Thanksgiving is tomorrow! It’s a flurry of last-minute baking and cleaning around here, getting decorations up and pulling chairs out from all over the house to make sure there are enough seats for everyone. In the middle of it all, I remembered that I still had two quarts of fresh cranberries that needed to be put to good use. So I made my way into the kitchen and spent the afternoon making a beautiful cranberry chocolate cake instead of finishing the cleaning. Time well spent, I’d say!
I made my last trip to the grocery store yesterday in order to avoid the craziness of the before-Thanksgiving crowd, so I wanted to use the ingredients that I had on hand. That’s why I improvised with some hazelnut coffee for a subtle undertone of flavor in the cake. The candied cranberries double as a lovely holiday garnish and an edible treat, and the cranberry syrup infuses both the cake and the frosting with just the right flavor of the harvest without being overpowering.
My children were so excited as I baked this cake. They had specifically requested a chocolate dessert for Thanksgiving, so this worked perfectly for all of us. They tiptoed around the living room while the cake was in the oven whispering loudly to each other Don’t jump! The cake will fall! (Obviously we bake a lot of cakes around here.) When the timer beeped, two little noses were busy sniffing the air and crowding around the oven door. The cake turned out moist and delicious, and I had two very eager testers ready to give their own opinion. In the words of my younger son: I can’t stop taking bites! These small moments of creating memories with my children during the holiday season are those that warm my heart the most. I hope they always remember these times with happy hearts.
Cranberry Chocolate Cake
with toasted walnuts and candied cranberries
vegetarian * great for the holidays
Makes 12 servings
For this recipes, you’ll need about 2-1/2 cups of fresh cranberries. I had about two pints, and that worked well for me. Make the candied cranberries ahead of time (or the day before).
For the Candied Cranberries (plan ahead, these need time to chill and dry!)
- 3/4 c sugar
- 3/4 c water
- 1 c fresh cranberries
- 1/4 c sugar (for dusting)
Slowly heat 3/4 c sugar and water together in a small saucepan over medium heat. You want this to get as close to boiling as possible without boiling. Stir often, especially as the bubbles start to form. Right before the boiling point, remove from the heat and add the cranberries, stirring to coat. Let sit for 10 minutes at room temperature, and then move to the refrigerator. Chill for at least 2 hours.
After 2 hours, remove from the refrigerator and drain the syrup into a bowl – do not discard! Place the cranberries in a bowl. Take the 1/4 c sugar and whirl it in a blender to powder it (or use superfine sugar). Roll the cranberries in the sugar and place on wax paper. Let dry at room temperature for a few hours.
For the Chocolate Cranberry Cake
- 1 c fresh cranberries
- 1/4 c flour
- 1- 1/2 c flour
- 1-1/2 c sugar
- 1 t cinnamon
- 1/2 t salt
- 1/2 t baking powder
- 1/2 t baking soda
- 1/4 c chocolate baking powder
- 1/2 c melted and cooled butter
- 3 eggs
- 1 t vanilla extract
- 1/4 c sour cream
- 3/4 c hazelnut (or regular) coffee, brewed strong
For the cake, take another cup of fresh cranberries and chop roughly in a food processor or by hand. Combine with 1/4 c flour (use more or less to fully coat). Set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, baking soda and chocolate baking powder. Mix well. Add floured cranberry mixture.
In another bowl, combine butter, eggs and vanilla extract. Beat with mixers until light and fluffy. Add sour cream and coffee, mix again until smooth. Combine with the dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into two greased and floured 8″ round cake pans. Bake at 350* for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
For the Frosting
- 3 c powdered sugar
- 1/4 c (reserved) cranberry syrup
- 1/4 c half and half (or milk)
- 1/2 t vanilla extract
- 1 T butter
- pinch of salt
Combine powdered sugar with cranberry syrup. Slowly add half and half, beating constantly. Add vanilla, butter and salt. Continue beating. Frosting should be the consistency of toothpaste; if it’s too thin, add more powdered sugar. If it’s too thick, add a bit of milk, only 1/4 t at a time, beating well after each addition.
To assemble, turn cakes out of pans. Use 3/4 c of frosting to ice the top of one cake, and then place the other cake on top of that (like a cake sandwich with the frosting in the middle). Then use the remaining 1 1/4 c frosting to spread over the top of the cake.
- 1/2 c chopped walnuts
- candied cranberries (that was made above)
- any leftover fresh cranberries
- a sprig of green, such as rosemary or parsley
Place the walnuts in a dry skillet and toast over medium heat until fragrant. Cool completely. Sprinkle on top of the top layer of frosting and press down slightly so that they stick. If you have any remaining fresh cranberries, chop them in half and sprinkle on the cake. Take the candied cranberries and arrange them on top in a pleasing manner, and add a few around the bottom of the serving dish. Add a sprig of green (such as parsley or rosemary) for a decorative accent, and serve for your Thanksgiving feast. Or, if you’re like us, eat half the cake the day you make it and save a few leftover pieces for your Thanksgiving guests….
Wishing you all a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!
~ Mellie ★