100% Whole Wheat Cranberry Sour Cream Coffeecake: beauty is only crust deep

Just look at this coffeecake, would you?

It’s delightfully moist, its texture a perfect balance between heavy and light: substantial, yet not unpleasantly dense.

Its cinnamon-streusel topping is the perfect crunchy counterpoint to the thin layer of soft cranberry sauce just beneath the crust, and to the cake itself.

Looking to add fiber to your diet? This cake’s 100% whole wheat. And boy, does it taste good…

But looks? Well, if looks were everything, this coffeecake would be less than nothing.

It’s just so… beige.

When  photographing treats for this blog, there are some situations that stymie me every time.

Whipped cream, for instance. Trying to strike the perfect exposure and color balance between white whipped cream and deep-dark chocolate cake is a real bear, trust me.

Dark and stormy days are another challenge. Many’s the time I’ve emerged from the kitchen with a fresh-baked pie, juices bubbling enticingly around the edges, only to find that storm clouds have moved in. Which means my beautiful BRIGHT natural light by the window has vanished.

Oh, did I mention I don’t like full sun, either? Too much highlight; too much shadow. Just… too much.

The easiest photo to shoot is a chocolate chip cookie on a day with high cloud cover: nice contrast between cookie and chip, lots of light, no shadows. I scurry to bake and photograph as many things as I can on days like that.

Unfortunately, as winter closes in, my photo ops shrink in conjunction with the ever-shortening days. Before I know it, summer’s long, languorous, light-filled days have become a window about 3 hours long; maybe 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then only if it’s not snowing or raining or sleeting.

Why don’t I use artificial lighting, you say?

1) I’m not talented enough to figure it out. 2) Even if I figured it out, I’m a thrifty New Englander through and through; why buy light when you can get it for free? 3) IMHO, baked goods look spectacular in natural light, but weird and fake in artificial.

Thus I put up with the vagaries of weather and season – and now and then, monotone-ous (read: all brown) coffeecakes.

Like this one. Sigh…

So, don’t judge a book by its cover, OK?

Plain-jane it may be, but 100% Whole Wheat Sour Cream Cranberry Coffeecake is a veritable Ms. Universe when it comes to taste, texture, and just plain eatability.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9” x 13” pan.

Let’s start with the streusel topping. Combine the following in your mixer bowl:

5 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
big pinch of salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (4 1/2 ounces) King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour or Premium Whole Wheat Flour

Mix until even crumbs form. Scoop the mixture into a smaller bowl, and set it aside.

In the same bowl in which you’ve just made the streusel (you can use a different bowl if you want, but this saves on washing dishes), beat together 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter and 1 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar until smooth

Add 1 large egg.

Beat until smooth. The mixture may look slightly curdled; that’s OK.

Add another large egg, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl and again beating until smooth.

See how the 2 eggs have lightened the batter’s texture?

This is why recipes tell you to “scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.”

See the smear of butter left in the bottom? Butter and sugar tend to stick to the bowl. You have to scrape them off; very few mixers will do the job for you.

There, that’s better.

The batter may still look a bit curdled. Fear not; adding the flour will take care of that.

Add the following:

1 cup sour cream or yogurt, full-fat or low-fat; not nonfat
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (8 ounces) King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour or Premium Whole Wheat Flour

Beat until well combined; the batter will be fairly stiff.

You’ll also see the baking soda start to work almost immediately; when you dip a spatula into the batter, you’ll find it’s riddled with air pockets.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it to the edges.

Next, open a 14-ounce can of whole-berry cranberry sauce.

Stir the cranberry sauce to break up any clumps, and spread it atop the cake.

Spread it almost to the edges, trying to cover the surface of the cake evenly.

Next, grab your streusel. I started to carefully spread it over the cake, then I remembered.


(Smacks forehead.)

Just dump the streusel into the pan…

…then give the pan a few quick shakes. The streusel distributes itself perfectly evenly over the top of the cake.

Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes.

It’ll rise nicely, and the edges will brown. A cake tester inserted into the center will come out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven. See how even a moderate amount of cranberry sauce creates a rough top surface? That’s why I don’t recommend too much sauce.

