Chocolate Cake with Cranberry Buttercream

November 16, 2016
13 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 10 to 12
Author Notes

I made Amanda's chocolate dump-it cake, but split the batter between two 9-inch round cake pans and baked them for about 20 minutes. —Merrill Stubbs

What You'll Need
  • For the cake:
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • For the buttercream:
  • 3 cups (300 grams) fresh cranberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 2 egg yolks (optional)
  • 1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
  1. For the cake:
  2. Preheat the oven to 375° F, and place a baking sheet on the lowest rack, to catch any drips when the cake bakes. Put the sugar, unsweetened chocolate, butter and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir occasionally until all of the ingredients are melted and blended. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the milk and vinegar. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. (If you prefer, you can grease them, line it with parchment and then grease and flour it. This is not necessary, but parchment does make getting the cake out easier.)
  4. When the chocolate in the pan has cooled a bit, whisk in the milk mixture and eggs. In several additions and without over-mixing, whisk in the dry ingredients. When the mixture is smooth, add the vanilla and whisk once or twice, to blend. Pour the batter into the pans and bake on the middle rack until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let the cakes cool completely, then remove from the pan and cool on a rack and proceed by making the buttercream.
  1. For the buttercream:
  2. Combine the cranberries, sugar, salt and 2/3 cup water in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries slacken and release their juice, then start to thicken. Purée the mixture in a blender and cool completely. (You should have about 2 cups of cranberry purée.)
  3. On medium speed, using electric beaters or a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter, egg yolks if using, confectioners' sugar and 1/4 cup cranberry purée for about 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl several times, until you have a fluffy, light pink icing. Do not worry if the icing curdles at first. Persevere, and it will all come together.
  4. Level the 2 cooled cake layers with a serrated knife. Use about half the icing to fill between the layers of the cake and to apply a crumb coat. Chill the cake for 10 to 15 minutes, then finish icing. Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Yiannis Psaroudis
    Yiannis Psaroudis
  • Regine
  • Dina Sindil
    Dina Sindil
  • Synky
  • Jeff Potter
    Jeff Potter

24 Reviews

Karen L. September 27, 2023
cheryl E. November 29, 2020
I didn't have nearly enough frosting, and I whisked it for over ten minutes. It tastes like butter. Are you sure there shouldn't be more sugar than butter?
Yiannis P. November 27, 2020
I made this cake for Thanksgiving (b/c my sister's birthday always falls near Thanksgiving) and, while it is a delicious chocolate cate, the buttercream frosting tasted way more of butter than cranberry. I'd definitely make the cake, again, but would likely use a different frosting or figure out a way to get more cranberry flavor up in that frosting.
Yiannis P. November 27, 2020
I made this cake for Thanksgiving (b/c my sister's birthday always falls near Thanksgiving) and, while it is a delicious chocolate cate, the buttercream frosting tasted way more of butter than cranberry. I'd definitely make the cake, again, but would likely use a different frosting or figure out a way to get more cranberry flavor up in that frosting.
Nyasha June 29, 2020
No idea how this does not have a higher rating. This is, bar none, my all time favorite cake. Brava Merrill Stubbs! I also coat the cake in left over glaze. Makes for an eye popping centerpiece on the Thanksgiving dessert table. 10/10
Lisa R. December 8, 2019
The water is not listed in the ingredients list. Could not understand why my sugar and chocolate was so thick until I saw the water in the directions!
Regine January 3, 2017
Dina, first thing, I have not yet made this cake, but if you do not abide by the exact list of ingredients and instructions, you should expect not to get the same results. This being said though, it appears that using stevia instead of sugar in cake recipes can result in loss of volume in the final product. I have not really listened to this youtube but check it out.

Nati, I bake all the times and successfully so with either "cups" measurements or "weight" measurements. You should be able to find in a store in Germany measuring cups for baking (with marks on the cup for i.e., 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup, 1 cup).
I look forward to making this cake soon myself and provide some comments.

Happy New Year!
Nati W. December 21, 2016
Hello everybody,

I have made unsatisfying experiences using "cups" instead of exact amounts. I have the feeling that I never get the right mixing ratio. In Germany (where I am from) recipes are mostly with exact weight indications. What type of cups with which filling quantity shall I use? Thank you very much.

marcella F. February 14, 2017
Nati, you can find online converters to turn cup and spoon measurements into weights. I always use this one and never had a problem (don't be mislead by the link title, it offers conversion for flour and sugar too)
Dina S. November 25, 2016
Anyone else have a problem with the cake? It did not rise at all! I used 2 9 inch pans, I weighed the batter to have equal amounts in both & my layers look half as high as each of the layers in the photo. I now made a 3rd layer (using half the recipe) - same story. I'll make the buttercream tomorrow & hopefully the cake will look like something but with thinner layers.
One change that I did make & I doubt this changed the rising issue was sugar - I didn't use sugar, I used stevia.
If anyone can venture to guess what I did wrong, I would appreciate it greatly. Thank you.
K N. May 20, 2017
Hi Dina, tinkering with the sugar will affect the rise. I found this article to have a helpful explanation.

I hope this helps!
Delia November 23, 2016
Any suggestions on how to adapt this to use bittersweet chocolate (70-85% cacao) in place of unsweetened? I can't find good quality unsweetened chocolate right now.
Synky November 18, 2016
I made this today but with a few adjustments. I put one cup of sugar into the cake dough instead of two, thinking two cups was too much sugar. It turned out sweet enough, bringing out the chocolate quite nicely. Also, since there was so much cranberry sauce left over, I covered the top of the cake with a thin layer. Not only did it look amazing (dark red over pink!) but the addition of the tart glaze was a great contrast to the mellow taste of the cake. It also made me think of the holidays coming up since cranberries figure so prominently in both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I think next time I would put a cranberry glaze in between the layers as well as on top of the cake. Everyone loved it! Thank you for a great (and simple and relatively quick) cake recipe!
bobbie J. November 22, 2016
Thanks Synky - I was thinking along those lines as well. Glad you gave this a test drive!
thi November 18, 2016
Thanks. I am a newbie. Would you be able to recommend some brands that would be considered high quality or what I should look for in a high quality chocolate?
Jeff P. November 19, 2016
Hi Thi,

I'd use any major brand your store carries for unsweetened chocolate in bar form. Which specific brand would depend on where in the world you are located.

Because the chocolate is being melted, things like tempering of the chocolate won't matter. And, because the chocolate is being used in a baked good, the exact flavor profile won't make as much of a difference either.

With bitter/semi-sweet chocolate, there are variations in cacao fat to cacao solid ratios between different brands, as well as differences in sugar percentages. With unsweetened chocolate, those aspects won't differ.

Happy Cooking!
thi November 19, 2016
Thanks Jeff!
thi November 18, 2016
Solid or powdered chocolate?
Merrill S. November 18, 2016
Solid! (Good quality.)
eileen November 17, 2016
confused on the buttercream - making 2 cups of fruit puree, but only using
1/4 cup to create the frosting?
Merrill S. November 17, 2016
Yes -- you'll have extra. It freezes nicely, works as a cocktail ingredient, or you can make less of the puree. (I assumed most people won't have access to smaller amount of cranberries.)
Susan C. January 6, 2017
I added almost all of the puree to the frosting. It made for a lovely contrast with the chocolate cake. Really yummy. Next time I'm going to try Synky's glaze suggestion. That sounds great!
Nancy R. January 30, 2017
I am curious about why you would make extra sauce if you don't need it for the frosting? While the sauce might be good for something else, I think I would rather make less.
Susan W. October 19, 2019
I totally agree. I was thinking the same thing.