Cranberry Buttermilk Breakfast Cake

buttermilk cranberry breakfast cake

I’m starting to panic. Family will be arriving any moment (9 more days), and I am so not prepared. The biscotti jar is empty; the granola bin, bare. No gifts have been assembled. The house is a sty, getting messier by the day.

Somehow, however, I’ve crossed one to-do off my growing list. In an effort to figure out what to bake on Christmas morning, I turned to an old standby and swapped cranberries for the blueberries, orange zest for the lemon, and increased the sugar a teensy bit. It worked beautifully! Not too sweet, festively studded with cranberries, this cake will be wonderful on Christmas morning. Best of all, I made the batter the night before and baked the cake in the morning. If you’re not a cranberry fan, you could stick to frozen blueberries, a substitution many of you have had success with — thanks for all of your tips and suggestions.

One last thing, I’ve made a new page, “The Essentials” (see above), where I’ve collected all of my favorite recipes, techniques, how-to’s, etc. The “recipe archive” page was getting a bit unwieldy, and my hope with this page is to provide an easier way to find just what you might be looking for.

And one very last thing, be sure to check back Monday if you are interested in winning a free download of the Food52 Holiday Recipe & Survival Guide iPad app. I’m partaking in this contest.

cranberry buttermilk breakfast cake

cranberries and orange zest

Cranberry Buttermilk Breakfast Cake
Serves 6-8

Notes: This recipe is essentially the Buttermilk Blueberry Breakfast Cake recipe but with cranberries swapped for the blueberries. I increased the sugar to 1 cup (from 7/8 cup) b/c cranberries are a bit tart and substituted orange zest for the lemon zest. If you don’t like cranberries, many people have had luck with frozen blueberries — glance through the comments over here for tips.

Also, this batter can be prepared the night before. Don’t store it in the pan you plan on baking it in — store it in tupperware of some sort, then transfer to a greased pan in the morning.

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
the zest from 1 orange zest
1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups fresh cranberries
½ cup buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cream butter with orange zest and 1 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy.

2. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Meanwhile, toss the cranberries with 2 tablespoons of flour, then whisk together the remaining flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Add the flour mixture to the batter a little at a time, alternating with the buttermilk. Fold in the cranberries.

4. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan (or something similar) with butter or coat with non-stick spray. Spread batter into pan. Sprinkle batter with remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 35 minutes, then check for doneness by touching the top gently or by inserting a toothpick. If necessary, return pan to oven, check every five minutes or so — it took my cake a little bit over 45 minutes to cook. (Note: Baking for as long as 50 minutes might be necessary, especially if you made the batter in advance.) Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

One of the most frequently asked questions about the buttermilk blueberry breakfast cake was if the batter could be prepared the night before. Several of you attempted and had success, so I tried it with this one. It worked perfectly — thanks!

Store batter in a tupperware overnight, then transfer to prepared pan in the morning:

batter for buttermilk cranberry breakfast cake

113 Comments

  1. Ali, beautiful cake! You know I am a sucker for any breakfast item that can be made ahead of time… and I have a bag of cranberries in my fridge for which I have no plans. And…. 9 days is plenty of time!

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  2. oopsie nevermind – there is this yogurty drink called “laban” in the middle east that is very similar to buttermilk. weird that i would never drink buttermilk but drink laban regularly. as does shep :)

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    • Batesers, one, so glad you have laban and that you and Shep are staying healthy hydrating with all of those live bacteria cultures — I’m sure the laban will work just as buttermilk does. Two, I’ve never tried this, but one of the commenters on the blueberry buttermilk breakfast cake, said this:

      An easy substitution for butter milk is to add a 1/2 tablespoon of vinegar (give or take) to your measuring cup, then add the milk up to the correct amount. Let it sit on the counter while you gather everything else, and it works just about the same as buttermilk in recipes. Use it all the time for pancakes (1 tablespoon for 1 cup of milk is the normal guideline I use).

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  3. I’m not a seasoned cook, care to teach me how to cream the butter, orange zest and 1 cup sugar? I’d love to make this for my in laws on Christmas morning and wow them! :)
    Thanks!!!

