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Christmas / Desserts / Holidays / New Years / Thanksgiving

Easy Carrot Cake with Sugared Cranberries

Tender, moist carrot cake is paired with a light, but indulgent, whipped cream cheese frosting in this sumptuous Carrot Cake with Sugared Cranberries. You’ll adore the sweet dried cranberries throughout the cake, and the luxe topping of real sugared cranberries!

Slices of sugared cranberry layer cake on dessert plates, next to the remaining cake on a cake stand.

The Ultimate Holiday Layer Cake

Warm spices? Check. Dried cranberries? Check. Cream cheese frosting? Check. Drop-dead gorgeous cranberry topping? You better believe it!

This beautiful sugared cranberry carrot cake has it all! 😍

For Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s… really, any special occasion, there’s nothing like a beautiful layer cake. Each slice is so aesthetically pleasing, showing off the layers of frosting and cake inside.

This particular carrot cake is one of my all-time favorites, because it is so rich in flavor, thanks to the tender spiced carrot cake and homemade whipped cream cheese frosting.


And, while some carrot cakes include nuts and raisins, this one is delicately studded with sweet and tangy dried cranberries, for a truly festive, wintry vibe. Jewel-bright sugared cranberries are piled on top, for a garnish that is as attractive as it is addictive!

What Are Sugared Cranberries?

You might be wondering, “Just what are sugared cranberries?” The answer: your new favorite Christmas tradition, that’s what! Okay, maybe that’s a little bit over the top. 🙃

But still, sugared cranberries are amazing, and oh-so-easy to make! All you do is take fresh, juicy, cranberries, soak them in a sweet honey syrup, and then coat them with a diamond-like crust of sugar. Their jeweled appearance is so pretty, and their pop of sweetness and sourness tastes like the ultimate sour candy!

A three-layer carrot cake on a cake stand, with two slices cut out and set on dessert plates nearby. A vase of roses is in the background.

Recipe Ingredients

So let’s take a closer look at the cast of characters for this cake! Everything here is wholesome, easy, and on-trend for that perfect holiday taste.

For the Cake

  • Flour: All-purpose flour works fine here. You can substitute gluten-free all-purpose flour, but if you do, I recommend using a blend that contains xanthan gum to replace the wheat gluten. The texture will be somewhat different.
  • Brown Sugar: For a more rich molasses flavor, use dark brown sugar; for a milder caramel flavor, use light brown sugar.
  • Granulated Sugar: You can also substitute raw sugar for the granulated sugar.
  • Carrots: Freshly grated carrots add so much flavor! You can grate them using a box grater. Fine shreds or coarse shreds are fine.
  • Vanilla Sugar: Vanilla sugar is white sugar that has been infused with vanilla. This is optional but does add a nice touch to the cake batter.
  • Cinnamon: For the best flavor, make sure to check the expiration date on your ground cinnamon! Expired spices and herbs tend to taste dull and even bitter.
  • Baking Soda and Baking Powder: These give the cake lift and lightness. 
  • Oil: Using vegetable oil instead of butter helps keep the cake moist but not heavy.
  • Eggs: A couple of large, whole eggs bind the cake batter together and help it rise. Free-range eggs typically have the best flavor.
  • Vanilla: Pure vanilla extract is my go-to, but you can also use vanilla flavoring instead.
  • Cranberries: In addition to the sugared cranberries on top of the cake, we’re including dried cranberries in the cake itself.
  • Salt: Just a pinch is all you need to enhance the taste of this easy cake.
overhead shot of carrot cake batter in a springform pan

For the Frosting

  • Cream Cheese: I recommend using full-fat cream cheese. The texture of low-fat cream cheese is less creamy and smooth. 
  • Butter: Soften the butter to room temperature before using, but do not melt it.
  • Confectioner’s Sugar: Confectioner’s sugar, or powdered sugar, gives the frosting both sweetness and a firm, spreadable consistency.

For the Sugared Cranberries

  • Cranberries: You’ll need fresh, not frozen, cranberries for this recipe.
  • Honey: Sugar is fine, too. 
  • Warm Water: A bit of warm water is used to melt the honey (or sugar) and make an easy “syrup” mixture to soak the cranberries in.
  • Sugar: Granulated sugar or coarse cane sugar is fine! This is for rolling the cranberries in, to make the “frosted” look.

How to Make Carrot Cake with Sugared Cranberries

This cake is so easy to make! I find it helpful to use my stand mixer, but you can also use a hand mixer, or even make it totally by hand. If you do make the cake by hand, it’s helpful to have a friend around to take a turn beating the frosting!

Make the Cake

  1. Prep the Oven and Cake Pan. Before you get started, make sure to preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper, and spray the sides with a little bit of oil.
  2. Beat the Wet Ingredients. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla, and salt, until the mixture is light and completely blended.
  3. Add the Dry Ingredients, Carrots, and Cranberries. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and mix until combined. For best results, sift the dry ingredients together before adding. Finally, fold in the grated carrots and dried cranberries.
  4. Bake. Pour the cake batter into your prepared baking pan, and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  5. Cool. Allow the cake to cool completely before removing it from the baking pan. If you frost the cake while it is warm, the icing will melt!
A baked cranberry carrot cake in the baking pan, cooling on a countertop with several small dishes of ingredients nearby.

Make the Sugared Cranberries

  1. Make the Syrup and Soak the Cranberries. To make the syrup, combine the honey and warm water, stirring until the honey is fully dissolved. Then add the cranberries, tossing to coat. Let the cranberries stand in the syrup for ten to twenty minutes.
  2. Dry the Cranberries. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the moistened cranberries to a plate or rack. Let them dry for about an hour.
  3. Coat the Cranberries in Sugar. Add the sugar to a small, shallow bowl or saucer. Working in batches, roll the cranberries in sugar until well-coated. Set them aside as you go on a clean rack or plate, and let them dry until the cake is ready.

