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
4.67 from 27 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, and vinegar.
  • 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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    Leave a Reply

    Please rate this recipe!

  • Reply
    December 6, 2020 at 7:41 pm

    3 stars
    So this was a disaster for me. Followed the directions but the batter looked odd from the get-go. 10 minutes in the oven and it was everywhere! After cleaning everything I made a different chocolate cake but made this frosting. Everyone loved it! 2 changes – switched out one stick of butter for cream cheese and did a layer of the cranberry purée between the layers on top of the frosting. It was awesome!

    • Reply
      January 8, 2021 at 9:55 am

      Great idea for the cream cheese….but how much? 1/2 Cup??

  • Reply
    Monique Brown
    November 21, 2020 at 8:09 am

    4 stars
    Sue, how is the cake meant to come out? I was wary of overbaking it like you warned and it was definitely cooked through but a bit more of a brownie texture than I would have liked. The cranberry buttercream was to die for! Finally a buttercream that doesn’t set your teeth on edge with its sweetness!

  • Reply
    November 15, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    Hi!! I’m so excited to try this! McInerney is the dark chocolate, I’m not fond if it. Does it taste like dark chocolate or would it be ok with milk chocolate?

    • Reply
      November 16, 2020 at 5:13 am

      Feel free to switch out the chocolate to what you love Tina.

  • Reply
    November 14, 2020 at 12:49 pm

    I have 8 inch pans, could I make it 3 layers instead of two 9 inch layers instead?

    • Reply
      November 14, 2020 at 2:14 pm

      They would be thinner, so be sure to check the cooking time and don’t over bake, but it will work.

      • Reply
        December 1, 2020 at 1:44 pm

        5 stars
        Another question, can I use this recipe and turn it into cupcakes?
        PS, made it for Thanksgiving and it was an absolute hit! Loved it so much will be making it again very soon!

        • Reply
          December 1, 2020 at 2:31 pm

          Sure, I don’t see why not, they’d be cute!

  • Reply
    May 6, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    5 stars
    I’ve made this cake at least 3 times since the corona virus hit. I’m baking one now! Lol! I will NEVER EVER buy a box mix again. The moistness of this cake is undeniable! Can I add delicious? The frosting is where I messed up but even that was good! I am making the chocolate frosting today. I’m addicted.. call the rehab… oh, please freeze this cake. You will eat it out of your hand the next morning with a smile- just go for a looonnggg walk! Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply
    December 29, 2019 at 10:15 pm

    5 stars
    Oh.My.Goodness. Christmas hit! The tart cranberry frosting perfectly complements the chocolate cake. Everyone loved it! Such a beautiful pink color–perfect for the holiday.

  • Reply
    December 17, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    This looks so good! I love cranberry things and prefer them on the tart side. I’ve made your cranberry gingersnap pie two years in a row- so good! I wonder how it would taste with orange as opposed to lemon. Anyway, totally adding this to my faves and thinking some of the cranberry puree would be awesome in between the layers.

    • Reply
      December 17, 2019 at 6:34 pm

      I think the gingersnap pie would be really good with orange, the two flavors go so well together. And I’m so excited about this cake Karla, I know you’re going to love it!

  • Reply
    December 12, 2019 at 8:21 am

    5 stars
    I used my own chocolate cake recipe and used your cranberry buttercream frosting for my office’s holiday party yesterday. I was told by several people that my cake “made” the party!! Great recipe. I will use it again for Christmas day.

  • Reply
    Janet Davies
    December 11, 2019 at 7:49 am

    Oh and there’s supposed to have been some water in the mixture too? Mine are definitely done for then!

  • Reply
    December 8, 2019 at 11:58 am

    There should be a cup of water in the ingredients list that gets combined with the sugar and chocolate.

    • Reply
      December 8, 2019 at 12:17 pm

      I’ve clarified that in the recipe now Leasey.

      • Reply
        December 8, 2019 at 6:21 pm

        I think Leary might be right, the Food 52 recipe asks for a cup of water in the instructions but not the recipe list!

        • Reply
          December 8, 2019 at 6:39 pm

          It’s clarified in the recipe now!

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