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    • Jen — Make sure the butter is at room temperature, and place it in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if you are using a hand-held mixer). Add the orange zest and sugar and beat on high until the mixture is light and fluffy, That’s it! Let me know if you have any more questions!

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  4. Als! I have a real creaming butter question for making this over the xmas weekend. I’ve always thought that letting the butter get to room temp messes up the airiness, so I torture my standing mixer into creaming cool butter. Have I been effing up!?!?!?

    Merry xmas, xoxo.

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    • Hi Jon!! You’re poor stand mixer! You’ve totally been effing up. I’m just kidding. Truthfully, I don’t know. I’ve always been told to let the butter come to room temperature before creaming but that’s probably mostly to go easy on the stand mixer — it gets light and fluffy faster, too. Have you noticed a difference? Or have you never let your butter get to room temperature? I’m so curious now. This is a question for Harold McGee. As for your baking this weekend, try letting your butter get to room temp this time. I always do with this particular recipe and it comes out just fine. Merry Xmas to you!! xoxo

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  5. Oh, wow, this looks delicious! We’re going to try it for Christmas morning! Quick question: if we make the batter the night before, should it be refrigerated or kept at room temperature overnight? Thanks so much for the wonderful recipes!!

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    • Donia — I would refrigerate the batter just to be safe. I baked mine after it had been in the fridge all night, and it took about 45 minutes and I didn’t let it get to room temperature before baking it. Hope that helps!

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  6. I think I’m going to try this recipe but am curious as to how much orange flavor the zest gives? I was hoping to make some sort of cranberry/orange combo nut want to be able to taste both. Thanks!

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    • Hi Jess — The orange flavor is pretty subtle. I was surprised actually how subtle it was, and I used the zest of a whole orange. I’m going to make a note about that above. If you want more orange flavor, you could either add more orange zest or perhaps some orange-flavored booze like Cointreau? In place of some of the buttermilk? Or, and I saw this on a Martha Stewart episode with Dori Greenspan, you could mix the orange zest with the sugar first and sort of massage the ingredients together before creaming the sugar with the butter — apparently this step helps release some of the oils in the zest and helps really increase the detectability of the zest in the final baked good. Haven’t tried it personally, but would be curious.

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  7. Wow! What a Great recipe. I mixed this dish up Christmas Eve and baked it the next morning and it was fantastic! We loved it so much I had to make it again 4 days later. When I started pulling my ingredients I found myself short of a few items and had to make some substitutions and it came out just as great. I only had 1 cup of fresh cranberries so I added 1 cup of frozen blueberries for the other cup of cranberries (because the blueberries were frozen it kept the cake creamy white and did not turn the batter purple. I had no orange to zest so I used 1t of pure orange extract (could have used more). Because this is such a good recipe I can’t wait to try it with other fruit. (blackberries, red raspberries, peaches, etc.)
    Thank you so much :)

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  8. I ended up making this in a rectangular Ikea glass baking dish instead of as mini muffins since the cranberries would have been hit or miss (some muffins might not have had any).
    I am grateful for your pictures, because I wouldn’t have been sure this was coming out right without the pictures. I appreciate your website.
    The office was very happy when I walked in with goodies for them. I served it with some really good butter, but if I had to do it again, I think I would make some honey butter to go with it.
    I will make this again – maybe with blueberries or a mix or just cranberries. I will do something to amp up the orange a bit though. Or maybe my orange was just too old.

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    • Thanks for reporting back, Beth! I love the idea of honey butter — I think that would complement the tartness of the cranberries nicely. A mix of berries would be nice, too. And I agree about the orange zest — it’s a little too subtle. I don’t think your orange was too old. I found the flavor to be very faint and would have liked it more detectable. Thanks again for writing in!

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  9. Delicious! I followed the instructions to a t and baked. It a total of 45 minutes. The whole family loved it. Love your recipes! The duck is next on my list…..

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  10. This looks fantastic! We’ve got a potluck at work coming up and we’re doing “brunch”. This would be perfect for that. I have frozen cranberries. Will they work okay in this? Thanks!

