Nantucket cranberry cake: seize the season

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 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!

comments

  1. CakenGifts.in

    Nantucket Cranberry cake recipe is very wonderful.I made for my husband. Cake was
    Very moist and full of flavor. This cake was looks so beautiful. Thanks

    Reply
  2. Sherry

    If I wanted to use whole wheat flour instead of all purpose, would I have to adjust the recipe? Appreciate any advice.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for checking, Sherry. In many baked goods the addition of extra liquid (up to 1 Tbsp per cup) can help mediate the effects of whole wheat, but this recipe doesn’t include a liquid that can be easily increased, and cakes are especially susceptible to the heavier, denser texture that can come from using whole wheat. For best results, we’d recommend starting with just a partial substitution of whole wheat flour. If using our White Whole Wheat, you can probably get away with subbing up to 50% of the total amount of flour (so 1/2 cup) without any noticeable changes in the texture. If using a more traditional Whole Wheat, you’ll want to start with a lesser substitution of 25% the first time around. If you like the way the whole wheat affects your cake, try upping the percentage of whole wheat next time. Hope this helps! Mollie@KAF

  3. Donna from Raleigh

    Thank you for the recipe and the helpful step by step photos! I made the Nantucket cranberry cake as directed substituting pecans for the walnuts and topping ithe batter with raw sugar. The Sisters of Serenity book club ladies loved it! I used the FP to chop the cranberries and mix the cake batter so it was quick and easy to prepare this delicious cake! Going to stock up on a few more bags of cranberries to freeze so I can make this again! Loved the backstory & photos of the cranberry fields. First time visitor to the site and will return!

    Reply
  4. Linda Ross

    Used pecans instead of walnuts as that is what I have on hand. My husband loved the first one so much that I made last week that he requested a second one in the oven now. Putting this into my recipe book for keepers. Love the Cape a treasured place. Thanks for the recipe.

    Reply
  5. Melissa

    this is fantastic. I’ve made it with fresh blueberries and raspberries, and also with frozen fruit. Turns out great every time. Perfect with vanilla ice cream. Almond extract gives it great flavor. One of my favorites.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Oh, thanks Melissa. Now I wish I had a BIG piece right now. You temptress, you! ~ MJ

  6. Marilyn Collins

    I have been making this for at least 40 years. My original recipe came from the newspaper (The Houston Post) and called it Nantucket Cranberry Pie. When cranberries are out of season, or I can’t find frozen cranberries, raspberries are excellent in this pie as well. I am making it with raspberries today, as a matter of fact. Glad to see it again….and I shared it on Pinterest.

    Reply
  7. 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
  8. 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

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