Christmas Cranberry Pound Cake is a festive holiday dessert with fresh cranberries, orange liqueur, vanilla bean paste, and a sweet orange glaze. This rich, old-fashioned cake is perfect for the holidays, or just because.
A Cranberry-Orange Masterpiece!
Don’t you love the combination of cranberry and orange? Whether in scones, cookies, pastries, or this easy pound cake, cranberry and orange are a match made in heaven. It’s especially perfect for Christmas, when both cranberries and oranges are in season. Plus, fresh cranberries look gorgeous in each slice of this fine-crumbed, buttery pound cake. So good!
This tender, moist pound cake is a light, but rich dessert that’s sure to be welcome on your table. With fresh (or frozen) cranberries and orange zest studded throughout the cake, it’s also stunning to look at! Orange liqueur and vanilla bean paste add even more of a festive, delicious flavor.
For a Spring-y twist, you definitely need to check out this Cranberry Carrot Cake!
Why Do They Call It a Pound Cake?
Pound cake has been around for a long time, dating back to at least the 1700s. It gets its name from old-fashioned recipes that called for one pound each of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter to make the cake. These days the measurements may not be quite the same, but the cake itself is as popular as ever.
This Christmas pound cake has two components: the cake itself, and the homemade orange glaze. Here’s what you’ll need for both:
- For the Pan: Nonstick cooking spray or butter, plus a little all-purpose flour, for greasing and flouring the pan.
- Flour: All-purpose flour is the base of the pound cake batter.
- Baking Powder: To keep the cake from being too heavy. Make sure to use baking powder, not baking soda.
- Butter: I use unsalted butter. Soften the butter to room temperature before you start to make this cake.
- Orange Zest: Fresh orange zest makes a beautiful addition to pound cake, both for flavor and texture.
- Sugar: Use granulated sugar.
- Eggs: As with the butter, let the eggs come to room temperature before you start baking.
- Buttermilk: This gives the pound cake a better flavor and adds richness.
- Vanilla Bean Paste: You can substitute pure vanilla extract.
- Orange Liqueur: Such as Cointreau.
- Cranberries: Fresh or frozen cranberries, whichever you have.
For Orange Glaze:
- Powdered Sugar: Powdered sugar dissolves in liquid without needing to be cooked, making it perfect for glaze recipes.
- Orange Juice: Freshly squeezed orange juice, from the orange you zested. Be sure to remove any seeds from the juice before you add it to the glaze.
- Vanilla Bean Paste: Again, substitute vanilla extract as needed.
- Fresh Rosemary: For a festive touch of “greenery.”
- Sugared Cranberries: A few cranberries dipped in white sugar add sparkle.
How to Make a Christmas Pound Cake
Making pound cake is a simple process, but it does have some quirks. Be sure to follow the steps just as they are written, for a tender, perfect cake.
- Grease the Cake Pan. Preheat your oven to 350°F, and get the pan ready. Generously grease a Bundt cake pan with butter. Softened butter and a pastry brush can make this step easier. Once the pan is thoroughly buttered, put a spoonful of flour in the pan and shake it around gently to coat.
- Combine the Dry Ingredients. Measure the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium-sized bowl, and whisk them together. Set the dry ingredients aside for now.
- Cream the Butter, Zest, and Sugar. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or a hand-held mixer, cream the butter and orange zest for about 3 to 4 minutes. Then beat in the sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is fluffy and creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed during this process.
- Add the Remaining Liquid Ingredients. With the mixer running on low speed, add one egg at a time to the butter mixture, fully blending in each egg before you add the next one. Then add buttermilk, vanilla bean paste, and orange liqueur. Beat these ingredients until blended.
- Add the Dry Ingredients to the Wet Ingredients in Batches. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add one-third of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Once the flour mixture is fully incorporated, repeat this process again. Then repeat it one more time with the last third of the flour mixture. Again, scrape down the sides as needed. Once the last addition of flour is combined, add the cranberries and gently fold them into the batter.
- Bake the Pound Cake. Pour the cake batter into your prepared pan, gently smoothing out the top with a spatula or a spoon. Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or with a couple of baked crumbs.
- Cool and Unmold the Pound Cake. Once the cake is done, move the pan to a cooling rack and let it rest for 10 minutes to stabilize. Then place a rack on top of the cake pan, and turn both the cake and rack over so that the cake is ready to unmold, using light, careful movements so that the cake doesn’t break apart. Let the cake cool for another hour before glazing – warm cake will melt the glaze.
- Make the Glaze. In a large mixing bowl, combine the powdered sugar with the freshly-squeezed orange juice and the vanilla paste. Stir these together to make a glaze with a thick pouring consistency. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake.