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    • Candace — I’ve never used frozen, but I don’t see why they wouldn’t work. Many people who have made the blueberry version of this cake have had success using frozen blueberries. I don’t see why it would be any different for cranberries. Good luck with it!

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  11. I found this on Pintrest and was most excited because of the amount of blueberries in it (via the picture.) I love blueberry things but I am tired of the same old blah blueberry taste/balance in most pastries. This recipe totally delivered. Two whole cups of blueberries!!?? The battery was so thick I was worried about it but I realized it was because of so much moisture that would be released by so many blueberries. It turns into a perfect perfect bread!!!

    I used blueberries and didn’t have an orange (or zest) and I didn’t have vanilla(!!), do I used lemon extract instead and it made a surprisingly sharp tasting lemon blueberry bread!! So versatile. Thank you! Can’t wait to try the cranberry version when holidays roll back around!

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  12. I just did this for the Ripon Garden Club,and it disappeared,I had bags of frozen cranberries and just defrosted one.It turned out yummy.a little comment,I actually had made one the day before for the Seniors at church and found cooking it the day of serving it was super crumbly,so I cooked the second one the night before and it sliced up beautifully the next day.Kudos to you Alexandra,I only just recently found you on Pinterest,and you have a diehard fan.Your pictures and attention to detail are admirable.Am searching here for an appetizer to take for Easter.Happy holiday,and thank you soooo much.Kim

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  13. This looks so delicious.
    I mixed up a batch and it’s in my oven right now, only I am attempting to modify it to be gluten-free, as my 2 year old is gluten-intolerant. I hope it works out because this sounds delicious, and makes use of the cranberries I threw into my freezer months ago!

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  14. Holy Moly! I just realized that I HAVE oranges…to zest…and blueberries that we froze after our berry picking outing earlier this past spring!!
    Thanks so much for sharing this recipe!! May convert to muffins (cuz that’s just how I roll, ok really….I’ll eat the WHOLE cake if I make it.).
    :)

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  15. I used the zest of two oranges and thought the orange flavor was excellent – not overwhelming, but held its own with the cranberries. I also sprinkled cinnamon sugar rather than plain sugar over the top before baking. Thanks for the recipe!

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  16. Made this for breakfast this morning and WOW!! I really enjoyed it.
    I topped my piece with some greek yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup :).
    It was super east and fast to whip up and 40m later it was done baking.
    The only thing I will change next time, and yes there will be a next time, is the amount of sugar. I am not sure if is was because i used organic whole cane sugar , but the cranberries did over power it so that it seemed like there was no sugar in it at all.
    over all this was moist and yummy!

    Thank you for sharing it :)

    Reply
    • Dede — SO happy to hear this! Greek yogurt and honey sound like the perfect accompaniments, especially since the sugar got overpowered :( Isn’t it strange how seemingly harmless substitutions can make such a big difference. I have no experience using organic whole cane sugar, but I wouldn’t have thought that switching the two ingredients would have made any difference. That must be the case, but gosh, I am surprised. Glad to hear you will give it another go!

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    • Elizabeth — I have never tried freezing it, but many readers have had success freezing the buttermilk blueberry breakfast cake, which is basically the same recipe with the exception of the berry, so I imagine it would freeze well. Just wrap it well in plastic wrap and tuck it in a freezer bag, and you should be good to go. I would thaw it at room temperature and then stick it in the oven if you wish you warm it up — 350ºF for 15 or 20 minutes.

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  17. Thank you SO much for the link and comments regarding the blueberry version doubling to a 9 x 13 pan. It took just shy of 45 minutes to bake. It worked so well that I was asked to please go out on Black Friday (ugh) to grab more cranberries so that I could make it again before my family left. Amazing recipe, especially this time of the year. I highly recommend everyone try it!!

    Happy Holidays!!

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    • Lauri — I am so happy to hear this! And thank you so much for reporting back on the time and larger pan size. That is especially good info to know this time of year. I can’t believe you braved the Black Friday madness! My husband had to dash out as well…one of the pipes in our kitchen sink burst… so typical to happen on Thanksgiving Day. HAppy Holidays to you as well!!

