This cranberry coffee cake with warm vanilla sauce is a stunning holiday dessert! Even better, it is incredibly delicious with the brown sugar pecan streusel, tart cranberries, and caramel sauce.

piece of cranberry coffee cake with warm vanilla sauce on white plate

Just when I think I can’t possibly give you one more must-make holiday dessert, this cranberry cake comes along. 

I need you to stop and take me very seriously for a moment. You need to make this cake.

My entire family agrees that this stunning cranberry coffee cake is the winner of the holiday baking season. It is incredible. 

The super fluffy cake dotted with tart cranberries and dusted with pecans and brown sugar is one (very good!) thing…

…But drizzling the warm caramel sauce on top makes this one of my favorite desserts of all time. The tart + the sweet is a phenomenal combination.

fork with bite of cranberry coffee cake with warm vanilla sauce on white plate

Warm Vanilla Sauce

This isn’t the first time we’ve gifted pieces of cake with a creamy sweet warm vanilla sauce.

Taking notes from this apple dapple cake and this rhubarb streusel cake, I knew the sauce would be a very good idea with the tart and sweet cranberry coffee cake. 

The 4-ingredient sauce couldn’t be simpler. Butter, cream, and brown sugar cook on the stove for a few minutes. Stir in vanilla. And there you have it. 

pouring warm vanilla sauce over piece of cranberry coffee cake

One Bowl Cranberry Cake

I decided not to fuss around with intricate cake methods and instead threw all the cake batter ingredients, save the cranberries, in a bowl and started mixing.

Just like this amazing one-bowl chocolate chip cake taught us: it works.

The cake is beautifully moist and soft, and you and I get away with only one bowl to clean up. 

bowl with coffee cake batter, cranberries with batter, mixed cranberry coffee cake batter

Fresh Cranberries (and Substitutions)

This cake is yet another reason to long for fresh cranberry season.

There isn’t anything quite like them, and they are my first choice for this cake. 

However, I think this cake would be highly adaptable to fresh blueberries or raspberries or frozen cranberries or other frozen fruit.

If using frozen fruit, don’t thaw first, and don’t overmix once they are added to the batter.

unbaked and baked cranberry coffee cake with streusl

Brown Sugar Pecan Streusel

The sprinkle of brown sugar and chopped pecans over the cake top before baking is literally the most delightful addition to a cake in the history of ever. 

I was skeptical that a faux-streusel like this would work out, but it does!

It doesn’t clump together like traditional streusel, but it adds a wonderful crunch and pop of texture to the top of the cake. 

square of cranberry coffee cake on spatula over 9x13-inch pan

This cranberry coffee cake is fluffy and moist and pure heaven eaten warm all by itself. 

But once you try it with the warm vanilla sauce, you’ll never be able to go back. It’ll ruin you forever.

It transitions the fun, cute, little coffee cake into a gourmet and elegant dessert that is completely next-level delicious.

Since I don’t necessarily have any gourmet, elegant parties to attend or host this year (ahem, or ever), thank goodness this cranberry coffee cake with warm vanilla sauce is just as happy to party with me and my kids in PJs at home on a random Thursday night in December. 

This cake is so fantastic, I’m willing to bet it can even win over some cranberry skeptics. At least it did at my house. 

piece of cranberry coffee cake with warm vanilla sauce on white plate

FAQs for Cranberry Coffee Cake:

Can I use another fruit besides cranberries?

You could try subbing blueberries or raspberries. Frozen fruit may work ok, too. Don’t thaw before using in the recipe.

Can I sub another nut for the pecans or leave them off?

You can definitely experiment. I’m normally not a fan of nuts in cake, but I love, love the crunch the toasty pecans give to this cake, so I encourage you to give it a try (unless you are working around a food allergy).

What can I sub for the buttermilk?

This cake is worth buying the real deal buttermilk for! If I don’t have buttermilk, I always sub in half sour cream, half milk.

Can I halve the recipe?

Yes. It should convert well to an 8X8- or 9X9-inch pan.

My cake wasn’t even close to being done after the time stated in the recipe. What gives?

The exact baking time depends on a lot of factors – every oven bakes a little different temperature-wise. Also, the type of pan makes a difference, too. Glass pans might take longer. Conversely, dark coated pans may bake faster). If using a glass or dark coated pan, I suggest turning the oven temp down to 325 degrees.

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Cranberry Coffee Cake with Warm Vanilla Sauce

Yield: 12-15 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 25 minutes
piece of cranberry coffee cake with warm vanilla sauce on white plate

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces, 8 tablespoons) butter, softened (I use salted)
  • 1 1/2 cups (11.25 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups (12 ounces) fresh cranberries (see note)
  • 1/4 cup (1.75 ounces) brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) chopped pecans

Warm Vanilla Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces, 8 tablespoons) butter
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup (7.5 ounces) lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9X13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray (I use metal for more even baking; if using a glass pan, turn the oven down to 325 degrees F). You can also line the pan with parchment paper, optional.
  2. For the cake: in a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, granulated sugar, egg, buttermilk, baking soda, salt and flour. Mix until no dry streaks remain and dough is mostly combined. Add the cranberries and stir with a rubber spatula until evenly combined into the batter.
  3. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Sprinkle evenly with the brown sugar and pecans. Bake for 45-55 minutes until the cake is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with moist crumbs.
  4. For the sauce: combine the butter, cream and sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium until the mixture comes to a gentle simmer. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Keep warm. (Or refrigerate and warm later when serving.)
  5. Cut the cake in pieces and drizzle with warm vanilla sauce. It's also very delicious served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Notes

Cranberries: I haven't tried this recipe with frozen cranberries but I'm guessing it would work (don't thaw first). It will probably also transition really well to other fruits like blueberries or raspberries. The addition of a little fresh lemon zest in the batter would be delicious.

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Recipe Source: adapted from a recipe an Instagram reader sent me

Other Cranberry Recipes: