Nantucket cranberry cake: seize the season

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PLOP!

The sound of cranberry sauce being dropped from its can onto a serving plate.

“Ahhhhh….” The sound of an appreciative dessert-lover enjoying a bite of buttery, tender, tart-sweet cranberry cake.

PLOP is OK. But “Ahhhh…” So much more satisfying, when you’re a DIY-type person.

Read: home baker.

Being a Massachusetts gal, I admit to a certain nostalgic fondness for cranberries. Along with Wisconsin, southeastern Massachusetts provides America with most of its cranberry crop; I grew up across from a cranberry bog, and regularly drove past the headquarters of Ocean Spray, an agricultural cooperative with over 600 member farms.

Did you know that by clicking anywhere on this block of pictures, you can enlarge them to full size? Go ahead, give it a try; it’ll work for any of our photos.

From a distance, the typical summer cranberry bog looks like a simple green field. But get closer, and you’ll see a mass of tangled bushes set into a declivity in that field.

Around the edges of the field runs a water-filled trough – a portent of things to come.

When the berries are bright red and ready to harvest, one of two things will happen.

If the bog produces “consumer” cranberries, the kind you see in the produce section of your supermarket come November, the bushes are winnowed by machine, and the berries harvested much like wheat (only more gently).

If the cranberries are bound for cranberry juice or canned cranberry sauce, however, the bog is flooded. A machine sweeps up and down, churning the water and bushes and shaking loose the cranberries, which float to the surface of this temporary cranberry pond – where they’re easily gathered in.

Most of them, anyway – there are always some berries left floating around the edges, fair game for anyone passing by with a strainer and basket.

The cranberry harvest on Cape Cod is eagerly anticipated each fall by the locals.

Not only do they get to enjoy seeing a brilliant red floating carpet where formerly only green bushes showed; sometimes they get to help drive the machine, as well – as these two youngsters did on a recent sunny Sunday morning.

The end result?

Cranberries. Lots and lots of cranberries, ready to freeze, cook, or turn into a pie or cake.

While our site lists over 80 cranberry recipes, only 10 call for fresh cranberries: a testament, perhaps, to the short seasonality of this bright red, wonderfully tart fruit.

And to its relative scarcity – only about 5% of the total cranberry crop is sold fresh, the rest being dried and sweetened, or processed into juice, sauce, and jam.

Our most popular fresh cranberry recipe? Cranberry Fudge Pie, a graham cracker crust holding a thick layer of dark chocolate topped with fresh whole-cranberry sauce.

One of my favorites? Cranberry sauce made in a Zo bread machine, a quick and easy way to serve warm, homemade sauce with your Thanksgiving bird.

And, my mom’s favorite? Nantucket Cranberry Cake, a layer of sweetened fresh cranberries and walnuts topped with tender, moist yellow cake.

Hey, mother knows best, right?

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10″ pie plate or 9″ square cake pan.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter, and drizzle it into the bottom of the pan.

Spread 2 cups (about 8 ounces) fresh or frozen chopped cranberries and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts over the butter in the pan.

Sprinkle with 1/2 cup granulated sugar.

In a mixing bowl, or the work bowl of a food processor, combine the following to make a smooth batter:

2 large eggs
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

*Reduce the salt to 1/4 teaspoon if you use salted butter.

No baking powder, no baking soda? Yes, that’s right. This isn’t a typo. Trust me; it works.

Spread the thick batter over the cranberries and nuts in the pan, using a spatula or your wet fingers. Sprinkle coarse white sparkling sugar atop the batter, if desired; it adds pleasant crunch.

Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the cranberries are bubbly, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean of batter or crumbs.

Remove the cake from the oven.

Serve warm, or at room temperature.

Yes, it looks messy. But believe me, you won’t be able to resist taking surreptitious swipes of that wonderfully tart-sweet cranberry-nut filling.

Serving this cake unadorned is fine – though a rich dollop of whipped cream or scoop of vanilla ice cream certainly wouldn’t be amiss…

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Nantucket Cranberry Cake.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. nancy

    Wow! We go up to the Cape to see the cranberry harvesting every year! Your pictures look like where we go! What town is it in??? Can’t wait to try your Nantucket Cranberry Cake recipe this year. We always buy a bag of the cranberries right out of the bog. The colors are so spectacular. Thanks for sharing your beautiful pictures.