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    • Sarvar — I wouldn’t change much. I think using the frozen berries will work just fine. You might have to bake the cake for a few minutes longer but I would say that’s about it for changes. Happy Baking!

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    • Kt — I have never tried, but I imagine you can. I think 2 cups of craisins will be a little too much, however, and they are sweeter than fresh cranberries so, I might consider reducing the sugar a little bit.

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  18. This was soooo delicious! I love baking with fresh cranberries this time of year. The hint of orange with the sweet crispy edges, plus the slightly tart cranberries was just…perfection. I subbed half of the AP flour w/ whole wheat pastry flour, and it worked great. I found your blog via pinterest, and I’m excited to try some more recipes. Thanks for a great one!

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  19. I was wondering about the craisins as well and pecans, I have a craisins pecan muffin mix I do starting at Thanksgiving through the whole winter… Bit our dishwasher has been broke since August and I was looking for something easier to prep and clean-up to do for Christmas…
    I was wondering about making up mason jarsof the dry ingredients and using a powdered buttermilk i found. Any suggestions? I do alot of homemade mixes and putting up freezer meals or almost fill meals…but I try my best not to freezer bread items as it kills the vitamin B’s. Most people wouldn’t care but I have Fibromyalgia and need all the B I can get…especially cause I also steal away from starchs especially if store bought….I look forward to trying this! Thanks for sharing, found you via pinterest.

    Reply
    • Laura — wow, I am so impressed by your baking mix endeavors. I love this idea, and mason jars sound so pretty. My only suggestions: dont use an equal amount of dried craisins as fresh cranberries — I would use less; use your judgement on the amount of nuts, which sound like a wonderfuladdition; and, as for the powdered buttermilk, I don’t know how to advise — I’ve heard wonderful things about it, but I’ve never actually used it, and I don’t know how mixing it directly in with the dried ingredients will affect the finally texture of the cake. Wish I could offer remorse guidance. Good luck with it and happy holidays!

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  20. Just made this for breakfast. I doubled the recipe, used craisens instead of cranberries and added a package of white chocolate chips…..yummmm.

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  21. I made this on Sunday morning for breakfast and it was ridiculously amazing! I did it in the 13 x 9 pan with the recipe doubled and it came out perfect. I’m still working on the leftovers. Btw, my dad couldn’t wait for it to cool down so he ate it warm with a little butter and said it was delicious that way. I can’t wait to try out the blueberry version!

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  22. I have this is in the oven now, and it smells wonderful! Going to have it with my afternoon cup of tea :) Thanks so much for sharing. Look forward to trying the blueberry/lemon version this summer.

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  23. I made it today, it’s amazing :). But i made it with red grapes b/c we don’t hv cranberries in my country and blueberries are so expensive. My family loved it. Thanks

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  24. I made this and it is definitely tart! I would have preferred more sugar/sweet! I will try again with blueberries or other berries.

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  25. I was wondering if when you wait for the next day, do you let the batter come back to room temp before baking? I’m assuming it’s been in the fridge overnight…

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    • Susiejeanne — no need to let the batter come back to room temp before baking. I always let it sit at room temperature while the oven preheats, but not for any longer. You might have to add 5 to 10 minutes to baking time if you store the batter in the fridge overnight. Hope that helps!

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  26. You had me at cranberry. My favoritist breakfast food in the whole word is cranberry orange bread, so I can’t wait to try this!

    I saw this picture on Pinterest, not pinned from this original blog post, and I searched to find the source. So glad I did! Pinning…from HERE…now. :-)

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  27. Excellent. Excellent. Excellent. Perfectly cooked in 35 minutes in a heavy non-stick pan buttered and lined with parchment paper creating handles on two sides, then buttered again. Cut before removing from pan. Thank-you!

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  28. this was my first time making this, is the batter supposed to be pretty thick almost like biscuit or bread dough? i followed the recipe exact, i hope it turns out perfect!

