Cranberry-Cornmeal Jewel Cake

Watermarked Cranberry Cake with Border

I hope you are well and enjoying the days leading to Thanksgiving. The weather here in New England has felt like spring, so I admit I am having a bit of trouble with the idea that the holiday is just around the corner. Still, I look forward to it immensely.

 Thanksgiving is a simple but joyous affair at our house—we roast a traditional turkey, cream potatoes, sauté brussels sprouts, create cranberry sauce and pies—while we relax together as a family. The celebration is especially sweet for us because it was nine years ago at Thanksgiving that we arrived home from China with our daughter Isabel. All bundled up in a blue fleece jacket covered with crescent moons and silver stars, she emerged from the airplane in Burlington, Vermont to catch her first snow flake—a moment for which we will forever give thanks.

As fun as Thanksgiving always is, it can also be filled with anxiety. Meal preparations, entertaining guests, traveling, family quarrels—they are all a part of the day. No matter how much we try to focus on the positive sometimes dark feelings get in the way. I don't have any grand recipe for how to deal with the pressures of the holiday, we each have to find our own way in that regard. For myself, I have tried to be more accepting of the mix of the occasion, even the parts I would prefer to avoid. And I like to make something simple and new every year to add to our traditional menus. This Cranberry-Cornmeal Jewel Cake is my addition to the holidays this year. Crimson cranberries, freshly grown in Vermont, sweetened with crystallized ginger sit atop a moist, whole grain cake that is equally delicious for dessert or breakfast. Serve it to make any meal a celebration.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

I look forward to seeing you in my kitchen, gathering flavors, soon. 



Yield: One 8-inch Round Cake, About 8 Servings

Ingredients and Equipment:

  •  8-inch spring-form pan, lined with aluminum foil on the outside

For the topping:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 ½ cup fresh cranberries, rinsed
  • ½ cup crystallized ginger, slivered

For the batter:

  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup whole yellow cornmeal, preferably stone ground
  • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour or,
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour and
  •                ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 and ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice


  1. Combine the buttermilk and cornmeal in a small bowl. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
  2.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. To prepare the topping: Melt the 4 tablespoons butter and pour it into your prepared spring-form pan. (It is essential to wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil so the ingredients do not leak out the bottom while baking.) Using a pastry brush, brush the butter evenly along the bottom and the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with the brown sugar and top with cranberries and slivered crystallized ginger. Set aside.
  4. To prepare and bake the cake: Whisk together the flours, ground ginger, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Cream together the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the orange juice. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk/cornmeal mixture. Stir gently until everything is combined. Carefully spread the batter over the cranberries and ginger in the prepared pan.
  5. Bake until a toothpick inserted the the center of the cake comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes.
  6. Cool completely.
  7.  Remove the sides of the pan and invert the cake on to a serving platter.
  8. Enjoy.