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Chocolate Cranberry Cake · GF (one 8" layer cake)

Nobody wants an understated chocolate cake.

Well, at least not for an over-the-top occasion like New Year’s Eve. So if your resolution involves giving up or scaling back on dessert, you’d better stop scrolling now.

three layer cranberry chocolate cake

Chocolate cakes typically rely on deep, dark ingredients like black coffee, brown sugar, and Bourbon vanilla. Delicious, but not exactly in line with the bubbly spirit of New Year’s Eve. I wanted a cake that would pair better with champagne than cappuccino, something along the lines of a chocolate covered strawberry (but seasonally appropriate).

To make this chocolate cake feel festive and bright, I ditched the usual one-two punch of coffee and vanilla for cranberry juice and rose water. The same way coffee underscores the roasted bitterness of chocolate, cranberry teases out its natural fruit flavor. Even better, it tenderizers in a way that puts buttermilk to shame.

Rose flower water has a bad reputation, often used indiscriminately to overpower delicate flavors like yogurt or goat cheese. But it can’t bully dark chocolate. Against that sort of bitter intensity, its aromatics simply round out the flavor. It adds dimension like vanilla, but in a way that feels airy rather than deep.

Together the cranberry and rose make a cake that tastes every bit as chocolatey and complex as a traditional recipe, minus that earthy darkness. To play up the cranberry flavor, I paired it with Cranberry Swiss Buttercream and Cranberry Ganache.

wedge of cake

Even if you hate rose flower water, I hope you’ll trust me on this one. You won’t taste the rose itself, but without its magic the flavor of the whole cake falls flat. If you haven’t used it before, you can pick a bottle up for about two bucks. You’ll find it in the international aisle of larger grocery chains, in upscale liquor stores, from your local Middle Eastern or Indian market, and online.

Chocolate Cranberry Cake, one 8” three-layer cake
6 ounces dark chocolate, preferably one with a fruit-forward flavor; I used Videri 70%
6 ounces Dutch process cocoa powder
18 ounces 100% pure, unsweetened cranberry juice
4 1/2 teaspoons rose flower water
12 ounces all purpose flour (gluten free variation below)
18 ounces sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
9 ounces unsalted butter, melted
9 ounces whole milk

To finish:
1 batch Swiss Buttercream, Cranberry Variation
8 ounces plain or Cranberry Ganache

Preheat the oven to 350° and line three 8” by 2” cake pans with parchment rounds; grease lightly.

Roughly chop the chocolate and place in a medium bowl; sift the cocoa powder over top. Meanwhile, bring the cranberry juice to a simmer in a 3 quart stainless steel pot. When it begins to bubble, shut off the heat and add the chocolate/cocoa all at once. Whisk to form a smooth paste, then stir in the rose flower water.

Using the same bowl and sieve from before, sift the flour and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the eggs and mix for a minute on low speed to moisten. Increase the speed to medium and whip until fluffy and light, about 8 minutes.

Reduce speed to medium-low and splash in the melted butter a little at a time, then whip in the chocolate-cranberry paste. When well combined, reduce speed to the lowest setting. Add one-third of the flour followed by one-third of the milk, alternating between the two until completely incorporated.

Stir the batter once or twice with a flexible spatula, then divide between the prepared pans (27 ounces each). Bake until the cakes are puffed and somewhat firm to the touch, though your finger may leave a slight impression; about 40 minutes.

filling a cake

Let the cakes stand at room temperature for 10 minutes, then loosen the edges with a knife, invert onto a wire rack, and cool until no trace of warmth remains. I like to leave the pans on top; it takes longer to cool this way, but traps steam to retain moisture.

Level the cakes with a serrated knife. Top each with a heaping cup of freshly whipped Cranberry Buttercream and spread into an even layer.

Leave the sides exposed for a rustic look, or give the cake a crumb coat and fully frost. For more detailed information, check out my Crumb Coating Video and Tutorial.

If you like, finish with a swirl of Cranberry Ganache. The spiraled edges give an illusion of the cake being much taller than three layers.

chocolate ganache swirled cake


Chocolate Torte: for a single layer, divide the entire recipe by three. Serve with Cranberry Ganache and a dollop of whipped cream on the side.

