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Cranberry Upside Down Cake for the Holidays


Well, the holidays are fast approaching - do you have your menus figured out yet? I have two boys coming home from college in the next week, both of whom have birthdays, and we give a big Christmas Eve party every year. It's a lot of food planning.  I've had cookbook reviews to do, I've been writing Christmas cards, baking a lot and buying and wrapping gifts.  But I did manage to finish this purple scarf I've been knitting for quite some time.

Back to food - for our Christmas Eve buffet, I always serve lasagna and meatballs and some vegetarian dish.  This year, I think I will serve these Eggplant Rollatini Stuffed with Risotto for the vegetarian dish.  You can grill the eggplant slices and make the risotto the day before and then assemble the day of.  They are great fork food - no knife required.  I always make sure I think of foods that require no knife, because some people are eating with their plates on their laps. One year I also served these Stuffed Peppers as the vegetarian option.

I always make a little fun treat bag for people to take home with them, and I will be posting that goodie the week after Christmas. One year I made a CD with all of our favorite Christmas songs, another year I made homemade chocolate truffles, and last year I made these Mosaic Biscotti.  We've been doing this for 13 years. Stay tuned to see what I make this year!  I hope this gives you a few menu ideas for the holidays.

Brian absolutely insisted that I post this Upside Down Cranberry Cake because he's crazy about it and it just looks like a Christmas cake with all the beautiful cranberries.  We also ate it during Thanksgiving, because cranberries were so plentiful.  This is not a hard cake to make.  You do whip up the egg whites separately and then fold them in, so you will need two mixer bowls. 

This cake is from Chez Panisse and if you read this blog, you know how much I love that place and their style of cooking.  I have made their Plum Tart and Lindsey Shere's Almond Tart (incredible) and they are all favorites. 

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

from Chez Panisse
for a printer friendly recipe, click here 



For the Topping:

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 3/4 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1/4 cup orange juice

For the Batter:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar


Use a 9-inch round or an 8-inch square cake pan with 3-inch sides.  To make the topping, place the butter and brown sugar in the cake pan.  Place the pan on a stovetop burner over low heat and melt, stirring with a wooden spoon.  When the sugar has melted, after a couple of minutes, remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Scatter the cranberries evenly in the bottom of the pan and drizzle in the orange juice. Set aside.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the cake batter, sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.  In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Mix in the vanilla.  Add the egg yolks one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each one to make sure it is thoroughly incorporated. Gradually add the dry ingredients and the milk in stages: mix in about a third of the flour mixture, followed by about half the milk; mix in another third of the flour, then the rest of the milk; finally, add the last third of the dry ingredients.


In another large  mixing bowl, whisk together the egg whites and the cream of tartar.  Beat the whites until they form firm peaks.  Fold the whites into the batter in two batches.   Pour the batter over the topping in the prepared pan and bake until the top is slightly brown and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 50 to 60 minutes.  Let the cake cool for 15 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a serving plate.  Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream flavored with a little orange liqueur, if you like.

Makes one 9-inch round cake or one 8-inch square cake; serves 8 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

Reader Comments (57)

The cranberry upside down cake looks scrumptious. I will be making this soon, I just know it. Also, I am wanting to knit more--I've knit ta few simple scarves using cheap yarn, which is good for learning with, but I'd to branch out and learn new stitches and use better warmer yarn. Your scarf is so pretty, love the color and the stitch (is that the seed stitch I see there?) What pattern did you use for the scarf? Thanks for the info on the yarn.

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Your cake is beautiful and looks delicious. It is just a perfect Christmas treat! I love cranberries. I hope to make it soon!

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

The cranberry cake looks wonderful. I love cranberries and am always looking for different recipes. I'll post results after I bake. I too have started knitting this year, so far I'm on my third scarf, it's so relaxing! I would like to learn to do more. Love your scarf!

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennie

From The Italian Dish:

Julie: I didn't use a pattern for the scarf - I just knit a double seed stitch - K2,P2,K2,P2 for first row - do the same for second row. Third row, reverse it - do P2, K2, P2, K2. Same for 4th row. Then do it all again. Mindless knitting! When I was done, I just hooked on a bunch of fringe.