    Hi Nancy – that particular bog is on 6A in Sandwich; I usually get my berries at Crow Farm, also on 6A in Sandwich, a beautiful old-fashioned farm stand with the farm in back, and fresh-picked corn all summer, peaches, tomatoes, homemade jams and pies and bread and now, cranberries and pumpkins! Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  2. "said the hobbit"

    I love doing things from “scratch. Cranberries are such a short season that I do freeze them for later use. I’m putting this on my to do list for the holidays. I too find it difficult to find a recipe that calls for fresh,not dried or canned. Just did your cranberry/orange muffins with pecan and sugar topping. Simmered the cranberries in oj and zest cooled then stirred into the batter. My people loved it.Our farmers market is huge in this area and some of the people over the border(Maine) have started growing cranberries. So now I’m fortunate enough to “know my farmer”.

    Cranberry and orange are a natural, aren’t they? Enjoy those yummy muffins! PJH

    Reply
  3. Rockycat

    This looks pretty much like Laurie Colwin’s Cranberry Pie. I’ve been making that recipe for {cough, cough} a lot of years, ever since Gourmet magazine ran it. It’s a great recipe and so very easy. I’ve always left out the walnuts, too.

    Yes, Laurie Colwin definitely did a version of this. It’s something that’s been around so long, no one really knows where it came from… Recipes this good do manage to stick around. PJH

    Reply
  4. "Lady of Shallots"

    Oh, wow, this looks amazing! I have one question, though. I live in Texas and have never been able to find frozen cranberries (which always baffles me, because they seem like such a freeze-able berry). The only way to get them is to buy them fresh starting in November. Can you recommend a frozen brand to look for?

    Sorry, I’ve never seen a national frozen brand of cranberries. We do have some local ones up here, but they’re hard to find. When you can get them fresh, how about throwing some in the freezer for later in the year? PJH

    Reply
  5. bethwitten

    PJ have you tried any other nuts in this recipe? my DD isn’t a fan of walnuts, how do you think pecans would do?

    Yes, Beth, I’ve tried pecans – they’re delicious. I’d think slivered almonds would be yummy, too. Go for it! PJH

    Reply
  6. dixief1950

    This cake looks amazing! I was wondering, can I also make it using tart cherries since both cranberries and cherries are very tart? Do I need to adjust the sugar at all? Thanks!

    I’d think you’d want to ratchet the sugar down, unless tart cherries are just as sour as cranberries. Since I’ve never had fresh tart cherries, you’ll have to play this by ear… but the experimenting sounds delicious! PJH

    Reply
  7. cartvl219

    I lived for many years in Carlisle MA where there is a cranberry bog. It was inactive most of the time I was there but has been reactivated and is now operated by the resident farmer at the dairy farm on the state park. He harvests the berries by flooding the field and then sells some of the crop at the ice cream stand. I think the bulk of the crop goes to Ocean Spray.
    Store keepers here in NC seem to think fresh cranberries need to be kept wet. I have seen them (bagged, Ocean Spray) displayed in the produce section that is regularly misted and one Whole Foods store put the bulk berries in a large container filled with water. I usually buy them bagged – dry – and then can toss a bag or two with no further wrapping in the freezer where they keep very well.
    One of my favorite recipes is Spiced Cranberry Sauce where the berries are cooked with sugar in port wine (no water) and then seasoned with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
    Carolyn

    Carolyn, that sauce sounds divine. Thanks for sharing – and thanks for sharing how cranberries are displayed in NC. I have to say, I wouldn’t know how to treat collard greens or okra in the produce section, so each to his own, eh? :) PJH

    Reply
  8. marcin

    This looks magnificent! I live in the mid-Cape, and now, thank you, I know why I can’t always get fresh local cranberries even though I am surrounded by them! Only 5 percent are sold fresh?!?! Wow. That would explain why, for the last few years, I have had to buy them in October and freeze them to ensure that I’d have some for the holidays. It is beautiful down here when the cranberries are being harvested. It puts everyone in the Thanksgiving mood. Can’t wait to make this cake. Thank you.

    Yes, when Crow Farm has them, I buy a 10-lb. bag and throw it in the freezer, then just pour out what I need when I need it. Enjoy this rainy weekend – good time to bake! PJH

    Reply
  9. Gluten free

    Anybody can help with a gluten free version of this, please?
    Thanking you in advance!!
    Converting wheat recipes to GF can be tough! Being a cake and not a yeast bread, it can be a little easier since eggs and sugar are there for structure. What we recommend doing is comparing a similar GF recipe and compare the two while making changes as seen logical for a starting point. Try taking a look at this recipe. Also, glutenfreegirl.com has this recipe. We really like this site as she has some great recipes, too! Elisabeth

    Reply
  10. takefive34

    Since hubby is a Nantucket native – rarer than a Florida native! – I’d love to try this recipe………if only he liked cranberries, silly man!! Nevertheless, I’m thinking it would be a good addition to my collection of dessert recipes because I’m certain that there’s someone out there who’d be happy to share such a delicious treat!!

