This Orange Cranberry Cake is made with moist orange cake layers, a delicious orange buttercream frosting, a homemade cranberry filling and is topped with a smooth white chocolate ganache. The orange and cranberry go so well together and are a delicious balance of sweet and tart! It’s Christmas cake perfection!

This decorated Christmas tree cake is the perfect holiday dessert! It would be perfect for your Christmas Eve party or for Christmas Day! If you are looking for more Christmas dessert ideas, you will love my ice cream cake roll and hot fudge cake.

An orange cranberry cake with Christmas Trees piped on the sides of the cake.

Why This Recipe Works

  • True orange flavor. Using fresh orange juice and orange zest bring a delicious and true orange flavor to the cake layers. There isn’t any orange extract in this cake!
  • Extra moist cake layers. This Christmas tree cake recipe uses sour cream and vegetable oil in the cake layers which makes them extra moist! The fat in the sour cream adds moisture to the cake without providing too much liquid. The acidity of the sour cream also helps activate the baking powder which aids in the rising of the cake.
  • Perfectly sweetened cake layers. These cake layers have the perfect balance of sweetness! I didn’t want the cake layers to be overly sweet since we’d be adding the filling and the buttercream. The result is a delicately sweet cake with balanced flavor and sweetness throughout!
  • Delicate integration of cranberries. A trial of this cake had the cranberries baked into the orange cranberry cake, but the big chunks of cranberries weren’t ideal. The cranberry filling is smoother and less intrusive as far as the overall texture of the cake. You get the yummy cranberry and orange flavor, but without the random pockets of chunky cranberries.

Ingredient Notes

A hand holding up a slice of orange cranberry cake with a christmas tree decorated cake in the background.
  • Cranberries: You can use fresh or frozen cranberries for the cranberry filling.
  • Eggs: It’s key to use room temperature eggs in cake layers. This helps them incorporate into the cake better much better which also affects how the cake bakes!
  • Buttermilk: Using buttermilk in cake is a great source of fat as well as acid. The acidity in the buttermilk reacts with the baking powder which aids in a good rise. Be sure to use room temperature buttermilk.
  • Sour Cream: Same with the eggs and buttermilk be sure to use room temperature sour cream. I recommend full fat sour cream since higher fat content in cakes means a moister cake texture.
  • Vegetable Oil: Using vegetable oil in addition to the sour cream ensures that we have an extra moist cake!
  • Orange Juice: Use freshly squeezed orange juice for best flavor. Be sure to use room temperature orange juice. Having the wet ingredients be room temperature ensures they incorporate well into the cake batter.
  • Orange Zest: This really enhances the orange flavor in the cake.
  • Butter: For the orange buttercream, use slightly cold butter. This ensures that when it’s beaten it still holds and doesn’t get too warm and soft.
  • Green Gel Food Coloring: This is for the frosting Christmas trees as seen in the photos. The colors used are Wilton Leaf Green and Wilton Juniper Green.
  • White Icing Coloring: For the white chocolate ganache you can use white icing coloring to get a perfectly white ganache.
  • White Chocolate Baking Bar: Many brands have white chocolate bars that are a more off-white color. Try to find one that’s white as possible. This is also where the white icing coloring comes in handy!
A slice of orange cranberry layer cake decorated with green Christmas trees along the edges, on a white plate.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Make the orange cake layers following the instructions in the recipe card. Be sure to not over mix the batter when adding the dry ingredients to the wet.
  2. Remove the pans from the oven and when they have cooled enough to handle, flip the cakes out onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Using a serrated knife or cake leveler, cut the domed top off of each layer. This will ensure your cake is flat and even when assembled.
Three orange flavored cake rounds on a gray background.
  1. Make the cranberry orange filling. Cool completely before using in the cake assembly.
  2. Make the orange buttercream frosting. Use slightly cold butter and sifted powdered sugar for best results. Be sure to beat the butter, salt and orange zest until smooth and light in texture and color.
  3. Make the vanilla buttercream if you are going to be piping/decorating with the green Christmas trees (or another form of decoration).
  4. Make the white chocolate ganache. Be sure to constantly stir the cream on the stove. Pour the hot cream over the white chocolate and let it sit for a few minutes. This will ensure that the chocolate melts and will help prevent a gritty texture.
Three bowls of differing shades of green buttercream, for making christmas trees on a Christmas Tree Cake.
  1. Assemble the cake! Follow the detailed instructions in the recipe card. The order of assembly is cake layer, orange buttercream, a rim of piped orange buttercream filled with the cranberry orange filling, then repeat.
  1. Finish with the 3rd cake layer bottom side up. Frost a thin layer of orange buttercream around the entire cake, then freeze for 10-15 minutes. Pour the ganache on top of the cake and use an offset spatula to spread it until it slides down the sides of the cake. Store in the fridge until the ganache is set. Pipe the buttercream Christmas trees onto the sides. You can decorate the top with sugared cranberries as seen in the photos.