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  29. I made this cake with cranberries yesterday and oh my…………… we loved it! It came out beautifully tart, moist, and not overly sweet. I could actually taste all the flavor of the cranberries instead of loads of sugar. I think this may be my new favorite cake! I am further thankful that because it says the word “breakfast” in the title, we must be allowed to eat this yummy cake for Brekky!!!! . What a great surprise. I now have a new favorite cake and food blog.

    Thanks,
    Cheryl

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    • Oh Cheryl, you are too kind! Thank you for your sweet words. I am so happy to hear that this came out well for you. And yes, cake for breakfast is nothing unusual around here :) I do love the flavor of the cranberries in this as well. Happy Holidays!

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  30. I was wondering how it would be if in the cranberry version of this recipe you added chopped walnuts? I love fruit and nuts together in a recipe. Let me know if anyone has tried this.:)

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  31. Should’ve doubled this! I forgot to add orange zest, so I made a glaze with fresh squeezed orange juice and powdered sugar. Poked holes with a fork and drizzled while still warm. Yum yum!!!

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  32. This was great, thank you! I used 1/2 c. ww flour and 1 1/2 cups white flour, and only 3/4 cup sugar. The cranberries had a nice tart pop.

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  33. I just made this for breakfast, and it turned out amazing!!! I added one cup of buttermilk by mistake, forgot I was supposed to use only 1/2, but it turned out so good! I think I’ll use the 1cup when I make it again. This will definitely be added to my staple recipes! I loved it!!

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  34. Loved this! Although I put half cranberries and half frozen raspberries. No one in my family cared for the sour cranberries, so next time I will just use all raspberries.

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  35. This is a wonderful recipe! I made it twice the week of Christmas and it was a huge hit with the family. Now, I’m heading into the kitchen to make it for myself with a few alterations to cut some of the fat. We’ll see how it goes. ;-)

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  36. I just made this for breakfast and it is amazing! It was very moist and bursting with cranberries. I was worried that my 3 year olds wouldn’t like it because it was a little more tart than I expected but they are currently gobbling it up. So happy with it! I can’t wait to try the blueberry version too! Thanks :-)

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    • Wonderful to hear this Edie! My 3-year old loves the blueberry one, and I haven’t tried the cranberry one on her yet, because she’s a picky one, but you are inspiring me to give it a go. I might have to just once before blueberry season arrives.

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  37. Aloha, I am wondering if I can use packaged (vs. fresh) cranberries? Fresh cranberries aren’t the cheapest here in Hawaii. :) Thank you!

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  38. This was a really good premise for a breakfast bread. I tweaked the recipe with what I had on hand plus made it a little healthier. I used a combination of dried cranberries with a can of whole berry cranberry sauce to replace the sugar. Subbed out the butter for cinnamon applesauce, added yogurt instead of buttermilk (same ratio), and added fresh sliced strawberries in a layer between the batter when filling the pan. Man, when I tell you how awesome that was! Thanks!

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    • Wow, amazing! Nice work on all of those healthy substitutions. I love the texture of yogurt and applesauce in cakes — so moist and delicious. Thanks for writing in!

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  39. Love this! I’ve had it pinned for months, but my weekly standards of make-ahead breakfast kept winning out each Sunday. Finally got to it today.

    I followed the tips of upping the orange zest and pressing the zest into the sugar before creaming w/ butter.

    I put in half AP flour, 1/4 c. almond meal, 1/4 c. WW flour which altogether made a terrific texture.

    This cake is addictive!

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  40. I made it last night and had only one problem–the cake did not bake through in the middle. The edges tasted great but the middle was mushy even though I had it in the oven for 45 min. (testers came out clean). Perhaps making it in a smaller container would help?

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  41. I can’t wait to make this! It looks amazing. My family tends to be cranberry crazy, so this ought to be a big hit. I think I would like to try it as muffins. I would like to freeze some to have to grab on the way to work. I was very excited to find the post that said this works great as muffins. It is unusual that I don’t have buttermilk in my fridge, but for some reason I don’t. I am hitting the store on my way home from work today! Thanks for the recipe.

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