Chocolate Cake with Cranberry Buttercream

a slice of chocolate cake with cranberry buttercream

This Chocolate Cake with Cranberry Buttercream is a super quick moist chocolate layer cake recipe made right in a saucepan! And the cranberry frosting is just about the best thing ever, don’t miss this amazing holiday dessert.

chocolate cake with cranberry buttercream slice

chocolate cake with cranberry buttercream is a game changer…

If you’re looking for a show-stopping dessert that your friends and family haven’t had a million times before, this is it. As long as there have been delicious desserts, the chocolate layer cake has been the iconic symbol of a sweet treat, and for good reason ~ I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love a great chocolate cake. And guess what? This particular rich chocolate cake is as easy as a box mix to throw together, all you need is a saucepan (yup, a saucepan) and a whisk.

Taking a bite of chocolate cake with cranberry buttercream

chocolate and cranberry is an unexpectedly delicious combination

(I can’t even look at that bite shot…it kills me.) This story of this dessert doesn’t end with the chocolate cake, it continues with a tart and tangy fresh cranberry frosting, which is uniquely delicious. This takes a couple of steps to make, but it’s easy, and you can break it up and do part ahead if you like.

making cranberry puree

ingredients for a chocolate cranberry cake

  • chocolate
  • fresh cranberries ~ you can use frozen as well.
  • sugar, both granulated for the cake and confectioner’s for the frosting
  • butter
  • flour
  • milk or half and half
  • eggs
  • cider vinegar
  • baking soda, baking powder, salt
  • cream of tartar
  • vanilla extract
frosting a chocolate layer cake

how to make cranberry buttercream frosting

It starts with a simple cranberry puree that gives this buttercream its vibrant color and flavor.

  • Bring fresh cranberries (you can use frozen) sugar, and a splash of water to a boil on the stove, stirring occasionally until the cranberries start to burst and get soft and juicy.
  • Puree the mixture in a Vitamix, or food processor, until completely smooth.
  • Chill the cranberry puree. This can be done a day or two ahead.
  • Whip soft butter, cooled puree, and confectioner’s sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the balloon attachment. Whip for several minutes until smooth and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl often.
  • The frosting is soft and fluffy right after spreading onto the cake, but if you like it firmer, just chill the cake for a couple of hours before serving.

can you use frozen cranberries for the frosting?

  • Yes, that’s fine. But don’t ask if you can use dried cranberries, you can’t 😉
A chocolate layer cake frosted with fresh cranberry buttercream

how to store this chocolate layer cake

  • This cake can stay at room temperature for a day or two, but I prefer it chilled so the frosting isn’t too soft.

can this cranberry cake be made ahead?

  • Yes, you can bake the cake layers, let them cool, and wrap in plastic to keep in the refrigerator for up to two days ahead.
  • The cranberry puree for the frosting can be made and chilled up to a week ahead of time.

can this cake be frozen?

  • You can freeze the cooked layers, and then frost them after thawing.
sliced chocolate cake with cranberry frosting

Why is there vinegar in this chocolate cake recipe?

  • Vinegar interacts with the baking soda in the recipe and creates a chemical reaction that leavens and lightens the cake.
  • Don’t worry, you won’t taste it, but you’ll love the results.
  • The technique originated during the lean times of the Depression when eggs weren’t readily available. Vinegar was used in their place to lift and lighten cakes. I’ve used the technique in my Best Ever Vegan Chocolate Cake, so I know it works.
slices of chocolate layer cake with cranberry buttercream on small plates

tvfgi recommends: a pretty cake stand

When you have a cake this pretty, you’ll want to show it off on a cake stand. You can go classic, like the one above, or a little bit more romantic like this one or this one. If you’re a rustic type, I love this wooden stand  (this one too !)  And by the way, who says your cake stand has to be round?

