Cranberry Apple Upside-Down Cake

A beautiful addition to your fall spread, this simple cranberry apple upside-down cake is full of flavor. Inspired by my pineapple upside down cake recipe, this version is complete with a brown sugar butter glaze, bright cranberries, apples, and a moist cinnamon spice cake.

cranberry apple upside down cake on a white plate

Who needs frosting on top of their cake when you’ve got a mix of buttery brown sugar glaze, sweet apples, and tart cranberries.

slice of cranberry apple upside down cake on a white plate

Surely you’re familiar with the classic pineapple upside-down cake, right? It’s our Easter tradition.

What you may not know is that nearly any fruit can be apart of this upside down cake business. I’ve done it with sliced fresh peaches + raspberries, sliced pears, and I’ve done it with apples before too. Pineapple may be my favorite upside-down cake variety, but I’m mad about apple upside-down cake this time of year.

Adding a pop of cranberry for color and taste is a welcomed upgrade.

cranberries in a measuring cup on a white cutting board

cranberries and apples with butter and brown sugar topping in a glass baking dish

This recipe begins the way all luscious desserts do: butter. Butter is melted down with brown sugar and poured over apple slices and cranberries. Don’t be shy with the fruit – the topping is what gives this cake major mass appeal. When I make this cake again closer to Thanksgiving, I’ll add more cranberries. (I note that in the recipe below.)

On top of this goodness, you’ll pour in the cake batter. I essentially use the same cake batter used for my older apple upside-down cake recipe. It’s so simple. The only things I changed are (1) whipping the egg whites to get that glorious silky soft cakey texture, (2) varying amounts of spices, and (3) buttermilk. My secret weapon in moist cake making.

A classic method for baking upside-down cake is baking the upside-down cake in a cast iron skillet. Cast iron skillets are fantastic for upside-down cakes because the batter cooks a little more evenly, while developing a perfect crust on the top (which then becomes the bottom) and outside edges. You can absolutely do that with this cranberry apple upside-down cake recipe. How many times in 1 paragraph can I type upside-down?

Inverting the cake? How do I do this?

Inverting the cake is easy. But there’s a trick. Hot from the oven, the fruit layer is still too juicy and fluid for flipping. It will slip n’ slide unevenly over the cake layer. Not attractive. And if the cake cools for too long, the fruit will stick to the pan creating a cake without much of a grand presentation. The trick is cooling the cake for exactly 10 minutes. Set your timer. Ten minutes is long enough to allow the fruit topping to firm up and adhere to the cake, but also short enough to allow the cake to easily release from the pan. The brown sugary, glistening topping will be right where it should be.

cranberry apple upside down cake on a white plate

Tender, moist, festive, and bright – you will love this harvest-inspired cake recipe! Each bite explodes with cinnamon, a little ginger, lots of brown sugar, tasty apple, juicy cranberry, and buttery flavors. You get more topping than cake, which – let’s not kid ourselves – is the #1 reason to make it.

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slice of cranberry apple upside down cake on a white plate

Cranberry Apple Upside-Down Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
  • Yield: serves 8-10
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

A beautiful addition to your fall spread, this simple cranberry apple upside-down cake is full of flavor. Complete with a brown sugar butter glaze, bright cranberries, apples, and a moist cinnamon spice cake.


Ingredients

Topping

  • 6 Tablespoons (90g) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced*
  • 1 heaping cup (130g) fresh or frozen cranberries*

Cake

  • 1/2 cup (115gunsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature and separated
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (188g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) buttermilk*

Instructions

  1. Lightly spray a 9-inch pie dish with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside. Make sure your apples are sliced and ready to go.
  2. For the topping: In a small saucepan, melt butter on low heat. When it begins to bubble, whisk in the brown sugar. Continue to stir until smooth. Then, leave on heat for about 2 minutes until it begins to bubble. Stir, then remove from heat and allow to briefly cool for a couple minutes. Layer the sliced apples and cranberries into the dish and pour the butter/sugar overtop. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 325°F (163°C).
  4. Make the cake: In a medium bowl, toss the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger together until combined. Set aside.
  5. Using a handheld or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high until creamy – about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat on medium-high speed until creamed together, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla on medium speed until everything is combined, about 2 full minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and mixing each addition just until incorporated. Do not overmix. Whisk or beat the 2 egg whites until thick and foamy, about 3 minutes. Fold into cake batter. The batter will be smooth, velvety, and thick.
  6. Spoon or pour batter over the apples/cranberries and bake for 40-44 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the very middle comes out clean. Allow to cool for exactly ten minutes before inverting onto a large serving dish or cake stand. Serve warm or at room temperature. I prefer it at room temperature. Leftovers keep well covered tightly at room temperature or in the refrigerator for 2 days.

Notes

  1. Apples: Use your favorite variety of apple. I tested this recipe once with Granny Smith and once more with Honeycrisp. Loved them both.
  2. Cranberries: Somewhere between 1 cup – 1 and 1/4 cups cranberries is good.
  3. Buttermilk: You can substitute whole milk for buttermilk if desired. You could also use lower fat or nondairy milk in a pinch, but the cake won’t taste as rich and moist.

