Bake up a delicious loaf of cranberry orange bread for the holidays! The tart berries in the citrusy batter make for juicy fruit bites in each slice. Perfect for breakfast, dessert, or as an edible gift.
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When fresh cranberries appear in the market, be sure to grab a bag to make this fall-inspired quick bread. The tart berries have a unique taste, but when paired with citrus, it’s a winning combination. Warm slices of bread are perfect with a cup of coffee or tea in the morning or an easy dessert to share.
This recipe couldn’t get any easier! I bake whole berries in an orange-scented batter. When they pop, they release their juices that then infuse into the bread. I use two types of leavening agents. The extra lift ensures a perfectly domed top. Plus, I have a stunning orange glaze to drizzle over the loaf.
I use whole fresh cranberries to make this quick bread recipe. They appear at the market around mid-October. Alternatively, you can use frozen cranberries. There is no need to defrost them, but you may need a longer bake time. You can also use dried cranberries, but reduce the amount by 25%.
They are typically sweetened, so the flavor will not be as tart. I like to soak them in hot water for at least 5 minutes to rehydrate and become nice and plump. You could also use orange juice or liquor like Grand Marnier to add more flavor, let them soak longer, about 20 minutes.
I use a metal 9×5-inch loaf pan for baking. This type of material heats up quickly but doesn’t retain heat very long after removing it from the oven. This is okay because we don’t rely on carryover cooking to complete baking. You can use a glass pan, but it takes longer to heat up and may need a slightly longer bake time. Don’t forget to grease the pan with baking spray, so removing the loaf later is easy.
Ingredients for a moist texture
The proper flour, sweetener, and fat ratio are critical to making a tender and moist cranberry orange bread. All-purpose flour is moderate in protein level so that it’s soft but sliceable. If you want a healthier option, you could use white whole wheat flour like these cranberry muffins.
I use a combination of granulated sugar and light brown sugar for a hint of molasses. This mix helps to balance the tartness of the berries. The sweetener absorbs some moisture from the ingredients, helping to reduce the amount of gluten-formation, making the bread texture tough. Vegetable oil is neutral in flavor and helps to coat the proteins in the flour for tender bites. Sour cream adds additional fat to the batter and acidity to react with the baking soda to leaven the batter.
Enhance the flavor of the bread
To make the citrus flavor pop, use the zest and juice of an orange. You can also use store-bought orange juice, but I wouldn’t skip the zest. It contains citrus oil that adds a lingering aroma and flavor. Ground cinnamon provides a warm spice taste and makes your house smell fragrant. Vanilla extract rounds out the baked notes in the batter and adds dimension.
The key to a domed loaf
A trio of leaving agents gives a nicely risin surface. Baking soda and baking powder are used in equal amounts to create carbon dioxide bubbles. This process starts once the dry ingredients mix with the wet and continue as the batter heats up and traps the air for the sought-out dome shape.
Eggs are also suitable for trapping air when whipped, emulsifying the mixture, and the proteins help to bind the ingredients together. It’s best to use room-temperature eggs because it’s very viscous, making them easier to incorporate.
Make the batter
Mix the dry ingredients like flour, leavening agents, and spices in a separate bowl. The particles are delicate, ensuring even distribution throughout the batter without worrying about overmixing later. Whisk the sugars and eggs together to dissolve the granules and whip in some air.
Add the oil gradually to keep the ingredients emulsified. Then mix in the sour cream, orange juice, zest, and milk. The small amount of milk helps with browning and flavor from the cooked milk solids. Carefully mix the wet and dry ingredients, then fold in the cranberries at the very end so they all don’t sink to the bottom of the bowl. Add the batter to the greased loaf pan, and it’s ready to bake!
Baking temperature and time
With the large volume of batter, it’s best to use a moderate oven temperature of 350ºF (176ºC). This setting ensures that the center cooks while developing a golden brown top and sides. The process takes about one hour. If you see the surface getting perfectly golden before that, just loosely cover the top with foil so that it doesn’t burn.