December 11, 2009 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I can understand that Brian is crazy about this cake, it's wonderfull, the colours, a real Christmas Cake

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterchapot

Thank you for the knitting help! I am going to get me some wool and start me some knittin'! Also I'm going make that cake today.
Speaking of cranberries. For Thanksgiving I made a very Martha Stewartish centerpiece by putting a pillar type candle in a cube shaped clear vase. I filled in around the candle with fresh cranberries. Was it ever pretty and our guests raved about it. Because the candle I had happened to be scented, I could not use the cranberries afterwards. Still, it was not a lot of money wasted. This would make for a very nice Christmas centerpiece too.

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie


We bumped into your blog and we really liked it - great recipes YUM YUM.
We would like to add it to the

We would be delighted if you could add your blog to Petitchef so that our users can, as us,
enjoy your recipes.

Petitchef is a french based Cooking recipes Portal. Several hundred Blogs are already members
and benefit from their exposure on

To add your site to the Petitchef family you can use or just go to and click on "Add your site"

Best regards,


December 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commentervincent


We bumped into your blog and we really liked it - great recipes YUM YUM.
We would like to add it to the

We would be delighted if you could add your blog to Petitchef so that our users can, as us,
enjoy your recipes.

Petitchef is a french based Cooking recipes Portal. Several hundred Blogs are already members
and benefit from their exposure on

To add your site to the Petitchef family you can use or just go to and click on "Add your site"

Best regards,


December 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commentervincent

Yum! Perhaps I will look forward to tasting this yummy dessert very soon! It looks beautifu.-

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Federau

thanks for the instructions for knitting the scarf, it is lovely and I want to make one for my said guy for Xmas. I tuned in for the yummy looking cranberry cake and got distracted with the scarf! I am going to make that cake

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Becky

Such a festive cake!

December 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

Love the idea of this cake and the scarf looks great! Nice job!

December 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIvete

I'm not sure which picture is more tempting, the cake or the gorgeous scarf! I wish I could knit like that...I mean, I wish I could knit! At least I can bake, so maybe that cake will end up on the Christmas menu :)

December 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMellisa

Wow - both the cake and the scarf are beautiful! I never think to cook with cranberries other than at Thanksgiving - this has inspired me!

December 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCooking with Michele

Wow, and you knit too? That cake and photos, well I'm drooling. What a great addition to a holiday table. Lucky guests who get to come to your parties Elaine!!!

December 12, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermarie

Isn't it great that a blog allows you show off something like that pretty scarf? I would have never thought about a cranberry upside cake, but I take your word for it, plus chez panise. I have the recipe for the almond tart and I"m so wanting to make it. The Christmas Eve party sounds so much fun, but wow a lot of work. I"m sure people really look forward to it. I would.

December 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngela@Spinachtiger

Ma che BUONO! Complimenti! I just happen to have some fresh cranberries in the fridge & I am going to put them to good use in this cake ; ) Grazie! Buon Natale!

December 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaula - bell'alimento

The cake, the mosaic biscotti and the scarf all look absolutely beautiful. I will leave the knitting to you, but I must try the cake and the biscotti.

December 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterciaochowlinda

Hello! I have the ingredients on the counter for the cranberry cake and it occurred to me that I needed to ask you a question: 1) does this cake freeze ok if I just put it together unbaked and freeze it? If not, should I make the cake today (Tues) for a Thursday night dinner? Will it be okay?

Thanks so much - your blog is my favorite of about 25 others I follow!

December 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArlene

From The Italian Dish:

Arlene: I have never frozen this cake and, although most cakes freeze beautifully, since this one has a fruit topping I just don't know how well it would freeze. It really is best the day it is made or just the day after. Hope this helps! If you do freeze it, let me know how it turns out!