Gluten Free: replace the all purpose flour with 6 ounces buckwheat flour, 3 ounces cornstarch, and 3 ounces white rice flour. Many thanks to Matt and Theresa for taking this version for a test drive!

Gluten Free with Teff and Coconut: if buckwheat isn’t your thing, try this variation instead. The earthy flavor of teff plays beautifully with the chocolate, while coconut flour complements the cranberry. 3 ounces teff flour, 3 ounces coconut flour, 3 ounces cornstarch, and 3 ounces white rice flour.


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Any questions?

Dec 31, 2013 ·  9:40 AM

I can’t stand rosewater, but let me assure you that Stella is right and it’s not at all offensive in this recipe! No one who tried the cake could tell it was in there. I did love the fruitiness that the cranberry brought out in the chocolate! It has great texture for a GF cake too.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to invent a reason to make some cranberry ganache because O.M.G. that sounds awesome.

 · Theresa ·

Dec 31, 2013 · 10:17 AM

I use just the tiniest touch of rosewater in macarons sometimes, especially with raspberry. I use a small medicine dropper and add one tiny drop. It adds just a hint of perfume and flavor that goes really well. I bet it would be awesome here!

 · Sarah ·

Dec 31, 2013 · 11:28 AM

Do you think I could replace the buckwheat with sorghum? I have none of the former and a ton of the latter.

 · Kazb0t · 

Jan 01, 2014 ·  1:06 PM

@Theresa, I felt pretty confident about the rose water, but I have to admit I was waiting on pins and needles to hear what you’d think about it. Such a relief to have a confirmed rose-hater enjoy it. Thanks again for trying it out!!

@Sarah, you’re definitely doing it right. With mild flavors like fruit or almond, a tiny drop is all it takes, but it’s pretty miraculous! Definitely give it a shot with chocolate sometime, I think you’ll love it.

@Kazb0t, I’m not terribly experienced with sorghum flour, though I have used it in cookies before. I talked to Shauna (aka the Gluten Free Girl) and she says she thinks it will work in this recipe, but that it may not be as fluffy as the buckwheat version. You may want to divide the recipe by 3 to try it out as just one layer, to be safe. Let me know if you do give it a try!!


Jan 02, 2014 ·  1:00 PM

I love the way you frosted the cake with the ganache and a whisper of the filling coming out.

 · Tracy | Pale Yellow ·

Jan 03, 2014 ·  8:22 AM

Wow! I will definitely try those variations you mentioned. Thanks!

 · ice ·

Jan 03, 2014 ·  9:33 PM

@Tracy, I wish we’d have thought to snap some pictures of the process! It was super simple, though. After you pour the ganache over the cake, throw it onto a turntable. Start spinning, then push the tip of a spatula against the cake and drag it straight to the top edge. Keep the table spinning, and drag the spatula over the top like a needle on a record player, from edge to center. The spatula naturally scrapes off a fine layer of ganache, revealing the buttercream below!

@ice, hope your enjoy your GF or mini- variations! It’s a good way to test drive the recipe without committing to three full layers.


Jan 06, 2014 ·  3:57 PM

Wow Stella this looks amazing! I can’t believe I am only seeing this now.

On an aside I am so looking fwd to your book not just for the recipes but for your writing! I love your tone on the blog.

 · Yosha · 

Jan 07, 2014 · 10:28 AM

Hi Yosha! I had a lot of fun with this cake, it was nice to break away from coffee, coffee, coffee. Thanks for hanging tight with me about the book, I am not sure when it will be published (I finished in September) right now, which is kinda frustrating. But we will see!


Jan 07, 2014 · 12:35 PM

Stella, you are a chocolate cranberry genius. This cake was so moist, sooooooo chocolaty with a perfectly balanced tartness. I say the cranberry ganache is a must – and I felt like a pro pretending to know how to frost it. Its like nothing I have tasted before and a nice deviation from the norm. We all ate it very slowly, savored every bite, and then couldn’t stop eating it. Luckily I had a crowd over a few day time span. Thank you and thanks to your GF genius friends too.