- Decorate. Decorate the cake as desired. This version uses fresh cranberries dipped in white crystal sugar, and sprigs of rosemary for greenery.
Why Do Pound Cakes Take Longer to Bake?
Pound cakes take a while to bake because they are made with a lot of moist ingredients. These create a moist, dense cake with a lot of flavor, but it does need plenty of time to bake. Additionally, pound cakes need to bake at a lower temperature than other baked goods, which results in a longer baking time.
No recipe is complete without some helpful tips for success. These are mine! Read on for my top baking advice for the perfect Christmas pound cake.
- Baking Pan Options: Pound cakes are usually made in one of three pans: a Bundt pan, a tube pan, or a loaf pan. Any of these will work. If you have batter left over, you can bake it in a small baking dish, like a custard cup, to make a mini pound cake!
- Testing for Doneness: With a dense, moist cake like pound cake, it’s important to test it before taking it out of the oven. No one wants a gooey, underdone pound cake! Use a toothpick or cake tester to make sure it’s fully baked. The tester should come out clean, or with just a couple of fully-baked crumbs.
- Unmolding the Cake: Now that your cake is baked, how do you get it out of the pan? If you have greased the pan well, it should come right out – as long as you let it cool first! That’s right, cooling the cake in the pan for ten minutes is a crucial step, helping to prevent tearing and breaking. But don’t let it cool in the pan too long, or it could end up sticking to the pan as it cools.
These easy variations are a great way to make this festive cranberry pound cake your own. Read on, and happy baking!
- Frosting: Replace the glaze with your favorite Cream Cheese Frosting, flavored with orange extract.
- Nuts: Toss chopped pecans with a small amount of flour to coat, and fold them into the cake batter along with the cranberries.
- Almond: Use a small amount of almond extract in place of the orange liqueur, for a more subtle flavor profile.
Storing and Freezing Instructions
- This cake stores well on the counter or in the fridge. Either way, wrap it tightly or place it in an airtight container, to keep it from going stale.
- For longer storage, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, place the wrapped cake in a freezer bag, and freeze for up to 3 months.
Christmas Cranberry Pound Cake
For the Pound Cake:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
- 1¾ cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
- 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, or pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, NOT dried cranberries
For the Glaze:
- 1½ cups powdered sugar
- 5 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, or pure vanilla extract
- fresh rosemary sprigs, for garnish, optional
- cranberries dipped in white crystal sugar, for garnish, optional
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and generously grease a cake pan with butter. Sprinkle one tablespoon of flour to the buttered mold and shake it lightly so that it covers the entire inside of the mold. Set aside.
- Add flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk together to combine. Set aside.
- Use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand-held mixer) to cream the butter and orange zest, about 3 to 4 minutes. Then beat in the sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy and creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- With the mixer running on low speed, add the eggs one at a time. Make sure that each egg is incorporated before adding the next one.
- Then, add the buttermilk, orange liqueur, and vanilla bean paste; continue to mix until incorporated.
- With the mixer on the lowest speed, add in ⅓ of the flour mixture. Once the flour is combined, repeat this process two more times with the remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides as needed. Once the last addition of flour is combined, remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a silicone spatula, fold the cranberries into the batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan, gently smoothing out the top with a spatula. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with a couple of baked crumbs. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- Turn the cake onto a cooling rack and remove the cake from the pan using light movements so that pieces do not break off and remain on the mold. Let the cake cool for another hour before glazing.
- To make the glaze, combine the powdered sugar with the freshly squeezed orange juice and vanilla paste. Whisk until it has a thick pouring consistency. Pour over the cooled cake.
- Decorate the cake with fresh cranberries dipped in white crystal sugar and sprigs of rosemary.
- Cut and serve.
- Cake Pans: Pound cakes are usually made in a tube pan, a loaf pan, or a Bundt pan. Any of these will work so long as the pan is 12-cups.
- Room Temperature Ingredients: When baking, eggs and butter should always be at room temperature. Set the eggs and butter on the counter a couple of hours before you want to start baking.
- Baking Time: Baking time for cakes may vary depending on the size of the cake, ingredients, and even your oven. Best way to test for cake’s doneness is by inserting a toothpick in the center of the cake; if the toothpick comes out with a few dry crumbles, the cake is done.
- Removing the Cake from the Pan: This can get tricky if you don’t grease and flour your cake pan before adding in the batter. So, make sure to do that. Also, let the cake cool for at least 10 minutes after baking, and before you try to remove it from the pan.
- Lastly, and this goes for any cakes/baked goods, don’t overmix and don’t overbake. In doing so, you’ll end up with a dense and dry cake.