December 15, 2009 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Hi, came across your blog several weeks ago and the first one I read was your recipe for the Spaghetti with roasted tomatoes, garlic and pancetta from 9/16/09. WOW.... it is delicious and a snap to make. I use grape tomatoes, halved and follow your recipe for spices and roasting the tomatoes. Have served serval times and each time I get rave reviews.

Next, your Cranberry Upsidedown Cake is wonderful. The cake is a visual jewel to look at and the taste is heavenly. Cake is very moist. I served with vanilla ice cream and another of your recipes that got rave reviews.


December 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEddie

Thanks for sharing the cranberry upside-down cake recipe. I have made two in the last two weeks for different family dinners. It was a huge hit with everybody each time, both warm from the oven and a day later with tea. An instant family classic.

December 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEJ

I made this for my son's 2nd birthday (Dec 26) and it turned out beautifully. A few more bowls/dishes to wash than I prefer, but worth it. I like how the egg whites really create an even and nice cake texture and although there is plenty of sugar to go around, the cranberries added a nice tart finish.

Thank you for sharing. My son loved it. He's a fan of cranberries so this was perfect.


December 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjen

I have to tell you, Elaine, when I first saw this post my heart stopped - I wish I had seen it soon enough to make it over the holidays. I'm hoping to make it at some point's an absolutely wonderful recipe! Beautiful photos, too. Thank you.

January 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatrice

I just made this cake and I've surprised myself. It turned out beautifully! Thank you for the recipe and the wonderful pictures. I hope to try several other recipes in the future!

December 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

I made this for an event at Church "Advent by Candlelight". It was the most delicious thing I've made in a long time. I got rave reviews from the ladies at my table! Thank you! I love cranberries, but this was beyond belief!

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichele

I made this cake for a Christmas eve luncheon and it was lovely. Only question is, what type of brown sugar did you use? I only had dark brown on hand and the cake was not as pretty than it might have been because the topping seemed more brown than red. It was absolutely delicious though and the leftovers were perfect with coffee on Christmas morning. Thanks for your many great recipes!

December 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKit

From The Italian Dish:

Kit: I only buy light brown sugar, so that is what I used. I imagine that your topping was darker because of the dark brown sugar. I'm glad you liked the cake. We do love it for breakfast the next day, too!

December 28, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I've made this for Christmas dinner two years in a row. It is absolutely delicious!

January 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKat

made this cake twice now--taste is fantastic!! everyone loves it. (expecially me!)
I have a question--I can't seem to get the sugar to dissolve in the butter. (it says in a 'couple of minutes') the second time I made it I waited for the sugar to dissolve, I ended up cooking the butter and sugar so long it turned to toffee and had to be re-done. The first time I made it, the sugar was still granular, but tasted fine. Any thoughts??
oh, and I think it's much better the next day. this was our new years eve dessert and it seemed to have really improved by the next day.

January 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

From The Italian Dish:

Christine: We agree - the cake is terrific the next day with espresso! As for the sugar not melting, I can't image why. Are you using regular brown sugar, or the "brownulated" kind? I've never had it not dissolve quickly.

January 6, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Absolutely love, love your knitted blue scarf. Where may I find the pattern?

This is my first visit to your blog. It's beautiful. Looking forward to more issues.

Thank you.

January 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSanta Abrignani

From The Italian Dish:

Santa Abrignani: Thank you for your kind words about my blog. As for the scarf, I did not use a pattern for this one, just a certain stitch. Here is my Ravelry page about it if you would like to see the details:

January 8, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I made this cake last night...mmm!! It was so easy and delicious. I added crushes walnuts to the topping, which made the texture thicker.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

Elaine, Made your cake for Christmas day, your pasta with bacon and tomatoes and the broccoli and cauliflower soup on Christmas Eve. All of the dishes were wonderful, with perfect directions and they were a big hit with all the party-goers. I love your blog, and only wish I had the time to make everything.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJosie

From The Italian Dish:

Josie: Thank you and you made my day!

January 19, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I tried this recipe and it was reall y good except the cranberrries were really sour. I might make a suggestion to maybe soak them in some sugar or maybe cook them first with some. They were very sour. The cake part was yummy. I might give it a shot with some cherries.

