Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
The holidays are always hectic at our house, so I’ve already started baking for them. This pretty cranberry cake is one of the first things I made. It’s perfect for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, can be served with coffee, at brunch or dinner, made in small sizes to give as gifts, and, best of all, it can sit contentedly in the freezer for up to two months.
The cake is moist and not-too-sweet, with a tight crumb and a mild vanilla-orange flavor that provides a nice background for the tart cranberries. When served, each slice discloses a scatter of red berries against a white background. Overall, it makes a very pleasing impression.
Though the recipe is quite straightforward, its success depends on bringing the ingredients to room temperature before starting, measuring them precisely and mixing the batter according to the directions.
Cranberry bundt cake
Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and above
Make in an 8-cup Bundt pan or four 2-cup baby Bundt pans
2 cups bleached flour (8 3/4 ounces), spoon and level to measure
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
A little less than 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs at room temperature
5 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
Grated zest of one orange
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons superfine sugar, preferably Baker’s
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons plain yogurt at room temperature
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup medium-chopped pecans
2 cups fresh cranberries, washed and picked over
3 tablespoons orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Triple Sec)
6 tablespoons lump-free confectioner’s sugar
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Generously spray your pan(s) with a vegetable oil-flour spray (cakes stick at high altitude, so use far more than you would at sea level). Be sure and spray the center tube of the pan as well as the sides. Spread the spray with a paper towel or your hand so all parts of the pan are well covered.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk vigorously to blend well and aerate. In another small bowl, whisk the two eggs until blended, but not frothy.
Cut the room temperature butter into pieces and place them in a large bowl with the grated orange zest. Beat with an electric mixer until combined and soft, about a minute. Beating at medium-high speed, take about three minutes to add the sugar, two tablespoons at a time. Next, dribble in the eggs, one tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat for two more minutes.
Add one-third of the flour mixture, and, on low speed, mix it in. Add half of the yogurt and beat in on medium speed. Return to low speed and mix in half of the rest of the flour. On medium speed, beat in the remaining yogurt and the vanilla. By hand, with a rubber or silicone spatula, gently mix in the rest of the flour. Stir in the chopped pecans and cranberries, distributing them evenly throughout the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s), filling them just more than half full. Place them directly on the oven rack (you want air to circulate up the pan’s center tube) and bake until a tester inserted in several places near the cake’s center comes out clean and dry. The top will only color slightly. Cakes in the two-cup pans usually bake in 25-30 minutes, and those in an eight-cup pan take from 40-45 minutes.
Cool each cake for 10-15 minutes on a rack. While it cools, make the glaze: combine the sugar and liqueur until well blended. Invert the cake and carefully remove the pan. Gently brush the glaze over the top and sides of the cake; plan to use it all but stop before the cake gets soggy. Let the glazed cake cool completely and then wrap and store it. The cake is best a day or two after it’s made, when the flavors have developed. It can be stored at cool room temperature for three days, in the refrigerator for five days and frozen for up to two months. Serve at room temperature. Slice it with a serrated knife, using a gentle sawing motion.
This is a variation of a recipe from Alice Medrich.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.