Recipe Tips

White chocolate ganache: White chocolate is yellowish when melted, so we added about 1/2 teaspoon of white icing coloring. If you don’t add the white icing coloring (which is optional) the outside will have a yellow tint to it.

Also, getting the white chocolate ganache to the right temperature is key to getting smooth sides on the cake. It should be pourable but not too warm or else it will fall right off the cake.

Having a cold cake will help when pouring the ganache on the cake.

The cranberry orange filling could be pureed in a food processor if you want it to be completely smooth.

The vanilla buttercream is for the Christmas tree decoration. If you don’t want to decorate the cake with the colored buttercream, you wouldn’t need to make the vanilla buttercream.

Piping Christmas trees on the cake: Get creative when piping the trees! To color our buttercream we used Wilton Leaf Green gel coloring for the brighter green, and Wilton Juniper Green gel coloring in different concentrations for the sage-colored and dark green trees. We used the Wilton 1M tip for the sage-green tree, Wilton 6B for the dark green trees, and Ateco 864 for the brighter green trees.

For coloring the buttercream for the trees we used white icing coloring and white icing coloring gel food coloring

Cake Baking Tips

Use room temperature wet ingredients. This helps them incorporate better into the cake batter, which also helps the cake bake more evenly.

Don’t over mix cake batter! When mixing the dry ingredients into the wet, don’t over mix! Mix until just combined. Over mixed cake batter produces a tougher cake texture.

Bake all cake layers together on the middle oven rack.

Make sure your oven is fully up to temperature by preheating it at least 30 minutes before you’ll need to bake. I would recommend using an oven thermometer to ensure your oven is at the right temperature. Some ovens can be off by a few degrees which could cause the cake to be under or over baked.

Make sure you are using baking powder that is up to date. Expired baking powder won’t always produce as good of a rise in the cake.

The cake layers are done when a toothpick stuck into the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs on it.

A slice of Christmas Tree Cake (Orange Cranberry Layer Cake) against a brown wooden background.

Make Ahead, Storing and Freezing

You can make elements of this cake ahead of time. Make the orange cake layers ahead of time and let them cool completely. Wrap each cake layer individually in plastic wrap and store them in the fridge for 1-2 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. If you are freezing the cake for longer than 1 week, wrap the plastic-wrapped cake layers in aluminum foil after being wrapped in plastic wrap.

Let the cakes sit at room temperature for one hour before assembling the cake.

The cranberry orange filling can be made a few days in advance and stored in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the cake.

The orange frosting and vanilla frosting can be made a few days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. A few hours before cake assembly, set the frosting out at room temperature. Once the frosting has softened, beat in a stand mixer until smooth and spreadable.

Store the orange buttercream frosting covered in the fridge for 1-2 days. Remove from the fridge when ready to use and beat with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy.

Store the completed Orange Cranberry Cake covered in the fridge for 3-4 days (due to the dairy in the frosting). To freeze completed cakes, flash freeze the completed cake in the fridge until the white chocolate ganache and the piped Christmas trees are completely set (about 40 minutes). You want to make sure the Christmas trees are frozen so they don’t get smudged when wrapping the cake.