Keywords: cranberry apple upside down cake, cranberry apple cake

36 Comments

  1. This looks fabulous! Is there a particular kind of apple that works better with this recipe? (I usually bake with Granny Smith apples, but was wondering about how well the tartness of a Granny Smith would pair with the tart cranberries?)
    Thanks!

    1. I tested this recipe with granny smiths, actually, and I loved it. The brown sugar in the topping takes care of any tartness. I also love this with honeycrisp apples and just tried it with fuji apples too.

  2. When I saw this cake on friday i immediately knew I had to make it – your pics are awesome!
    So I bought some cranberries (for the first time – surprised my local supermarket had them in store) and baked it today 😀
    My brown sugar/butter mixture was way lighter than yours, probably because i cant get brown sugar here and have to mix it myself, but the cake was super easy to make and turned out beautifully ;D
    We devoured one half today and I’m really looking forward to eating another slice tomorrow!

  3. I made this on Saturday and it turned out soooo good!! I was worried about the tartness of the cranberries but they were wonderful with the apples (I used a honeycrisp!) I am seriously addicted to your blog, everything I have tried has turned out delicious 🙂 I was bummed when I saw on Saturday at 3:30 you were at King of Prussia!! I’m a half hour from there and I would have loved to be there. Next time!! Thank you for all the wonderful recipes!

  4. Krystal-Kay Hawkins says:

    Oh my YUM!!! I loved the spice in the cake base and the fall fruit was the perfect pairing – made it last night & it’s gone. My hubby had a piece for breakfast and my daughter took a piece in her lunch. Love all of your recipes, have a blessed Thanksgiving:)

  5. What a great looking upside down cake. The 10 minute trick…genius! I just took it out of the oven and it is PERFECT….it will be a fabulous addition to our Thanksgiving dinner. THANK YOU!

  6. Thank you for posting this, Sally! I love your blog– it’s my go-to for desserts. I just made this for Christmas, but I’m currently studying in Germany where red currants are everywhere so I subbed them for the cranberries. Sooo delicious! Great recipe! Happy holidays 🙂

  7. Making it now. It smells wonderful. I like that it is a spice cake as well as an upside-down cake. Thanks for the recipe!

  8. If you use frozen cranberries do they need to be thawed beforehand? Does it make any difference to the baking time?

    1. Do not thaw.

  9. Made this yesterday as a “trial run” for Thanksgiving (aka a good reason for me to eat cake] and it was DELICIOUS! I’ll try it with chopped walnuts in the apple/cranberry glaze next time! 5 stars!

  10. This cake is delicious. I made this for a holiday party and it was gone. I used a flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax mixed with 3 tablespoons of warm water) for each regular egg. I only had an 8 inch round pan so I used that and reduced the cooking time. Because my pan was smaller, I had a little leftover batter so I used it to make four cupcakes. Next time I will use more apple slices and use all the batter in the cake pan to get a better cake to topping ratio. I will definitely make this again. It was even better the next day warmed up and topped with vanilla ice cream!

  11. I made this today, was worth the extra effort! Thanks for all the tips! 
    -Kate 

  12. Made a gluten free version for Christmas! It turned out so good! I just substituted equal amounts of brown rice and oat flour for the regular flour also added 1 cup of walnuts and a Tbsp of orange zest.
    It did have to bake for closer to 65 min but turned out totally delicious! Needed a little salt though and was way easier to cut after it had been refrigerated. Thanks for the recipe!

  13. Lori Erokan says:

    Sally, this recipe has been on my computer desktop for two years. Today I looked at the title, remembered that I have some frozen crannies in the freezer and decided to make it. It’s in the oven now, and I can tell it will be excellent. But a question on procedure: when I melted the butter and added the brown sugar, everything went according to your instructions. I let the sweet goo cool for “a few minutes,” which in my case was three minutes. But by then, it was on its way to being candy: the butter stuff had separated, and the brown sugar stuff was clumped together. I couldn’t figure out how to “pour” it over the apples and cranberries. I heated it up again, and that helped, but it wasn’t as smooth as the first time. In the end, I just dumped bits and kinda smooshed it down, but it wasn’t anything that could have been poured. Suggestions? What did I do wrong? I don’t think it really matters, because with the cake batter on top, it will all bake together, but I’d like to do it the right way next time. Thanks for any advice, and thanks for sharing what smells like a great cake!

    1. It hardly matters at all– while the cake bakes, it will all heat up and become this syrup-y topping. I hope you enjoy it!

  14. Well, I finally decided to try this scrumptious sounding cake. It’s in the oven as I am typing and smells wonderful. One thing I’m concerned about is the size of the pan. 9″ seems awfully small for such a large amount of ingredients. The apple sliced down to about 1-1/2 layers so it might have been a touch large but after the layer of cranberries was put down and then the batter, there was an avalanche of cake. Shouldn’t this be prepared in a deep dish? Anyway, I’ll let you all know how it turns out.
    Thanks for sharing, Sally!