I like a cake stand that’s about 12 inches in diameter. That way it will accommodate most cakes and bundts with extra space all around. 

serving chocolate cake with cranberry buttercream
a slice of chocolate cake with cranberry buttercream
4.75 from 35 votes

Chocolate Cake with Cranberry Buttercream

This Chocolate Cake with Cranberry Buttercream is a super quick moist chocolate layer cake recipe made right in a saucepan!  And the cranberry frosting is just about the best thing ever, don't miss this amazing holiday cake.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Yield 16 servings
Calories 492kcal
Author Sue Moran


  • two 9-inch cake pans
  • a high speed blender or food processor



  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup half and half or whole milk
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

cranberry puree

  • 3 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar


  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted (more if needed)
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup cranberry puree (directions below, you will not need all of it)


  • Preheat the oven to 375F Butter and flour two 9-inch nonstick cake pans. I like to put a round of parchment paper on the bottom of each one.
  • Put the sugar, chocolate, butter, and the water in a medium to large saucepan and cook, stirring, over medium heat until it all melts together smoothly. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
  • When the mixture has cooled slightly, whisk in the milk, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla.
  • Whisk in the baking soda, powder, and salt. Then slowly whisk in the flour, making sure not to over mix…small lumps are fine.
  • Pour the batter evenly into the two pans and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or just until done in the middle and a toothpick comes out without wet batter on it. Be careful not to over bake these cakes.
  • Let cool for about 20 minutes, then turn the layers out onto a rack to cool completely before frosting.

for the buttercream

  • Cook cranberries, sugar, and a splash of water in a saucepan on medium heat until the cranberries break down and into a thick, juicy mixture. This will only take about 5 minutes.
  • Puree the cranberries in a high speed blender, preferably, or a food processor until perfectly smooth. Chill.
  • Put the soft butter, sifted sugar, cream of tartar, and 1/2 cup of the cranberry puree (you will not need it all) into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the balloon attachment. Beat, scraping down the sides often, for about 4 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add more sifted sugar if you want a stiffer buttercream.
  • Frost the cake, and then refrigerate until ready to serve. Keep chilled.

Cook’s notes

recipe adapted from food 52


Calories: 492kcal | Carbohydrates: 70g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 75mg | Sodium: 403mg | Potassium: 154mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 54g | Vitamin A: 635IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 46mg | Iron: 2mg
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.
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    Please rate this recipe!

  • Reply
    December 27, 2021 at 8:33 pm

    Happy New Year, Sue! I just discovered this site shortly before Christmas and saw this Cranberry Buttercream Chocolate cake. I knew that was the cake I wanted to make for Christmas eve. The Cranberry would be perfect for the holiday. I did not have cream of tartar, so I skipped it. I had never used it in a frosting before so I thought it would be fine. Sue, all I tasted was unsalted butter! I am an experienced baker, but I was so disappointed. What could I have done wrong? It wasn’t too sweet or tart. I am determined to try it again. Also, I like the suggestions made about adding a layer of cranberry between layers. I also think it would be worth a try to use whole cranberries in a can. Thoughts? I absolutely loved the chocolate cake and will be using that again. Sooo good! Easy, too. I would appreciate any tips. I want to make this and get it right. Great reviews.
    Could it really be as simple as cream of tartar? Thank you!

  • Reply
    November 23, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    This cake is amazing, I made it last year for Thanksgiving, and making another now, probably one of the best cakes I’ve ever made. The cake is so light and moist and the cranberry frosting is sweet with just the right amount of tart Frome the cranberries. I did add the remaining puree in between the layers, for some extra kick, and it is wonderful, and ohhh so pretty! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Marjorie Rousseau
    November 13, 2021 at 8:54 am

    Hi Sue,
    This looks beautifully delicious! Question: Do you think the recipe would work well if I made it into several smaller layer cakes? I was thinking that these would be good to make along with different batches of cookies to make little packages for my neighbors here in France. I doubt they have had many American bakers in their sphere. LOL! Thank you, and a very Happy Thanksgiving Season to you and yours! Marjorie, Normandy France

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      November 13, 2021 at 8:58 am

      Hi Marjorie and, yes, you could definitely do this in mini cakes, it’s just about getting the amount of batter right for your pans. If you fill them about 2/3 full, and are careful not to over bake, you’ll be good to go. Sounds like a fun idea!

  • Reply
    November 1, 2021 at 4:51 pm

    5 stars
    Sue, I’m not an experienced cook or baker. In the directions for the “Cranberry Puree” it calls for a splash of water along with the cranberries and sugar. Could you give me an idea about how much water to use? Teaspoons, Tablespoons, small portions of a Cup? Sorry for asking what to everyone else is probably a dumb question.
    The photos of this cake have my mouth watering to make this.

  • Reply
    August 13, 2021 at 4:53 pm

    Can I use the chocolate cake recipe from your chocolate cake with strawberries and whipped crea? Or is there a reason why you chose to make this one instead?

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      August 13, 2021 at 5:09 pm

      No you can definitely switch that around, that’s fine!

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