Remove the cake from the freezer and double wrap it in plastic wrap. If freezing for longer than 1 week, add an additional layer of aluminum foil. Return to the freezer and freeze for up to 2 months. Remove from the freezer and store (still covered) in the fridge overnight. If you’ve piped the Christmas trees on the exterior of the cake and frozen it, I would recommend removing all the coverings so that if the cake gets thawed enough in the fridge that removing the wrappings doesn’t mess up the decorations. You can store the completely frosted and unwrapped frozen cake in a cake box in the fridge to prevent condensation as it thaws. The morning of, remove from the fridge and remove the wrappings (if you left it wrapped overnight). When the cake comes to room temperature, serve or return to the fridge, covered, until serving.

For more information on storing and freezing cakes, check out my How to Store and Freeze Cakes guide!

FAQs

How do you make orange flavored cake better?

The key to the delicious orange flavor in this cake is using freshly squeezed orange juice and orange zest. This provides a natural and true orange flavor. The zest is another key in getting a more prominent orange flavor in the cake layers.

What’s the difference between frosting and icing?

Frosting is made with butter and icing is made without butter.

What is ganache?

Ganache is a mixture of chocolate and cream. It’s known for its iconic silky smooth texture.

A slice of orange cranberry layered cake on a white plate with sugared cranberries scattered around the plate.

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A white chocolate orange cranberry cake with green Christmas trees piped along the side of the cake.
Print Review
5 from 2 votes

White Chocolate Orange Cranberry Cake

This orange cranberry cake is such a cute Christmas tree cake, perfect for the holiday season! Incredibly moist orange cake layers are topped with a fresh orange buttercream, homemade cranberry sauce, and then draped in a thick white chocolate ganache. Use some green frosting to pipe Christmas trees along the sides of the cake.
Prep Time: 2 hrs
Cook Time: 50 mins
Assembly Time: 1 hr 30 mins
Total Time: 4 hrs 20 mins
Servings: 12 servings

Ingredients
 

Orange Cake Layers

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 large eggs - at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk - at room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream - at room temperature, light or full fat is fine (although I lean towards full fat)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice - room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoon orange zest

Cranberry Orange Filling

  • 12 ounces cranberries - fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Orange Buttercream

  • 2 1/2 cups unsalted butter - slightly cold
  • 7 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • zest from 2 large oranges
  • 2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • pinch salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter - slightly cold
  • 5 cups powdered sugar - sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • green gel food coloring for trees - colors used in the photo are Wilton Leaf Green and Wilton Juniper Green

White Chocolate Ganache

  • 16 ounces white chocolate baking bar - chopped into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon white icing coloring - optional

Instructions
 

Orange Cake Layers

  • Preheat oven to 350° F and prepare three 8-inch round cake pans by spraying with non-stick spray, lining the bottom with parchment paper and spraying again with non-stick spray.
  • In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs, buttermilk, sour cream, vegetable oil, orange juice, vanilla and orange zest until the mixture is uniform.
  • With the mixer on low, carefully add half of the dry ingredients and mix for about 30 seconds, until it’s mostly combined. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix just until no dry streaks remain. Don't over mix.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans and bake for 23-27 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake layer comes out with just a couple moist crumbs stuck to it.
  • Remove the pans from the oven and when they have cooled enough to handle, flip the cakes out onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Using a serrated knife or cake leveler, cut the domed top off of each layer. This will ensure your cake is flat and even when assembled.
  • If making the cakes ahead of time, wrap each layer in plastic wrap and freeze for up to four weeks. Let the cakes sit at room temperature until one hour before assembling the cake.

Cranberry Orange Filling

  • In a medium sauce pan, combine all ingredients and cook at medium heat, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves, the cranberries burst, and the sauce thickens (about 10 minutes).
  • Cool completely before using in the cake assembly. This filling can be made a few days in advance and stored in the fridge until you're ready to assemble the cake.

Orange Buttercream

  • Beat butter, salt, and orange zest until smooth and light in texture and color.
  • Sift 3 cups of powdered sugar into the butter mixture and mix well, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. 
  • Add 2 tablespoons of orange juice and the rest of the powdered sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes. 
  • Add 1 tablespoon of heavy cream and beat for about a minute. Add more heavy cream if the frosting is too thick to spread at room temperature.
  • The frosting can be made a few days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. A few hours before cake assembly set the frosting out at room temperature. Once the frosting has softened, beat in a stand mixer until smooth and spreadable.

