Pleasure for the palate: Holiday Cranberry Upside-Down Cake |

Pleasure for the palate: Holiday Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

Vera Dawson
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude 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 to make baking in the mountains successful.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” I can’t resist cranberries. Every year I buy several packages as soon as they show up in the market, even if I haven’t a clue what I’ll do with them.

That practice has led me to search out cranberry recipes ” I bet I’ve reviewed over a hundred. The one featured in this column is one of my favorites. It makes such a gorgeous cake that I’d prepare it for its looks alone. But, it’s got more going for it than that … it’s also pleasing to the palate. The tart cranberries are set off by a sweet, dense cake with a strong cinnamon and vanilla flavor. It’s a very tasty match.

Don’t be put off by the fact that you have to invert this cake to serve it. It comes out of the pan very easily and I’ve given specific directions for its removal in the body of the recipe. There’s really nothing to it.

Only one word of caution: BE SURE your cake pan is two inches deep or the cake batter may overflow.

Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet

Make in an 8 inch cake pan with 2 inch sides


For cranberry topping

6 tablespoons of unsalted butter

6 tablespoons of granulated sugar

1/4 cup of chopped walnuts

2 cups of fresh or frozen cranberries (if frozen, don’t thaw them)

For cake

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of flour

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

8 tablespoons of unsalted butter (one stick), at room temperature

1/2 cup of granulated sugar

2 large eggs at room temperature

1 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla

1/3 cup of whole milk


1/4 cup of currant jelly

Step One: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Lightly grease the sides of the cake pan. Don’t grease the bottom.

Step Two: Make the topping: In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the six tablespoons of butter. When melted, sprinkle the six tablespoons of sugar over it and stir until the mixture comes to a boil. Keep the mixture at a low boil for about a minute so the sugar dissolves. Remove it from the heat and pour it in the cake pan, tilting the pan to distribute it evenly. Sprinkle the nuts over the butter mixture and top with the cranberries, distributing them evenly and gently pressing them down. If you’re using frozen berries, they may make the butter solidify; that’s okay.

Step Three: Make the cake batter: In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, salt and baking powder. Set this aside. If your eggs aren’t at room temperature, put them in a small bowl of hot water to warm them.

Cut the room temperature butter into about six pieces, place them in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the 1/2 cup of sugar and beat until pale and creamy. This will take about 4 to 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer on medium-high speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add one room-temperature egg and beat for at least a minute to combine. Add the next egg and the vanilla and beat again for a minute or so. Add half of the flour mixture, reduce the speed of your mixer to low, and mix only until the flour is incorporated. Add the milk, mix again, then add the rest of the flour and mix briefly and gently.

Step Four: Spoon the thick cake batter over the cranberries in the pan, leveling and smoothing it with a rubber spatula or the back of a soup spoon. Place the pan on a baking sheet (to catch drips, should they occur) and bake until the cake is golden and a tester comes out clean. This took 40 minutes in my oven but expect times to vary.

Step Five: Remove the cake from the oven to a cooling rack. Run a table knife around the edges of the pan to loosen it. Wait about five minutes, then center a serving plate over the top of the cake and flip the cake over onto it, holding them both tightly. Place them back on the rack or on a counter and carefully lift off the cake pan. If any topping sticks to the pan, remove it and return it to the top of the cake. Warm the currant jelly until it is liquid and brush it generously all over the cake.

Step Six: Serve the cake warm, about 20-30 minutes out of the oven. Or, let it cool completely and re-heat it in a 325 degree oven until it is warm to the touch. If you cool it completely, it is easier to cut it into serving-size pieces before re-warming it. Serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.

This is a variation of a recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking.”

Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at

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