    I’m betting you could fine someone who’d appreciate this, for sure! Maybe your hub would like a version made with blueberries, or some other berry. Or chopped tart prune-plums – yum! ‘Sconset rules… :) PJH

    Reply
  11. marinapiperidis

    This is in the oven right now .. can I really wait till AFTER dinner to try it?? I will do my best, thanks for another lovely and easy recipe!

    Well, you need to let it cool a bit – might as well eat dinner while you’re waiting, right? Enjoy it – PJH

    Reply
  12. trishray2

    wow, use to live in E. Sandwich and went to Crow farm at least once a week. Now I’m homesick. Live in Florida now.
    TR

    Trish, I go to Crow Farm regularly – I’ll wave hello for you next time… It’s been a beautiful fall here in New England so far. Maybe you can come back and visit sometime – PJH

    Reply
  13. takefive34

    Another great cranberry recipe is something my mom used to make (think it’s from Fannie Farmer) called mock cherry pie – combination of cranberries and raisins, the perfect complementary ingredients!!! Haven’t had it for years, but I remember it with great fondness…..and lots of lip-smacking!!!

    Reply
  14. marcin

    And speaking of cranberries: In my years-long search for a good cranberry cookie, I invented a fantastic cookie this past weekend. Finally! I took the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Cookie recipe: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/basic-whole-grain-cookies-recipe. I used White Whole Wheat flour and McCain’s Instant Oatmeal. Then I added 4 ounces (1 cup) of chopped-up white bar chocolate. Then I added a cup of halved fresh cranberries, that I cut with scissors. The result was amazing. A light cookie. Not too thick and not soggy. Very light. Pretty color too. And amazing flavor. You can really taste the cranberries. The chocolate disappeared. It is so much fun.

    Reply
  15. diane a in Mexico

    I shop seasonally: not that I have a choice. That’s just the way SuperLake, my wonderful supermarket, plays it. And P.J. cooks seasonally. That’s a WINNING combo. Today, the super had fresh cranberries from Wisconsin. Just in time for the traditional (Canadian) Thanksgiving feast put on by the American Legion and for cranberry cake. I’ve never seen non-Ocean Spray cranberries but KAF recognizes them, so, bravely, I bought a few bags and now the cake is in the oven, with toasted pecans because I can’t afford walnut$$$. It’s going to be good, I can tell by the smell. Thanks P.J. and a special thanks for the trip to the cranberry bog. I’ll say it again: the—consistently— best part of baking is the KAF blogs.

    Reply
  16. ntnancyct

    I’d like to make individual cakes in ramekins and bake some/freeze some. Do you think freezing, then thawing and baking later would work? Or maybe even baking from frozen?

    Yes to both – no reason this wouldn’t work, so far as I can see. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  17. burmaroad1940

    Around our house we really like and look for ways to use Crasins. Is there any way they can be used in this recipe?

    Sure – just substitute for the fresh cranberries, and lower the amount of sugar you sprinkle over them – maybe by half? I’d also use more craisins, as they’re smaller. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  18. sherylm

    Oh my goodness! I just made this cake last night using Ina Garten’s version, which is virtually identical. The only differences are that she uses apples in place of the walnuts and adds a bit of orange juice and zest. For the batter she uses only vanilla, but I think the almond extract is inspired!

    It is absolutely fabulous! We had it last night warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream and again this morning at room temperature with our morning coffee. Both times it was wonderful; I think I preferred it just a bit better this morning as our coffee cake.

    Definitely a keeper recipe! I highly recommend it as simple and delicious!!

    I’m with you, Sheryl – you can’t beat “simple and delicious,” can you? Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm! PJH

    Reply
  19. Stephanie

    Thank you so much for all your King Arthur Flour recipes. I loved the cranberry fudge pie. I can’t remember how many times I have made it. I can’t wait to make this cake. I’m wondering if there will be cranberries at the grocery store the next time I go. As soon as I see them there, I’m making this!
    Thanks again. I love baking. It is so relaxing and the end results are so delicious.
    Thanks for baking along with us, Stephanie! We love to hear from our fellow bakers. Let us know what you think about this cake once you’ve had a chance to try it! Happy baking! ~Mel

    Reply
  20. Jen

    FYI, your pinterest pin button on all the blog posts just pins a generic KA page, not the actual recipe.

    Hmm well that probably shouldn’t do that. I will ask and see if we can get that changed!-JDB

    Reply
  21. "Robin GC"

    Lady of Shallots

    Our Publix has a stash of frozen bags of cranberries in the frozen fruit section. Looks as though they take the leftover fresh bags and lob them into the freezer.

    Reply
  22. "Robin GC"

    Just made this. It’s very tasty, but my brain says, too sweet a nano-second before saying, TART! Same thing happened with the second and third “little taste…” (then I quit counting).

