I love cooking with cranberries. They’re among the most challenging berries to use. But they are hearty, (you can store fresh cranberries in your refrigerator for weeks). And they have one of the most distinctive and interesting flavors of all the winter fruits. This delicious cranberry dump cake (also called a lazy cake if you prefer) makes a delicious way to use cranberries in an easy holiday season dessert. You’re going to love this one!
You could call it a dump cake or a cranberry cobbler
This cake recipe is not a traditional one in that you don’t create and bake a batter. Instead, it is more of a made-from-scratch dump cake, or lazy cake. (Lazy cake is my preferred term for this style of low-stress cake. Dump cake is among the least appealing terms ever applied to food.)
You could also classify this addictive cake as a cobbler. In fact, when I serve it to friends who may not be familiar with cranberry dump cake or lazy cake, I call it a cranberry fruit cobbler. A cobbler is defined as a fruit-based dessert with either a biscuit-like or cake-like topping. And that would very accurately describe this quick and easy cake recipe.
One of the best things about this homemade dump cake recipe is that it doesn’t take very many ingredients. For the base you just need:
- Fresh, whole cranberries
- Granulated sugar (white sugar)
- Vanilla extract
The vanilla is what makes this recipe unique and what, in my opinion, makes it a crowd-pleaser. The flavors of vanilla and cranberry are incredible together. I don’t know why recipes don’t use this beautiful fruit and flavoring combination more often.
For the cake topping you need:
- White flour (if you need to make a gluten-free cake, you can use your favorite gluten-free baking mix)
- Baking powder
- Brown sugar
- Pinch of salt
Then you top the whole thing with butter:
- Cubes of cold butter
That’s really all you need to make my favorite Christmas cake. I do recommend having some vanilla bean ice cream or fresh whipped cream on hand as a creamy and decadent topping.
Why this is the easiest made-from-scratch cake
If you’re intimidated by the thought of making cake from scratch, you’re going to love this cranberry cake! Making the cake is a simple, three-step process that doesn’t require any special equipment – not even a stand mixer. You just need a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
- In step one, you simply mix the berries with the vanilla and sugar. You can even do it in the pan if you don’t want to have to wash an extra bowl.
- In step two, you mix the flour topping in a mixing bowl and sprinkle it (dry) on top of the berries to make an even layer.
- In step three, you cube cold butter and dot the top of the cake with it.
As the cake bakes, the butter melts into the flour mixture and moistens it from the top while the berries cook and moisten it from the bottom to create a deliciously simple white cake layer.
Cranberry cake recipe variations
If you like the flavor of cranberry and orange, you can add the zest of one orange to the berries before adding the topping. Alternatively, you could make a cranberry almond cake by using almond extract in place of the vanilla extract. Check out the extracts from one of my favorite baking suppliers, Nielsen Massey.
A quick tip for making the best lazy cakes
The secret to a good lazy cake or dump cake is getting the butter layer to melt evenly and cover all of the flour. If it doesn’t you will end up with dry patches. (Your cake will still taste great but it doesn’t look as good.)
Some recipes call for melting the butter and pouring it over the flour mixture. But unless your cake is perfectly level, the melted butter can roll off any higher areas and you’ll still get dry patches.
I recommend keeping the butter cold until you are ready to use it and then cutting it into the smallest cubes you can manage. I try for about 1/4-inch cubes. Then dot the cake as evenly as possible with the butter dots. This will help create an even, beautifully golden crust.
A cranberry Christmas cake and other occasions to make this dessert
This easy cranberry cake recipe is my go-to dessert during the holiday season. It takes the stress out of planning a Christmas dessert when you’re hosting guests. It’s also a welcome addition to a potluck. In fact, it’s one of my most popular recipes. And it just happens to also be one of my easiest.
This dessert also works at Thanksgiving for anyone sick of pumpkin pie. The tart and slightly bitter flavor of cranberries can be incredibly refreshing after this traditionally heavy meal.
But I would like to suggest that you consider making this cranberry cake for other occasions. It just might be the right choice as the ending to a romantic, wintertime meal. That’s because cranberries are not only healthy, they just might be aphrodisiac.
Some surprising benefits of cranberries
Now, you probably aren’t thinking about nutritional benefits when you’re eating dessert. And it’s true. This is still a cake recipe and one that contains loads of white flour and butter. But it also contains a fruit linked with improving blood flow and potentially getting your pulse and libido racing. And those are always welcome side effects when you’re planning a night of romance.
Fast & Easy Cranberry Dump Cake (Cranberry Cobbler)
For the cranberries
- 3 cups fresh cranberries, washed and sorted discard any soft berries
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the cake topping
- 1 1/2 cup flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup cold, unsalted butter cubed
- vanilla bean ice cream or fresh whipped cream* optional
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Oil a 9 x 13-inch pan or coat with baking spray.**
- Toss the cranberries with the sugar and vanilla and spread in an even layer at the bottom of the pan.
- In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and brown sugar. Top the berries with an even layer of this dry cake mix.
- Cut the cold butter into small cubes, 1/4-inch if possible.
- Dot the top of the cake evenly with butter cubes.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden.
**If you like a thicker cobbler, you can use a 9 x 9 square baking pan instead of the rectangular baking pan. The cake may take an additional 3-5 minutes to cook. Just leave it in the oven until the top is golden.
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