Cranberry-Mandarin Orange Coffee Cake and Mother’s Day

What comes to your mind when Mother’s Day comes around?  I think of Coffee Cake…and my Mamma (of course)!  Growing up, my dad made it a point to make breakfast on Mother’s Day.  He helped out in the kitchen on a regular basis, but Mother’s Day was a special day when Mamma could sit back, relax, and put her feet up.  Though he wouldn’t always make coffee cake, the deliciously aromatic, warm, melt-in-your-mouth breakfast cake reminds me of Mamma.

Since this is a Mother’s Day post, let me mention a few things about my mom. I have been the recipient of the best motherly care I could ever imagine. Mamma held my hair when I was sick, she encouraged me to do my best in school, music, sports, and anything else that I set my mind to, she cheered me on when I ran my marathon, she supported me when I embarked on my 2-year Peace Corps stint, she was there hootin’ and hollerin’ when I got engaged and then married, she’s been a listening ear and shoulder to cry on, she’s been my prayer warrior through every walk of life, and she’s loved on me through thick and thin. And, she’s the one who got me into cooking and baking!

Me and my beautiful Mamma
Photo Credit: Dan Oksnevad Photography

So, Friends, lets get back to coffee cake!  I didn’t grow up eating cranberries–we didn’t have them in my part of Africa.  They have been an acquired taste for me because of how tart they are, but I’ve really come to love homemade cranberry sauce. So, I decided that I wanted to come up with a cranberry sauce coffee cake recipe! Whoever says that cranberries are meant for the fall and winter are just plain silly! If you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy this any time of the year (side note: fresh cranberries freeze really well! I buy several bags of fresh berries in the fall and stick them in the freezer to use for a rainy day)!

I have been experimenting with this particular recipe for a while now.  My parents were the first guinea pigs for round one.  I think this is round 4 or 5, and I’m excited to finally share it with you all.  It’s a delicious combination of vanilla coffee cake, tangy cranberry, and mandarin orange pizzazz (I grew up calling mandarin oranges “naartjies”—pronounced “notcheeze”! It’s the South African name for them. Mamma, having grown up there, taught us that when we were kids).

P.S. While I don’t have the privilege of being a mom (except to my adorable, stubborn, hilarious fur babies, Rayne and Mishka), I do have an amazing mother and mother-in-law, not to mention, a sister and 4 sisters-in-law who are all wonderful mamas to the cutest and sweetest nieces and nephews—19 and counting!!! So this is a shout-out to each of you!

My furry Loves, Rayne and Mishka

Happy Mother’s Day to all you Mamas out there!

Cranberry-Mandarin Orange Coffee Cake

**This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. **

Cranberry Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1 12 oz bag of fresh Cranberries
  • 1 cup Sugar (230 grams)
  • ½ cup Mandarin Orange Juice (about 4 large, squeezed)

Cake Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Sugar (230 grams)
  • ½ cup Butter, softened (113 grams)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 ½ cups Milk (360 mls/350 grams)
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 3 cups All-Purpose Flour (450 grams)
  • 2 TBSP Baking Powder (25 grams)
  • 1 ½ tsp Salt (10 grams)

Frosting Ingredients:

  • 1 oz Cream Cheese, softened
  • 4 TBSP Butter, softened
  • ⅛ cup Mandarin Orange Juice (about 1 large)
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • Zest of 1 mandarin orange
  • 2 cups Powdered Sugar


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small sauce pan, add the cranberries, 1 cup of sugar, and ½ cup of squeezed mandarin orange juice. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer on low for about 7 minutes. You want most of the cranberries to pop. Remove the pan from the heat, and let it start to cool down a little bit while you make the cake.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter until they’re smooth (I like to use a hand mixer for this part).  Add the 2 eggs, and beat it again for about a minute.  Add the milk and the vanilla extract.  I would recommend gently stirring this with a large spoon and not using the beaters—trust me when I say that milk will otherwise go flying, lol.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Sift it together well and then add it to the wet ingredients.  Using the spoon, gently stir it until it is a firm mixture.  At this point, I use the hand mixer again and whip it for about a minute until it’s nice and fluffy. 

Prepare your baking pan with grease and a light dusting of flour.  I used a bundt pan (see tips below for what I have found to be the best prep for a bundt pan). A greased 9×13 pan works great for this recipe as well.

**See my hints at the end of this blog post about successfully getting the cake out of the Bundt pan.

Pour the cake batter into the pan. Gently add the cranberry sauce.  You can also put half of the batter in the pan, pour the cranberry sauce over it, and cover the cranberries with the remaining batter.  Using a spoon, carefully fold and swirl the cranberry sauce down into the batter-try not to hit the sides or bottom of the pan when you’re swirling.

Place the cake in the preheated oven.

If you are baking in a bundt pan, it takes about 45-55 minutes.  If you are baking it in a 9×13 pan, it takes about 25-35 minutes.  Insert a knife into the center of the cake to check for doneness. 

Remove the cake from the oven when it’s fully cooked.  If you’re using a bundt pan, let it cool for about 15 minutes, and then place it in a steam bath for 5 minutes (**see tips below for more details).

Using a plastic knife or spatula, gently release any parts of the cake that are sticking to the top edges of the pan (you’ll especially find this where cranberry sauce has touched the sides and begins to caramelize). 

Flip the pan over onto a cooling rack, say a little prayer, and slowly lift the pan free.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll be doing a happy dance when it comes out clean (on the flip side, I’ve also shed a few tears when it’s stuck so badly that the whole thing fell apart)!

While the cake continues to cool, make the frosting by softening the butter and cream cheese.  Mix them with a fork.  Add the mandarin orange juice, vanilla, and zest.  Lastly, add the powdered sugar.  I like to mix it with a fork initially so that powdered sugar doesn’t go flying everywhere, but once it starts to incorporate, then I use the hand mixer to get a nice glossy, creamy, frosting.

Once the cake has cooled a bit, drizzle the frosting over it.  Garnish it with a few slices or shavings of orange peal. Cut it in slices, and enjoy with tea or coffee. 

**Bundt Pan Preparation:

I have a love-hate relationship with Bundt pans.  They are so pretty and can make such nice designs on cakes, but they are SO HARD to get out of the pan sometimes.  I have learned over time that the best way to get cakes to come out of a Bundt pan is to use a cooking brush and “paint” melted vegetable shortening (I use Crisco) into every nook and cranny of the pan.  Then, lightly sprinkle flour over the shortening to ensure that the cake doesn’t stick. 

After removing the cake from the oven, I let it sit on a wire rack for 15 minutes, at which time I put a couple inches of steaming hot water into the sink, wrap a towel ring in the center, and boil a kettle of water.  Once the water is boiling, carefully pour it onto the towel ring.  Place the Bundt pan on the towel ring and cover the sink with a tea towel.  Let the cake steam for 5 minutes.  I have also done this with a cooling rack instead of the towel, and it worked very well too.

I then turn the Bundt pan upside down onto a wire rack, hold my breath, and pray that it comes out clean.  This method has worked for me, and I hope it works for you too! There’s nothing more frustrating than slaving over a nice cake, only to have it break apart because it won’t come out of the pan.

And, Voila! HAPPY DANCE!!!!