Vanilla Buttercream

  • Beat butter and salt together until smooth and light in texture and color.
  • Add the sifted powdered sugar, a couple cups at a time, adding cream between additions to keep the frosting from getting too thick.
  • Beat for 2-3 minutes once all ingredients are added.
  • Divide frosting into different bowls and mix in coloring as desired. (The green colors used in the photos are Wilton Leaf Green and Wilton Juniper Green).
  • The frosting can be made a few days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. A few hours before cake assembly set the frosting out at room temperature. Once the frosting has softened, beat in a stand mixer until smooth and spreadable.

White Chocolate Ganache

  • In a saucepan on the stovetop or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave, warm the cream until it starts to simmer. Be sure to stir constantly if using the stovetop. 
  • Pour the hot cream over the white chocolate and let sit for a couple minutes. Stir until completely smooth.
  • Add a few drops of white icing coloring and stir. Add more coloring until desired whiteness is reached.
  • Set aside and let cool to room temperature. (You don't want to pour hot ganache over top of the cake otherwise it will just run off the sides. The ganache should be around room temperature. See notes).

Assembly

  • Put a small dollop of buttercream on a cake board and place the first layer of cake on the board.
  • Spread a thin layer of orange buttercream over the top of the cake layer, then pipe a rim of buttercream around the edge. Add about 2/3 cup of cranberry orange filling and spread to the inside edge of the rim of buttercream. Place the next cake layer on top of the buttercream rim and filling. Repeat this process and place the third cake layer, flat side up, on the top of the cake.
  • Apply a thin layer of orange buttercream over the entire cake and freeze for about 10-15 minutes, until the buttercream is firm.
  • Once the buttercream is firm, pour the room temperature white chocolate ganache over the top of the cake and use an offset spatula to spread it until it cascades down the sides. Use a cake scraper to smooth the ganache on the sides of the cake until the sides are completely covered in ganache. You may have to add ganache directly to the sides of the cake if there are spots that didn’t get covered initially.
  • Refrigerate until the ganache is firm.
  • Using the colored vanilla buttercream, pipe trees onto the sides of the cake and decorate as desired. (The photos you see on saltandbaker.com show sugared cranberries lined along the top rim of the cake. To do this, just toss fresh cranberries in some granulated sugar. That's it!)

Notes

  • White chocolate is yellowish when melted, so we added about 1/2 teaspoon of white icing coloring. If you don’t add the white icing coloring (which is optional) the outside will have a yellow tint to it.
  • The cranberry orange filling could be pureed in a food processor if a completely smooth texture is desired.
  • The vanilla buttercream is only needed for decoration, so it can be omitted if you don’t want to do decorate the cake with colored buttercream.
  • Getting the white chocolate ganache to the right temperature is key to getting smooth sides on the cake. It should be pourable but not too warm. Having a cold cake will also help the ganache set nicely.
  • For coloring the buttercream for the trees we used white icing coloring and white icing coloring gel food coloring
  • Get creative when piping the trees! To color our buttercream we used Wilton Leaf Green gel coloring for the brighter green, and Wilton Juniper Green gel coloring in different concentrations for the sage-colored and dark green trees. We used the Wilton 1M tip for the sage-green tree, Wilton 6B for the dark green trees, and Ateco 864 for the brighter green trees.
The nutritional information is just an estimate. Do note, that it calculates every last drop of ingredients. Some of the white chocolate ganache runs off (and you don’t need all of it), same goes for some of the buttercream. So keep that in mind!

Nutrition

Calories: 1693kcal (85%)Carbohydrates: 229g (76%)Protein: 10g (20%)Fat: 85g (131%)Saturated Fat: 53g (265%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 4gMonounsaturated Fat: 23gTrans Fat: 2gCholesterol: 280mg (93%)Sodium: 303mg (13%)Potassium: 410mg (12%)Fiber: 3g (12%)Sugar: 199g (221%)Vitamin A: 2429IU (49%)Vitamin C: 16mg (19%)Calcium: 205mg (21%)Iron: 2mg (11%)
Course: Christmas, Dessert
Cuisine: American
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