If you’re looking for an extra hit of cranberries, though, stir up to 1 cup dried cranberries into the batter.

Let the cake cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Or serve the cake hot from the oven, if you don’t mind it crumbling a bit!

This cake is a good keeper, so long as you leave it in the pan, under a tight cover of plastic wrap.

Oh, and one more thing – if you’re looking for a white-flour version of this coffeecake, try our Yogurt-Cranberry Coffeecake.

Or make this version with half whole wheat, half all-purpose flour – the best of both worlds!

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for 100% Whole Wheat Cranberry Sour Cream Coffeecake.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. GraceNotes

    My, oh my. A half recipe makes 8 beautiful muffins and sour cherry jam is rather glorious substitute for the cranberry sauce. Need I add that this recipe just landed at the top of my muffin rotation? Based on the other reviews, probably not. Thanks KAF!

    Thanks for your positive feedback, Grace – much appreciated! PJH

  2. "kate rose"

    I was VERY happy with this recipe. I got a little nervous about using all whole wheat flour, so I used about 60% whole wheat and 40% KAF AP in the cake. I also had to sub hazelnut extract for the almond, and used plain Greek yogurt. The “beige-ness” made it a little hard to determine if it was finished, but I left it in the oven a few minutes longer than I thought it needed, and lucked out.

    I’ve had many coffee cakes that were disappointing – too dry, not enough fruit coming through, bland, etc., but this one is delicious. It is light & tender, and the cranberries add a perfect sweet/tangy punch. The whole wheat flour gives it a nice round flavor, but it’s still a very tender cake. Thanks for the recipe!

  3. skeptic7

    I just did this. It was slightly undercooked and resembled a lemon bar in texture. I had cooked it for 40 minutes and a knife inserted into the center and come out only slightly moist.
    Its a hard cake to tell if its cooked. The whole wheat streusel looked brown and cooked, it smelled coked and the cranberry layer was moist enough that placed a little moisture on the knife.
    There was almost too much streusel, I think half of it would be sufficient. This did get rid of the last of the cranberry sauce and the last of the sour cream in a tasty if crumby fashion.

  4. NoVABaker

    I made this in place of my birthday cake this year and have been truly delighted. I had made too much strussel topping for another recipe on Thanksgiving and needed to use it up, so my topping had some oats and pecans mixed in, but otherwise fit with this one. Instead of leftover cranberry sauce, I had a lovely apple cranberry sauce and was a little worried that the heavier weight of the apples would sink the airy texture of the cake but it held up wonderfully and the apples add a wonderful balance to the tart cranberries. I’m glad that I know now that whole wheat flour can be very successful for a coffee cake. Thanks for the inspiration. I’ll be making this again!

    Happy birthday! Glad we could help with the celebration via this recipe… PJH

  5. DebWoud

    Just made this and it is lovely – I did add some dried cranberries to the cake and because I was out of sour cream used half and half buttermilk and crime fraiche – seemed to work very well.

    Thanks for the feedback, Deb – it always help to hear about the substitutions and tweaks you all make to the original. It takes a whole community to make a great recipe! PJH

  6. marshaj

    This coffee cake looks wonderful. Could I bake it in a glass dish by adjusting the temp? I also found that my local Kroger has stopped stocking the all-purpose flour. I saw whole wheat, white whole wheat, bread flour and gluten free but no all-purpose. This was in Durham, NC. I was very upset when the manager said that they would not stock it anymore.

    Marsha, you can absolutely bake this in a glass pan; adjust the temperature/time as you usually do for the pan. As for Kroger, that sounds just silly – why not stock our #1 flour? I’ve passed your info. along to our national sales manager; he’ll figure out what’s going on. Thanks for your feedback – PJH

  7. "Taneasha@Authors Kitchen"

    I couldn’t agree with you more about trying to get pictures of beige food. I have a hard time even getting my camera to focus on things of that color unless they have a lot of texture.

    This cake looks fabulous, though. I love baked goods that use whole wheat flour. I can’t wait to give this a try.

    Thanks, Taneasha – hope you enjoy this “plain jane” cake! PJH


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