    It’s a keeper!
    Glad you like this recipe, Robin! Sounds like your brain waves were going wild! Elisabeth<b

    Reply
  23. DrChuckie

    This was a big hit in the office Friday. I put 1/2 tsp Almond Extract. For the topping I did put a lot of Sugar in the Raw.
    My berries stayed on the bottom. I did not use a food processor to mix the batter, just did it by hand, to lazy to get out the Kitchen Aide. The flavor was great I will be making this for the Holidays.

    Reply
  24. Dean R.

    This was a quick, easy treat to make. The food processor did made quick work of cranberry chopping, and the batter was easily mixed by hand in a bowl. I used a slightly smaller pan, which meant a little extra time in the over to bake, but otherwise, no overflowing or other issues. Delicious!

    Glad you enjoyed it, Dean – PJH

    Reply
  25. 1fancybaker

    Loved this, especially warm. Kept taking bites while I was cooking supper! Think I would use a whole bag of cranberries, 12 oz. instead of 8 oz. I had a bag from Decas Brothers in Wareham, MA–used to live there years ago. I would also cut the sugar in the batter to 3/4 cup, as I would like more tartness from the cranberries. Loved the crunch of the walnuts. An awesome, easy fall dessert, extra good warm with vanilla ice cream…

    Definitely good with vanilla ice cream. And I can see using a pound of cranberries – and cutting the sugar, if you’re a real fan of extra-tart desserts… Enjoy! PJH

    Reply
  26. Brenda

    Well, off to start a batch of this, some black bean soup, and the flax oatmeal bread from your latest Baking Sheet with some changes–all purpose flour replaced with www flour except for 2 tbsp. gluten and 1/4 cup potato flour; possibly with 1/4 cup of brown sugar added.
    I am a huge fan of black bean soup! Yum. Elisabeth

    Reply
  27. dawn01

    My daughter lives in south (New) Jersey and Ocean Spray also has cranberry fields( hundreds of acres). This weekend they have the Cranfest and I can buy large bags of fresh cranberries. They are also sold @ farm stands on the side of the road. I can’t wait to try this cake. I love the berries.

    Reply
  28. JP

    This recipe looks fantastic and I am planning on trying it for Thanksgiving this year. Is it possible to prepare it the day before and then refridgerate overnight before baking the next day?

    Not recommended. The leaveners will become less active, and you will end up with a heavy bread.

    Reply
  29. Andrea

    Hi, this recipe is on my must-serve-for-Thanksgiving list! Can it be baked the night before or is it best made same-day?

    Andrea, definitely can bake ahead of time. I suggest putting it in the still-warm oven when you sit down to dinner, and it should be nice and fresh-tasting by the time dessert rolls around. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  30. kaf-sub-shippeb

    Thanks so much for specifying that either fresh or frozen berries can be used — cranberries are harder to get where I live than hen’s teeth, so I hoard anything I can buy in the freezer but feel limited in where I can use them for fear they’ll ooze all over the place. But this will help me reduce my stash a bit!

    Definitely a great use for frozen berries. In general, frozen berries can be used anywhere fresh can – I’ve never seen a big difference between them, which is helpful to those of us (really, all of us – fresh cranberries have a short season) who like to hoard… PJH

    Reply
  31. Quodlibet

    This is a fantastic recipe. Easy to make with ingredients on hand. (I keep cranberries in the freezer.) I varied the recipe to suit our taste (pecans instead of walnuts, and a little more vanilla and almond). Frozen cranberries are so easy to chop – just a minute or so on the cutting board. I didn’t bother to do more than halve the berries; the cooking time is long enough so that they all were thoroughtly cooked. The goal of the chopping is really to break up the skins. I didn’t melt the butter first; I creamed very soft butter with the eggs and seasonings, then stirred in the flour separately. (I always look for ways to get fewer dishes dirty.) Came out fine.

    Here’s my take, with photos:
    http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2013/02/nantucket-cranberry-cake.html

    This cake has great flavor and wonderful texture: a nice bit of sugary crust on the top, then a layer of moist cake, then the cranberry layer. If you like a chewy edge on your pan cake, use a dark pan, as I did. This was my husband’s favorite part. :-)

    I may add a bit of orange zest to the berries next time around, reduce the amount of almond, and add a 1/2 tsp nutmeg to the batter.

    Thank you for this great recipe. It’s a keeper.

    I fully support any recipe tweaking and I think your cake came out excellently because of it!-Jon

    Reply
  32. Quodlibet

    Oh, I forgot to add – this cake is not too sweet, which makes it great for breakfast. My husband and I decided that we want this for breakfast on Christmas morning. :-)

    Hmm…I’m thinking that a topping with sliced almonds and a glaze might be wonderful…

    Reply

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