 · noonao · 

Jan 07, 2014 ·  5:53 PM

Leave it to you to pair cranberry, rosewater, & chocolate cake and somehow make it look absolutely delicious! I love how detailed & precise your recipes & measurements are—more inspiration for me to keep chugging along with baking in grams/oz. instead of cups. Thanks for the gluten-free flour option as well. Buckwheat & chocolate are great together!

 · amy ·

Jan 07, 2014 ·  7:17 PM

@noonao, I am so happy and thrilled that you made this cake! I know the ingredients list is a laundry list of out-of-the-ordinary, so I am always relieved to know when others think the results are worthwhile too. So glad you made the whole she-bang too, that ganache is my absolute favorite.

@Amy, it’s a lot of goodness piled in there. I am a big fan of buckwheat and chocolate, but I recently read that buckwheat and cranberry share a few chemical components and that they are an especially good flavor match too. That was definitely a bit of my inspiration, but I read it so long ago I can’t find the link or remember where it was. Grrr!


Jan 08, 2014 ·  1:42 PM

Oh my god. I’d consider selling a kidney for a slice of that.

 · Jackie @ TheBeeroness ·

Jan 09, 2014 · 10:09 AM

This looks great! Is Dutch process cocoa powder a must? Could natural cocoa powder be used as a substitute?

 · ReeDJPat · 

Jan 09, 2014 ·  1:20 PM

@Jackie, hahaha, wow! If only I could beam a slice over to ya!

@ReeDJPat, very good question! Swapping cocoas will alter the pH of the batter, so I wouldn’t recommend using natural cocoa powder in this recipe without also adjusting the leavening agents to account for it.


Jan 17, 2014 ·  7:46 AM

That looks amazing. I love cranberries, and currently my freezer is stuffed with bags that I buy during their short availability so I will have them all year long.

In “Beard on Bread,” James Beard has a recipe for a Cranberry Loaf Cake that uses rose flower water. The duo of rose water and cranberries makes for a very nice loaf. I think your threesome of rose water, cranberries, and chocolate takes it to a whole new dimension. I hope to try the cake this weekend. One question: I appreciate the weight measurements. Is it possible to add them for the salt? I find that all kosher salt is not alike. Many thanks!

 · CHN · 

Jan 17, 2014 ·  2:16 PM

Hi CHN! I hadn’t heard of Beard’s Cranberry Loaf Cake with rose water- that makes me feel like I have not given that particular book enough love. I have it sitting here on my shelf! I think you’ll love the combo in cake, for sure.

I love, LOVE that you’d like to have weight measurements for the salt too. If only more bakers were demanding more accuracy instead of less!! I don’t include them because typical American scales are not accurate under 7 grams and I’m afraid of the errors that might result. In my work, I use Tablespoons as well because my crusty old scale can’t be trusted at such minute amounts. I use Diamond Crystal, if that helps give you a frame of reference.


Jan 18, 2014 ·  2:03 PM

Could raspberries be substituted for cranberries? If so, would I have to change the portions of the other ingredients?

 · ReeDJPat · 

Jan 19, 2014 ·  9:36 PM

Hi ReeDJPat. I’m not sure about that one. Cranberry juice has a unique pH and sugar content, and I’m not sure how raspberry juice compares. If you can find pure, unsweetened raspberry juice (with no other juices mixed in!), then I think it would be worth a shot. They have a similar acidity, so the cake may turn out fine with such a swap.


Feb 04, 2014 ·  6:56 PM

I don’t know why I waited long to try this out!! as usual, you are right, about bringing out the chocolate’s fruity side. You are awesome.. thank you for sharing

 · marilyn · 

Feb 07, 2014 · 10:07 AM

Hi marilyn! I’m glad you finally had a chance to try it. It’s a different approach, so it kinda takes you by surprise. Thanks for posting.


Mar 11, 2014 ·  5:58 AM

Hi Stella, I am planning to make the cake this week, and I would like to double-check something with you: is it really 2 1/4 baking soda plus 3/4 tsp baking powder, and not the reverse? 2 1/4 tsp baking soda for 12 oz flour seems a lot to me (I’m sensitive to its metallic aftertaste, and it is such a powerful leavening), so I’d just like to make sure.