Make the Frosting

  1. Cream the Butter and Cream Cheese. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese together until light and smooth.
  2. Add the Sugar. To the creamed butter and cream careers, add confectioner’s sugar in batches, beating after each addition, until you reach a smooth, light, frosting texture.

Assemble and Decorate

  1. Cut the Cake Layers. Once the cake has thoroughly cooled, remove it from the baking plan. Use a bread knife or a wire cake slicer to slice the cooled cake horizontally into two or three even layers.
  2. Assemble the Layers with Frosting Between Them. Place the first layer of cake on a cake plate. Pipe a thick layer of cream cheese frosting on top, smooth it with a spatula, and add a second layer of cake. Top with another layer of frosting and cake (if you are making 3 layers).
  3. Frost the Top and Sides of the Cake. Cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Smooth it all over with an offset spatula.
  4. Add the Sugared Cranberries. Decorate the top of the cake with sugared cranberries before serving. You can also decorate the cake plate with extra sugared cranberries.
An assembled and iced cranberry carrot cake on a cake stand, topped with sugared cranberries.

Tips for Success

Here are my top tips for creating a showy (and delicious) sugared cranberry carrot cake! Bon appetit!

  • Multiple Cake Pans: You can also make the layers in separate cake pans, so you don’t have to cut the cake into layers. Using a kitchen scale to weigh the amount of batter in each pan helps ensure that the layers will be even.
  • Frosting Tip:  If the cream cheese frosting seems too runny to work with, add more powdered sugar to reach the desired consistency.
  • Chill Time: The frosting will continue to soften as the cake sits at room temperature, so it’s best to refrigerate this cake before serving.
  • Chopped Nuts: Sprinkle the cake with your favorite chopped nuts for crunch and flavor.
Slices of sugared cranberry layer cake on dessert plates, next to the remaining cake on a cake stand.

How to Store This Cake

  • I recommend refrigerating this cake. To prevent drying out, gently press pieces of parchment or wax paper against the cut sides of the cake, to seal out air. Place the cake on a cake plate with an airtight dome lid. It will keep fresh in the fridge for up to one week. 
  • It’s best to remove the sugared cranberries before storing. They can be stored separately in the refrigerator in airtight containers, for up to three days.
A close-up shot of a slice of cranberry carrot layer cake on a dessert plate with a fork.

Can I Freeze Carrot Cake?

  • Yes! To freeze, remove the sugared cranberries. Cut the cake into slices and press pieces of parchment to the cut sides of each slice.
  • Freeze until frozen solid, then transfer to freezer bags. Press out as much air as possible before sealing (without crushing the cake).
  • Store in the freezer for up to six months.
  • Thaw in the refrigerator before serving. (I don’t recommend freezing the cranberries as they will be mushy when thawed.)
Slices of sugared cranberry layer cake on dessert plates, next to the remaining cake on a cake stand.
Print Recipe
5 from 3 votes

Sugared Cranberry Carrot Cake

Tender, moist carrot cake is paired with a light-but-indulgent, whipped cream cheese frosting in this sumptuous Sugared Cranberry Carrot Cake.
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Cooling Time and Drying Time1 hr 20 mins
Total Time3 hrs
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: christmas desserts, thanksgiving cake, thanksgiving dessert ideas
Servings: 16
Calories: 444kcal

Ingredients

For the Cake

For the Frosting

For the Sugared Cranberries

  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons honey or sugar
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 1 cup sugar

Instructions

Make the Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Line a 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, and spray the sides with a little bit of oil.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer beat the eggs with the oil, sugar, vanilla, and pinch of salt, until the mixture is light and well-incorporated.
  • Add all of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and continue to mix until combined.
  • Add the carrots and dried cranberries to the mixture, and, using a spatula, fold until well incorporated.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  • Remove from oven and allow the cake to cool completely.

Make the Sugared Cranberries

  • Combine the honey and warm water in a large bowl, mixing until the honey is fully dissolved.
  • Stir in the cranberries, tossing to coat. Let soak for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Using a slotted spoon, transfer the moistened cranberries to a plate or rack to dry for one hour.
  • Working in batches, roll the cranberries in sugar until well-coated.
  • Let dry until the cake is ready.

Make the Frosting

  • In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese together until creamy. Then beat in the sugar in batches, until completely smooth and light.

Assemble the Cake

  • Cut the cooled cake into 2 or 3 layers.
  • Pipe a thick layer of cream cheese frosting onto the first cake layer, smooth it out with a spatula, and top with a second layer of cake.
  • Repeat with another layer of frosting and cake, if making 3 layers.
  • Cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting, and smooth the sides.
  • Top the cake with sugared cranberries.
  • Cut and serve.

Notes

A 9-inch three layer cake makes 15 to 18 servings. 

Nutrition

Calories: 444kcal | Carbohydrates: 110g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 90mg | Sodium: 364mg | Potassium: 156mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 38g | Vitamin A: 4199IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 86mg | Iron: 1mg

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8 Comments

  • Beth
    Nov 22, 2021 at 6:13 pm

    5 stars
    I’m getting so hungry just looking at this! I can’t wait to make it for our Christmas get-together. It looks amazing.

    Reply
  • Allyson Zea
    Nov 23, 2021 at 2:39 pm

    Oh my goodness! This combo looks so delicious!

    Reply
  • Sandra
    Nov 24, 2021 at 6:00 pm

    5 stars
    This is really a gorgeous cake! Thanks!

    Reply
  • Juliane
    Dec 2, 2021 at 3:57 am

    5 stars
    Perfection!

    Reply

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