How to tell when the bread is ready
There are two ways to check the loaf for doneness. The first is when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. It’s ready. I also like to use an instant-read thermometer. It should read between 195 to 200ºF (90 to 93ºC).
Let the bread cool slightly in the pan for 10 minutes so that it’s easier and safer to remove. Then place it on a wire rack to allow the steam to release and the air to circulate without causing the bread to get soggy on the bottom.
Add an orange glaze
Now it’s time for the fun part! The glaze is a simple mixture of powdered sugar and orange juice. It doesn’t seem like much, but you only need a small amount of liquid to hydrate the fine sugar particle.
Mix until smooth. It should be the consistency of school glue so that it drizzles and sticks to the top. Add as much or as little as you like. My family always asks for more! Once it dries, it will harden and be easy to slice.
Serve this with
Use 25% less dried cranberries, unless you want a lot of cranberry pieces in each slice. Dried cranberries are concentrated in flavor and size, so add less compared to fresh. Hydrate the dried berries in hot water for 5 minutes to make them juicy.
Chocolate chips or chopped nuts like walnuts and pecans make for delicious additions. Add about ½ cup to the cranberry bread batter.
Do not overmix the bread batter!
It’s critical not to overmix the batter. Otherwise, the texture will become tough and rubbery. Gently fold the wet and dry ingredients together to hydrate the flour, but keep some visible. The moment the flour proteins come into contact with moisture, gluten formation occurs. The more agitation and stirring, the tighter those bonds get, making a more robust protein structure that packs together and tastes tougher.
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Cranberry Orange Bread
- 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
- ½ cup sour cream, or plain greek yogurt
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 ½ cups fresh cranberries
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 4 teaspoons orange juice
- Set the oven rack to the center position—Preheat to 350ºF (176ºC).
- Lightly grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray or vegetable oil.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon until combined.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until smooth and pale yellow, 1 minute.
- Slowly whisk the vegetable oil into the egg mixture until thoroughly mixed, about 30 seconds.
- Whisk in sour cream, whole milk, orange juice, vanilla extract, and orange zest into the egg mixture until smooth, about 30 seconds.
- Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Gently fold the mixture until just moistened, making sure to scrape the bottom with lumps and flour spots remaining. Do not over mix the batter.
- Add the cranberries, gently fold it into the batter.
- Pour batter into a greased pan and smooth top with a spatula.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, or the internal temperature reaches 195 to 200ºF (90 to 93ºC), about 50 to 60 minutes. If needed, cover loosely with foil about 30 to 45 minutes into baking to prevent the top from getting too brown.
- Cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
- Run a knife or small spatula around the sides of the pan, carefully remove the bread and transfer to a wire cooling rack. Once warm, make the glaze.
- In a small bowl, whisk together powdered sugar and orange juice. Gradually add more powdered sugar or juice as needed to modify the thickness. Drizzle over the cooled bread. Let the glaze set and dry for a few minutes before slicing.
- Storing: Store at room temperature for 4 to 5 days in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag.
- Freezing: Slices can be individually wrapped in plastic and stored in a bag in the freezer for up to 1 month. Reheat by wrapping in a paper towel and microwave on medium power for 60 to 90 seconds.
- Using Dried Cranberries: Substitute fresh cranberries for 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dried cranberries. Soak in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes to plump up, then drain well before using.
- Make it Dairy-Free: Use unsweetened cashew or almond milk instead of cow’s milk. Use dairy-free sour cream or dairy-free yogurt.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free flour instead of wheat flour. I recommend Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 baking flour.
- How to Make Muffins: Line a 12-cup muffin pan with liners or lightly grease. Fill each cup about ⅔ full. Bake for 5 minutes at 425°F, then lower the oven temperature to 350°F degrees and bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Total baking time is about 18 to 20 minutes. Carefully remove muffins from the pan, and place them on a cooling rack.
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