    1. Hi Nann! My regular 9-inch pie dish seems to be sufficient for it 🙂 Hope you enjoy the cake!

  15. Sheila Calnan says:

    Another success. The only thing I changed, was I added some pear slices. These were canned raw in apple juice a couple of months ago, so they were still crisp, not mushy. One of the guys who had a piece, loved it. He kept telling everybody, that they had to try it. Again, Sally, thank you for a wonderful recipe.

    1. Had leftover pears and cranberries from my cranberry pear crumble pie yesterday and decided to make this! Sliced the pears and they held up shape pretty well and didn’t become mushy. Also the batter was very thick and could only be scooped. I figured that was normal because the fruits would provide a lot more moisture to the cake after baking. So delicious!

  16. Can I use a 9 inch spring form pan instead of a 9 inch pie dish for the Cranberry Apple Upside-Down Cake?

    1. Hi Scott! I don’t suggest it. The topping may seep out any cracks or crevices of the springform pan.

  17. Bridget Willis says:

    Killer recipe. I baked it in a cast iron skillet. While mixing the batter, and smelling that wonderful spice aroma, I knew this was not going to disappoint. I only wish I could score some more fresh cranberries to make it again. I did add more milk to the batter as it was too thick.

  18. I’m not a good piebaker, found out halfway that my piedish was 11 inch, but continued anyway. I love how you describe everything very clear, even the settings of the mixer to guide me through the recipe.
    The cake came out good, looks like your picture and smelled great. Instead of the spices you mentioned I used a spice mix for ‘speculaas’. It is a dutch cookie with ginger, cloves, cinamon, allspice, cardemom etc. Smells so good!

    1. Those spices sound delicious, Ingrid! I’m thrilled that this turned out well for you!

  19. Hi, Sally, I’m just wondering if it would be possible for me to make this with dried cranberries instead of fresh ones? I have a huge bag that I’m trying to get rid of

    1. Yes, definitely!

  20. I made this without cranberries and it was really good. I made it gluten free and cake turned out on the firm side. Like a short bread cookie cake?. Everyone loves it, so woo hoo.

  21. I tried this out for a Christmas party tonight. I had brown butter around and used it in the cake which made it a little more like a gingerbread cake thanks to the spices and dark color. Baked it in a 10″ cast iron pan. Everyone loved it. Being we are in Ireland I served it with a vanilla custard sauce which is typical with most desserts and it was particularly nice.
    Thanks for the lovely recipe.

    1. I bet this was delicious with brown butter! I’m so glad it was a hit!

  22. I have been looking for an upside-down pear cake recipe. Can I use this recipe and swap out the apples and cranberries and use two pears instead?

    Thank you!

    1. Definitely! Or, if you like gingerbread, I’d highly recommend my Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread Cake. Enjoy!

  23. Did anybody else have problems with it coming out undercooked? I mean WAAAAAYYYY undercooked. My oven temp was good — in fact, it runs a little hot. When I took it out after 44 minutes, only the outside 1.5″ were “cake”. The rest was still raw batter. When I took the toothpick out of the center, it WAS “clean” but it was wettish. It made me nervous but since it was at the max end of cooking time and it was clean, I took it out. After turning out at 10 minutes and cutting a couple slices at about 35 minutes (the warm batter was delicious ;-)), I’ve put it back in the oven, fruit side up, on a sheet pan with foil over it. After 20 minutes, it was down to only the center 1.5″ still being batter, so I’m baking it for 10 minutes more and calling it done. Any thoughts?

    1. Yes, I made this recipe three times, and baked it for hours each time. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. My family adores this cake but I’m always worried I’ll give raw eggs and flour. Last night I baked for 1.5 hours and I felt it wasn’t even warm in the center. So this AM I’m baking it again… Not sure how that will go. A big caveat, for me, is that we just moved and our oven may be problematic. Given all the comments above I think the container and oven matter and that’s were I’m going wrong. Am baking it in a ring – cake thingy with parchment paper to make sure the buttery juices stay inside.

  24. Bridget Martell says:

    Is this recipe accidentally missing salt? Most cakes include salt as a flavor enhancer. I added 1/2 tsp. Otherwise recipe straightforward and final result delicious

  25. Caroline Taheri says:

    What a fantastic recipe. This was my first time making any kind of upside down cake, and the technique is fascinating. I have made this twice now (in 1 week…) with exceptionally great results!! I did find the ingredients as written to be a bit much for my 9 inch cast iron pan, but I made it a second time and cut the cake ingredients in half (and increased the fruit). With a few other tweaks.. I made it gluten-free using namaste gluten-free flour mix, and substituted 1/4 cup almond flour. Added 1/2t xanthan gum as well. I used 2 large granny Smith apples and 1.5c cranberries. I heat up the pan on stovetop a bit after I have the fruit layered in, until I get the cake batter whipped up. I ensured entire cake was over 205 degrees before removing it from the oven. The 10 minute wait time to invert is spot on!! This recipe is a keeper!! Thanks, Sally for another great recipe!

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