Pumpkin Cranberry Mini Cakes celebrate two of the season’s best flavors. Cream cheese frosting balances tart cranberry filling sandwiched between layers of pumpkin sponge.
Even though the first day of fall was in September, it feels like it’s only just arrived here in East Tennessee. There’s a snap in the air and the trees are finally showing their colors. I see geese flying south almost daily, and their path seems to navigate right over our backyard. I’ve seen and felt all of these things before, but each year it feels new. Funny, isn’t it?
All of this has urged me to start holiday baking in earnest. I’ve been piecing together flavors for new recipes with autumn appeal. This recipe started out as an idea for petit fours, but as the build progressed it was clear they were meant to be a bit larger.
Setting the scene.
Before I get into the cake, I wanted to share this little table. My bestie and I set up an autumn-themed tablescape just outside my back door. The more we arranged the more I began to consider it a trial run for this year’s Thanksgiving table. My set of vintage Noritake china with persimmon-hued flowers seemed just right, and they inspired the decors for the mini cakes.
Begin this recipe with an easy pumpkin sponge baked in a sheet pan. It’s a tasty base that can easily support layers of filling. Then spread on a layer of cranberry filling. This is simply made from a can of organic whole berry cranberry sauce.
Next, the cream cheese filling. Spiced pumpkin sponge and cream cheese were made for each other, if you ask me. (See My Favorite Pumpkin Roll Recipe for more on this.) This layer also balances out the tartness of the cranberry.
Trim the edges of the cake to neaten them using a large serrated knife. Then top the whole thing with a layer of marzipan. This is a classic element in most petit fours recipes, and it tastes great!
Using that same large serrated knife you used to neaten the edges, cut the cake into pieces. I have a kitchen-dedicated ruler that really helps to make even portions. You can see this in action in the video at the end of this post.
After all the cakes are cut, cover them in a thick confectioners’ glaze made of powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. This is a much easier topping to make than poured fondant, and it dries to a satin finish. The coating doesn’t need to cover the entire cake. An asymmetrical drape will give enough coverage while still showing off those delicious layers.
Small flowers can be fashioned by using leftover marzipan. I wanted to match the little flowers on the Noritake china on the table, so I tinted them an orangey-persimmon hue.
Gold dragees in the centers of each flower gives them a little sparkle as a finishing touch.
The cakes were really beautiful on the table. Petite but not too small. And you can’t get any more season appropriate than Pumpkin & Cranberry, right?
These Pumpkin Cranberry Mini Cakes require a little planning and effort, especially if you make the decors on top. But they are well worth the effort. The recipe provided yields 20 mini cakes, but it can be halved to feed a smaller crowd.
Pumpkin Cranberry Mini Cakes
- 15×10 jelly roll pan
- large serrated knife
- small flower fondant plunger cutter
- small leaf fondant plunger cutter
- fluted pointed star fondant tool
- food tweezers
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup canned pumpkin
- 14 oz. canned organic whole cranberry sauce
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest from one large naval orange
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon orange liqueur such as Cointreau
Cream cheese filling
- 1 pkg. 8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar sifted
- 6 tablespoons butter softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 lb. prepared marzipan
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 4 tablespoons milk or cream plus more if needed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Copper brown gel food color
- Moss green gel food color
- Gold sugar pearls
Pumpkin sponge cakes
- Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan; line with parchment paper, or spray with flour-based baking spray. Cover a large work surface with parchment paper and lightly dust with powdered sugar.
- Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in small bowl. Beat eggs and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until thick and pale. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into prepared pan.
- Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. (If using a dark-colored pan, begin checking for doneness at 11 minutes.) Immediately loosen and turn cake onto the prepared parchment paper. Remove parchment paper that lined the pan from the cake, if necessary.
- Bake the sponge recipe twice so that you have two 15×10 sheets of pumpkin sponge.
- Place the cranberry sauce in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir until the mixture begins to steam. Stir in the orange zest. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture right in the saucepan to a smooth puree. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, cool mixture and transfer to a blender pitcher to puree. Then return it to the saucepan and re-heat.)
- In a small bowl, stir together the water and cornstarch to make a slurry. Add the mixture to the hot cranberry puree while whisking, and stir until thickened, 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat an let cool. Add the orange liqueur and refrigerate until completely cool.
Cream cheese filling
- Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl until smooth.
- Scrape down the bowl and mix again until light and fluffy
- Cut one of the pumpkin sponge cakes into thirds that you have three 10×5-inch long pieces. Spread one of the cake layers evenly with the cranberry filling. Top with a second sponge. Spread a layer of cream cheese filling on top of the second sponge evenly. Top with the third layer of sponge. Refrigerate the cake until firm, about 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, roll out half of the marzipan to slightly less than 1/4-inch thickness. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and brush the top with water (I used a kitchen-dedicated spray bottle to mist it). Place the marzipan on top of the cake and trim away the excess so that the marzipan fits the top of the cake exactly. Save marzipan scraps. Refrigerate again for 15 minutes.
- Repeat the entire process of filling, covering, and chilling the second pumpkin sponge.
- Remove the cakes from the refrigerator and score the marzipan down the center length of the cake using a serrated knife. Score width-wise every two inches so that you have 10 mini cakes portioned. Using gently sawing motions, cut the cakes at their score marks. Repeat the process with the second assembled cake so that you have 20 mini cakes.
- In a small bowl, stir together the powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons milk or cream, and vanilla extract. Whisk until thick glaze forms. Add a more milk or cream if needed. The mixture should be so thick that it holds in the balloon of a whisk, and slowly pours back into the bowl in an opaque ribbon. Pour a spoonful of glaze over each cake, gently nudging the glaze over the sides of the cake with the back of a spoon. Let the cakes stand until the glaze is firm, about 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, tint a 2 oz. ball of marzipan with the copper brown gel food color. Knead well until a consistent hue is achieved. Repeat the process with another 2 oz. ball of marzipan and the moss green food color. If the marzipan is sticky, knead in a little confectioners’ sugar.
- Roll out each piece of marzipan and stamp small flower shapes from the copper marzipan using the flower plunger cutter. Gently shape them using a fluted, pointed star fondant tool. Use the small leaf plunger cutter to stamp shapes from the moss green marzipan. A leaf veiner can be used to create leaf impressions in the marzipan, if desired.
- When the mini cakes are firm, arrange flowers and leaves on top of each cake. When they are arranged correctly, use dot of leftover glaze to adhere them to the tops of the cakes (or you could use a water dampened art brush). Using cake decorator’s tweezers, press gold sugar pearls into the centers of each cake.
- Place cakes in a large cake box or in a baking pan that is taller than the cakes’ height. Store loosely covered in plastic wrap in the refrigerator (an airtight container will cause the glaze to wrinkle – avoid this). Allow cakes to stand at room temperature for a few minutes before serving. This knocks a little of the chill off and the flavors will be well developed.