This gorgeous white cake with cranberries and white chocolate buttercream is simple enough to make but looks spectacular at your holiday dinner. Or just on a wintry Tuesday afternoon that needs a touch of cake.
Many holiday seasons have come and gone since I was a child but the one thing that has remained constant over time is the hours we spend baking; our tradition of spending time together in the kitchen creating cookies and bars and cakes for family and neighbors is an important ritual in the months leading up to the New Year. And while only a few of the recipes have made their way from Christmas past to our current kitchen, still we merrily share them with our family and neighbors; the act of creating and giving is central to our celebration—Sarah Kieffer
White Cake with Cranberries and White Chocolate Buttercream FAQs
Because the egg whites aren’t being whipped for volume, store-bought egg whites will work here; just make sure they are 100 percent liquid egg whites.
White chocolate is made from cocoa butter but not all white chocolate is created equal, so use a brand you trust when baking with it. Choose something that comes in a bar or blocks, as chips don’t melt very well. White chocolate also melts more quickly than dark chocolate, so be sure to stir it more frequently than you would dark chocolate, especially when using the microwave to melt it down.
White Cake with Cranberries and White Chocolate Buttercream
For the sugared cranberries
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- Pinch table salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 ounces fresh cranberries
For the cake
- 1 cup whole milk at room temperature
- 1 scant cup egg whites (from 6 or 7 large eggs) at room temperature
- 1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces
For the white chocolate buttercream
- 6 tablespoons cranberry jam
Make the sugared cranberries
- In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the water, 3/4 cup (150 g) of the granulated sugar, and the salt. Bring to a gentle boil and turn the heat down to medium; let simmer until the mixture is reduced slightly, about 5 minutes. Pour the vanilla into the sugar liquid and stir to combine.
- Pour the liquid into a medium-size container. Add the cranberries to the sugar liquid, cover and refrigerate, and let them soak for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.
- After the cranberries have soaked, place the remaining 1/2 cup (100 g) of granulated sugar in a bowl and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Drain the cranberries and roll them in the bowl of sugar to coat. Place the coated cranberries on the sheet pan and let them dry, at least 1 hour. Cranberries can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Make the cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Butter and flour three 8-by-2 inch (20-by-5 cm) round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the milk, egg whites, crème frâiche, and vanilla.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer running on low speed, add the butter one piece at a time, beating until the mixture resembles coarse sand, 3 to 4 minutes.
- With the mixer still running on low speed, slowly add a little more than half of the wet ingredients. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the ingredients are incorporated, about 30 seconds. Return the mixer to low speed and add the rest of the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.
- Increase the speed to medium and beat for 20 seconds (the batter may still look a little bumpy). Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and use a spatula to mix the batter a few more times.
- Divvy the batter between the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Tap the pans gently on the counter, two times each, to help get rid of any bubbles.
- Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until the cakes are golden brown and a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into the centers come out with a faint bit of crumbs, or a finger gently pressed into the top leaves a slight indentation, 28 to 30 minutes.
- Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the parchment paper, and let cool completely. Once cool, the cakes can be frosted or wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight or for up to 1 week.
Make the white chocolate buttercream
- Pour 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water into a medium saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat.
- In a heatproof bowl set over the simmering water, melt the white chocolate, being careful not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir constantly until just melted then remove from the saucepan and let cool.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until light yellow and creamy, about 3 minutes.
- Add the corn syrup and salt and mix on medium speed until combined. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth and creamy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the cooled white chocolate and beat until completely combined. Pour in the heavy cream and vanilla and mix until combined.
Assemble the cake
- Place one layer of cake on a turntable or serving plate. Use an offset spatula to spread the top evenly with 3 tablespoons of cranberry jam. Place the second layer on top and frost with another 3 tablespoons of the jam, then place the final layer on top and evenly coat the entire cake with the buttercream.
- The cake can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Let the cake come to room temperature and top with the cranberries just before serving.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
All components of this white cake with cranberries and white chocolate buttercream recipe with be used again and again. These are strong words for me, but I believe this is the best white cake I’ve ever made.
The cake method of combining the dry ingredients in the mixer then adding in butter a tablespoon at a time to achieve a sandy texture versus the traditional method of creaming butter and sugar first is what drew me to this cake. It came together so quickly and the finished product was a dense sturdy cake that was still moist.
And oh my, that white chocolate buttercream. It will be so good on most any flavor cake. I made this for an early Thanksgiving dinner and everyone deemed it “phenomenal”. It looks indulgent but with the slightly tart cranberry jam and not too much frosting it was the perfect dessert with coffee after a big meal. I made the cake layers early and froze as directed.
For those that don’t have the cranberry jam, or don’t like that idea; the buttercream recipe makes plenty to simply frost between layers as well. However, the jam sure made for a beautiful cake when sliced. The sugared cranberries held well in the refrigerator (lasted 3 days here). I made a double batch. They are good to snack on (the vanilla in the soaking liquid is MONEY), look beautiful on a fall charcuterie board, or as a pretty drink garnish.
According to the dictionary, cranberries are reportedly to aid in digestion and so that was all I needed to bake this scrumptious white cake with cranberries and white chocolate buttercream.
I have not found a vanilla cake batter that used a crumb base prior to mixing in wet ingredients and I have to say, I am so sold. Sold on the whole three-tier stack of vanilla cake. These cakes were moist, simple to bake, and held up to jamming and icing without pulling my hair out on a crumb coat. It is a moist, pop rock-esque explosion of candy-coated cranberries soothed by the highly addictive frosting.
This is a cake that will appeal to anyone needing to bake in advance or even a few days in advance. The best part of this cake is that it feeds a crowd, provides a slice even to the more “savoury” eaters, and what a brilliant introduction to anyone’s Thanksgiving or Christmas dessert table.
This is a beautiful and festive layer cake. The flavors are classic and pristine, all while looking very sophisticated. The recipe steps are written clearly, especially the step describing how the butter is mixed in piece by piece to the dry ingredients. This mixing method is more unusual and I had no concerns. I did use Dorrie Greenspan’s trick of covering my mixing bowl with a tea towel to keep the contents from flying out of the bowl, even at the mixer’s lowest speed. This was especially helpful when adding the wet ingredients at the 30 second bursts. My room temperature butter might have been a bit too cold because my cakes were a little on the dense side but only slightly.
It took no time at all to prepare fresh cranberry jam. It did spread thinly between the layers so I added two tablespoons more than the suggested amount. I also added a thin layer of buttercream on top of the jam layer to give the filling a bit more heft. The white chocolate buttercream frosting was effortless to make. It was a bit soft right after mixing so I put the bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm it up. The recipe did not suggest creating a crumb coat to seal in the jam filling but I am glad I took the time to do so. I spread a thin layer of frosting over the sides and top, sealing away any potential messiness or leaking jam. After 30 minutes in the refrigerator, the crumb coat of frosting presents a firm canvas for the final coat. Next time I would make a half-a-recipe more of the frosting to make the final cover a little more luxurious. The sugared cranberries were the ideal holiday decoration and they were delicious to eat. This is not a difficult cake to make but it did require two days to put it together. Those that sampled the cake, loved it.
Originally published December 11, 2021