs until it thinned. It is in the oven now – we’ll see!

  • olga

    Lori – strange, you’re the 2nd person to say that. I’ll have to make this at home again and note the consistency. I’ve made this cake so many times and it’s never happened to me, but I want to double check. Let me know what happened.

  • Lori G.

    Cake was edible. I cooked it for an hour. It was not dry, but almost, and everyone said they liked it, but to me it was still too crisp and cookie-ish. The sugar and cranberries stayed on the bottom and made a crust, so I was glad I did not sprinkle the top with sugar or it would have been sugar on the top and the bottom. It was not bad, but not what I expected. Maybe it was my unbleached flour? I did like the browned butter flavor though – I am going to add that technique when I make cobbler. I used the new parchment paper and foil combo to line the pan, and I liked how it worked.

  • olga

    Lori – I’ll have to look into it. I’ve gotten rave reviews – so it might be a taste preference thing. Did you follow the recipe to the letter? Or did you switch out anything??

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  • Irina

    Made this cake last night to bring to a holiday party tonight. I tweaked the recipe a little: 1) omitted the lemon zest as I usually don’t like citrus in my baked goods; and 2) added a teaspoon of baking soda mixed with a little vinegar – the recipe didn’t call for any leavening, and since another commenter mentioned that her cake turned out cookie-like, I wanted to try and prevent that from happening. Just like for her, the cranberry/nut/sugar mixture stayed on the bottom in my cake, but the batter baked up nice and cake-like, with a well-browned thin crust on the top. Also, all that brown butter perfumed the house beautifully while the cake was baking!

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