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

I made this cake tonight and it was spectacular! I served it with a Cointreau-scented whipped cream. I will make this again and again. Thanks for the recipe!

December 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

I made this cake for Christmas day and it turned out beautifully! The texture of the cake is outstanding, almost like a biscuit. Thanks you for a lovely special occasion cake!

January 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClaudia

I was hoping this would not be a great success, since it was a little labor intensive. But, alas, it was delicious. I used cranberries in their frozen state and baked it for 60 minutes +. I see another upside down cake in my future, since I have another bag of c'berries in the freezer.
Thanks for the great recipe.

January 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlynnemohr

I made this cake for Christmas Day and it was devoured! I didnt have enough fresh cranberries so I added nectarines to the fruit layer. I cooked the fruits in some port first and then added it to the bottom of the pan and served the cake with clotted cream (I was in the U.K. ) After eating a few bites, my husband muttered he was so glad he married me :-))
Thanks for a delicious cake recipe. This is a keeper.

January 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJacquie

I was getting ready to give this cake a try, when I found that I don't have cake pans with 3 inch sides. Mine are only 2" tall. I'm fairly certain that my tall springform cheesecake pan wouldn't do on the stovetop. Now I'm considering cooking the topping in a saucepan and then transferring it to a Bundt pan. So I have questions!! Where do you get a 9"x3" cake pan? I've shopped the internet and haven't found one. And second, if I try it in a Bundt pan, is this cake big enough for the big 12-15 cup pan, or should i go with the half-sized 6 cup pan? Thanks so much. Hoping to get this made for Valentine's day.

February 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterConstanza

From The Italian Dish:

Constanza: I got my 9"x3" pan at Williams Sonoma years ago. Also, I think that doing this in a bundt cake pan is interesting and would work well. If you transfer the topping after cooking it in a saucepan, do it quickly because it sets up fairly fast. I would think it would fit in the 6-cup pan. Let me know how it turns out if you try it.

February 7, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

I made this at Christmas and it was a hit! Everyone loved it and my result was just as beautiful as yours!

June 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterxoxoJen

I have to do a dessert for 175 ladies for a Christmas Tea and thought this would be great. My question is whether you can freeze it. I need something I can freeze for a couple of months.

August 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Conrad

While looking for the answer to the question my grandnephew presents to me every time I make a circle in the center of my cakes before slicing, as my mom always did, I found your blog and this wonderful cranberry cake. Make the cake and it's absolutely delicious. Plan on making it again and again for the holiday.
Do you know why are mothers made the circle before slicing?

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMac Butova

So I made this cake for thanksgiving dinner tonight; forgot the orange juice, thought I'd be ok. But I (mistakingly) didn't read through to the end of the recipe before putting the batter in the pan (which was coincidentally not 3 inches high) and realized that I didn't do anything with the egg whites/cream of tartar. So the cake's in the oven with my sweet potato casserole when I smell burning. I open it, and the cake is bubbling and spilling all over the oven! So apparently pan height was really important. It's still baking, but I hope it at least tastes good, even if it doesn't look good :/

November 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLex

I came across your blog while searching for appetizer that involves fresh mozzarella cheese. I ended up using your roasted pepper and mozzarella recipe and it was a great success. A picture of this cake was on the side bar and it looked so delicious I had to check it out. That was last night and as of this afternoon I already made one and ate a big chunk. :) Your cake looked and sounded so delicious and my attempted reproduction doesn't disappoint either. I plan to make another one in a couple of days when I have some girl friends over.

I LOVE your blog over all. Everything looks wonderful. I'll be back often! Thank you for sharing your cooking with us.

December 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterQing

can you use frozen cranberries if you can't find fresh?

December 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristy

This cake is AMAZING! However, be warned that the flavor profile is very specific - I made it for a family Christmas gathering and most didn't like it bc of the tart flavor the cranberries lend. I loved it and will make it every Christmas, but perhaps for a different crowd.

March 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMercedes

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