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.

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© 2023 Olga Massov