High Altitude Baking: Christmas cranberry cake (recipe) | VailDaily.com

High Altitude Baking: Christmas cranberry cake (recipe)

This rich Christmas cranberry cake uses cranberries, dried apricots and almonds.
Courtesy Vera Dawson |

Editor’s note: High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.

Yuletide peace and goodwill — this cake will help generate it, at least in your household. It’ll provide dessert for dinner, a nice ending for brunch, elevate a cup of tea or coffee and stay fresh for days, contributing greatly to the cook’s serenity. And the rich, dense texture (like pound cake), cradling dried fruit redolent with brandy, leaves diners feeling all’s right with the world. In its own little way, it augments the joys of the holiday season.

If any of the dried fruits aren’t your thing, then feel free to substitute some that are, just chop them all to the size of raisins. And, creme 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, we sometimes fancy it up with a topping of hard sauce at dinner time.


(Adjusted for elevations of 8,000 feet and higher. Make in an 8-inch springform pan.)

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 (one fourth) teaspoon orange oil


¼ cup apricot preserves or sweet orange marmalade

2-3 teaspoons orange liqueur

Sliced almonds, optional

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 out of 10 for about 1one to two minutes). Set aside, still covered. 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).

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.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and remaining sugar (¼ 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 two 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 of times to complete the mixing.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, level and smooth the top, and rap the pan on a counter a couple of times to release any air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, from 35 to 45 minutes. The edges of the cake will turn golden, and 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.

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. 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-altitude baking teacher and author of two high-altitude cookbooks, “Baking Above It All” and “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm of Edwards). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at veradawson1@gmail.com.

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