Want a unique fall-themed cake that doesn’t involve apples or pumpkins? Try this orange cranberry molasses cake spiced with ginger and cinnamon! The cake layers are topped with an orange cream cheese whipped cream frosting that’s indulgent yet still light at the same time!
There were a lot of pies being brought to Thanksgiving dinner already, so I was trying to figure out what to bring. After some perusing in my kitchen to see what I had, I decided that a spiced cake sounded good!
Apples and pumpkins are fairly typical in the fall, especially with desserts for Thanksgiving. I already knew there would be apple pie AND pumpkin pie at dinner, so I wanted to create something different. I happened to have a big bag of dried cranberries from Costco because I thought it would be a good idea. However, I ended up having to find creative ways to use up the dried cranberries, haha. Cranberries also go really well with oranges, so I figured that fruit combination would be perfect for a dessert. And thus, the spiced orange cranberry molasses cake was born!
For the frosting, I knew I wanted to use cream cheese but I also wanted to make sure it didn’t feel too rich. Hence, I decided to whip it with heavy whipping cream for a fluffy frosting that still retained the tang and flavor of cream cheese without it being too much. I actually ended up really liking the combination, so I will definitely be using this type of frosting for other things!
Since this recipe is for a spiced orange cranberry molasses cake, I also decided to add some cinnamon and orange zest in the frosting for added flavor. You don’t have to add those things if you don’t want to–the frosting will taste delicious with the orange cranberry cake regardless.
So as you may have read in the recipe, I specified the butter, eggs, and buttermilk to be room temperature. It’s very, very important that these ingredients are room temp to ensure a proper emulsion. Emulsion is what traps and expands air in your cake to ensure that you get that fluffy cake texture. If you rush things and not wait until these ingredients are room temp, you will end up with curdled cake batter, and your cake will be dense and crumbly.
Tools you’ll need
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temp
- 3 eggs, room temp
- 1/3 cup buttermilk, room temp
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- zest of 2 oranges (I used navel oranges)
- 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
Cream cheese whipped cream frosting
- 8 oz cream cheese, cold
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 tsp vanila extract
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, cold
- zest of half an orange (or a whole one if you like more orange flavor)
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.
- In a medium mixing bowl, use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment to cream the butter, sugars, and molasses until light and fluffy. Make sure to occasionally scrape the sides of the mixing bowl with a silicone spatula.
- Add in your room temperature eggs one at a time, making sure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next one. Then, add two tablespoons of your flour with the last egg and mix. I know this sounds strange, but this is to help with the emulsion once you add the buttermilk. The mixture can only take in so much liquid at one time before it curdles, so the flour just helps a bit with that. Add the room temperature buttermilk, vanilla extract, and orange zest and mix. Scrape the sides of the mixing bowl as needed.
- If your cake batter is still curdled, sift your dry ingredients (flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, baking soda) to your wet ingredients in two batches. If it wasn't curdled, you can sift all the dry ingredients in one go. Add the kosher salt. Mix on low just enough that you don't see spots of flour or dry ingredient. Don't overmix, otherwise your cake will be tough and dense. Fold in the dried cranberries.
- Divide your batter into three greased 6-inch round cake pans. If you don't have 6-inch round cake pans, you can use two 8-inch round cake pans instead. Once you've poured your batter in, slightly tap the cake pans on the counter to release some air bubbles. Bake for 35-40 minutes.
- While your cake bakes, you can work on your cream cheese whipped cream frosting. It would be easier for you to use a stand mixer, but a hand mixer will work just fine; it just may take longer. If you're using a stand mixer, make sure to switch from the paddle to the whisk attachment. In a mixing bowl, whip the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extract, orange zest, and cinnamon until fluffy. Don't overmix this, otherwise the cream cheese will turn a bit soupy. You want it to retain its body to help stabilize the whipped cream.
- While the mixer is still going, slowly pour the cold heavy whipping cream down the side of the bowl. Keep whisking until you get stiff peaks. Set aside in the fridge.
- After your cake bakes, let it cool for at least an hour. It's very important that you let your cakes cool completely otherwise your frosting might melt right off it. I usually cool for 30 minutes then I transfer the cakes onto a cooling rack and continue cooling for another 30 minutes.
- Level your cakes! You can just slice the "domed" part of the cake to make sure you have flat tops. But definitely keep these scraps! You can eat them already, OR you can kinda crumble them a bit and use them to top off your cake, if you'd like.
- Assemble your cake! I'm not worried about my cake being ugly, as long as it's delicious. I basically just put about equal amount of the frosting on top of each cake and then stack one on top of the other. This time, I went for a semi-naked cake since I had enough leftover frosting. I just slapped that on to sides of the cake haphazardly and scrape extra frosting as needed.
- Enjoy! You can store the finished cake in the fridge for up to 3 days. However, make sure to let it sit on the counter for at least 15 minutes when you take it out the fridge and before serving. This will ensure the texture of the cake relaxes a bit.