 · AnneHD · 

Mar 11, 2014 ·  4:31 PM

Hi AnneHD! Thanks for checking in. Believe it or not, that is the right amount. For a typical cake it would definitely be a lot, but the cranberry juice is so massively acidic that it eats it right up, so to speak.

Honestly, the recipe could probably survive without the token amount of baking powder, but whether it was just the placebo effect or some true difference, the cake seems to have an especially lovely crumb when both are used.

Out of curiosity, have you tried using aluminum free baking sodas? I’ve been pretty happy with the one from Bob’s Red Mill, but I haven’t conducted any sort of rigorous testing.


Mar 11, 2014 ·  7:57 PM

Thank you so much for your response, Stella! The cranberry juice explanation makes a lot of sense. I will also follow your suggestion to try a different brand of baking soda. I know I can find Bob’s Red Mill here in Montreal, so if you’re happy with it, that’s what I’ll get. Thanks again!

 · AnneHD · 

Mar 11, 2014 · 11:54 PM

Hi AnneHD! I don’t pick up on any trace of it in the final cake, and I hope that’s the case for you too! You’ll have to let me know how it turns out.


May 04, 2014 ·  3:32 PM

This recipe was fantastic! I was wondering if there is anyway to not use 2 lbs of butter (for the frosting and cake) and 1.5lbs of sugar though. That’s a lot! And organic butter is spendy! Also, could one use sweetened cranberry juice and add less sugar? The only brand at our local stores (whole foods, fred meyer) cost $10.00 for 32 oz.

 · svet · 

May 05, 2014 ·  5:49 PM

Hi svet! Ahhh, you can tell I’m a pastry chef, loading my cakes with so much butter and sugar! Organic butter can definitely be spendy; whenever possible I try to buy it in bulk to offset the cost but I know that’s not always an option in some locations.

As far as the sugar is concerned, it plays such a complex role in the cake and buttercream I wouldn’t recommend reducing it. With less sugar, the cake will be less moist and have a shorter shelf life, and will likely be more dense. As I’m sure you discovered, it is enough cake and buttercream to feed a crowd, so you can at least console yourself knowing it’s spread out between so many people.

Unfortunately, I don’t suspect sweetened cranberry juice will work. It has less flavor and less acidity, which would change the cake’s pH even if you adjusted for the sugar. Pure juice can seems expensive because it’s so concentrated, but when you buy the seemingly cheaper juice you’re actually paying more because it’s something like 97% apple juice and sugar, with a small bit of cranberry for color and flavor. The good news is that you can freeze the cranberry juice so that you don’t have to use it up all at once. Just measure what you need for one recipe into however-many freezer safe zip-top bags and freeze indefinitely. Maybe not the solution you were hoping for, but I hope it helps a little!


Aug 22, 2014 ·  4:40 PM

Hi Stella! I’ve got a couple questions for you about this absolutely ah-mazing cake. 1) Could I use the cranberry variation of the French buttercream instead of Swiss? I’ve had issues making Swiss before but am more confident with French. Would the cranberry variation taste weird with French? 2)How do you properly frost this cake like you did so beautifully in the picture?! It’s driving me crazy trying to figure it out!! Thanks so much!

 · Lys · 

Sep 12, 2014 · 10:16 AM

Hi Lys, you can definitely use the cranberry reduction with any buttercream, it’s only that the custardy flavor of French is a little competitive so it dulls the flavor. Do you have a stainless steel turntable for decorating? If you get the frosted cake nice and cool, then cover it with warm ganache and start spinning, you can simply drag the spatula up one side to create a swirling pattern. I need to make a video!


Mar 09, 2015 ·  6:19 AM

Hi Stella! I am a long term following of your blog and have used many of your recipes with great success (including your magnificent Mont-Blanc, which was delicious). I’ve never posted before but this chocolate cake is so amazing that I have to! The thing is I am not normally a great fan of chocolate cakes, I always find them too chocolatey. But this one is a marvel (even though it actually has more chocolate than other recipes), I even went for seconds. I made it with cherry juice because I wanted to pair it with amarena cherries and it worked really well. It is my new go-to chocolate cake recipe. Thank you a lot for all the effort you put in here, it is really invaluable resources.

 · Gaelle · 


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