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Vegan Cranberry Orange Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

Vegan Cranberry Orange Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

These vegan Cranberry Orange Cupcakes are infused with orange zest, a hint of ginger, and tart cranberries, then topped with fluffy brown sugar buttercream. A simple yet elegant vegan holiday dessert, make them even more festive by decorating them with beautiful sugared cranberries!

Thank you to Stahlbush Island Farms for sponsoring this post. All opinions are my own.

These vegan Cranberry Orange Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream are:

  • easy to make
  • bursting with flavor
  • made with unprocessed cranberries (so much juicier than dried cranberries!)
  • moist and tender
  • unassumingly vegan
  • dairy-free and egg-free
  • gluten-free option available
  • freeze well if you’re baking just for yourself
  • so pretty for a vegan holiday baking with sugared cranberries on top.

What Do These Vegan Cranberry Orange Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting Taste Like?

I was inspired to make these vegan cranberry cupcakes by another recipe I make every year during the holidays. The recipe is for Starbucks copycat Cranberry Bliss Bars and they are virtually indistinguishable from the non-vegan store-bought version. I love the flavors which are subtle but come together beautifully: cranberry (obviously), orange, ginger, a touch of almond, and brown sugar. As cranberry bliss bars have been on my mind, I was thinking about how good these same flavors would be in cupcake form!

While Cranberry Bliss Bars are covered in a layer of dairy-free cream cheese frosting, I didn’t make a cream cheese frosting for these cupcakes. I find that dairy-free cream cheese varies wildly across brands; some are too soft for pipeable frosting. Some are quite zingy, while others have a milder flavor. These differences don’t make a lot of difference to bars, but they do to piped cupcake frosting. I wanted to make a recipe that anyone could make with success regardless of the brand of their ingredients. I looked to the brown sugar component in the Cranberry Bliss Bars and went with a Brown Sugar Frosting. It’s the perfect match to the tart, bright flavors in the cupcakes!

View looking down on a white counter where small bowls hold the ingredients for cranberry orange cupcake bases.

How to Make Vegan Cranberry Orange Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

We start with easy, tender cranberry cupcakes. Simply whisk together the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet ingredients including the orange zest in another, then stir them together. Fold in the cranberries and bake.! I used Stahlbush Island Farms’ frozen cranberries which are so nice to have on hand any time of the year!

If you’re new to vegan baking, you’ll be relieved to know that it’s actually pretty easy to create tender moist cupcakes that are dairy-free and egg-free. By using a combination of cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and vinegar, you won’t miss the leavening or binding ability of eggs. The vinegar is not detectable at all – it replaces the acidity you’d find in buttermilk or sour cream.

The Brown Sugar frosting is really easy to make. It is a standard American buttercream with some brown sugar creamed with the vegan butter in the beginning so that it dissolves. Beating the brown sugar with the vegan butter is really important so that you don’t end up with a gritty icing.

My vegan Brown Sugar Ermine frosting is also amazing on these cupcakes. Because ermine is a cooked frosting with an extra step and we’re already making candied cranberries, I went with a simpler frosting for these cupcakes. If you have the time, the ermine is pretty darn dreamy!

Cupcake bases on a silver cooling rack where a fifth one has just been frosted with the piping tip just lifting. Other bases have yet to be frosted. Sugared cranberries lie on the counter.

Do I need to thaw cranberries before baking with them?

No, do not thaw the cranberries first. Add the cranberries to the cupcake batter while they are still frozen. This is true for baking with most frozen berries . If you thaw them first, they will soften and release their juices. The juices will stain the batter and create gummy bits in the cakes. It’s best to fold the frozen chopped cranberries into the batter just before you scoop it into the cupcake baking tray. Be sure to cut the cranberries into halves and quarters – these sizes are nicer in cupcakes than whole cranberries which we see more in muffins.

If frozen cranberries are not sold where you live, you can use fresh cranberries.

Why does this recipe make 14-16 cupcakes?

Recipes often call for 12 cupcakes, however I found it simpler to make a couple of more cupcakes than to provide measurements that are hard to measure (fractions of teaspoons for instance). The cranberries are the factor here – they add a substantial amount of volume to the batter.

If you have only one baking tray, bake the first 12 cupcakes. Then, bake the last few cupcakes once the first batch has cooled enough to be transferred to a cooling rack. Resist the urge to fill the cupcake liners to the top to use all the batter in one batch – the cupcakes will rise above the rim of their cups and will stick to the baking tray.

The cranberry cupcakes taste really good without frosting, too, so use those few extra cupcake bases as muffins.

How to Make Sugared Cranberries

These vegan Cranberry Orange Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting are perfect as they are, but with a crown of candied cranberries, they become so much prettier and festive. These edible cupcake toppers are elegant and so easy to make. You’ll have more than you need for these cupcakes if just using 3 sugared cranberries for each cupcake as I have pictured here, but the leftovers are great for other uses. They are decorative set in a bowl on your holiday table, placed on the side of a festive drink on toothpick or small skewer, served alongside other sweet treats, and added to the top of cakes. This vegan Chocolate Fudge Cranberry Bundt cake is adorned with a crown of sugared cranberries.

To make the sugared cranberries:

  1. combine the water and sugar in a small pot and simmer for 2 minutes
  2. let the sugar and water mixture cool for 10 minutes then add the cranberries
  3. cool the cranberries (in the syrup) completely, then drain (reserving the syrup for another use)
  4. roll the cranberries in sugar then let dry on a cooling rack for about an hour. You’re done!
A view of sugared cranberries being made. A pot of cranberries in syrup at the bottom of the scene, with a glass plate filled with white sugar and a few cranberries already rolled in the sugar, a bag of frozen cranberries and a small baking sheet with sugared cranberries drying.
A light purple glass plate covered in granulated sugar in which cranberries have been rolled and covered.
Eye level view of 3 frosted cupcakes, the bases appear to have red berries in the cake. The frosting is pipe high and topped with candied cranberries and a sprig of rosemary each.

More Festive Vegan Cupcakes & Desserts

Three frosted cupcakes in a row at eye level, garnished with candied cranberries. The center cupcake has a bite missing.

If you make these Vegan Cranberry Orange Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting and Sugared Cranberries, please give them a rating in the recipe card and leave a comment below! Follow along on Instagram where you can tag me in your creations using my recipes! You can also follow me on Pinterest for vegan recipe inspiration and on Facebook. Thank you for reading!

Vegan Cranberry Orange Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Buttercream

The perfect vegan holiday dessert, these Cranberry Orange Cupcakes are infused with orange zest, a hint of ginger, and tart cranberries, and topped with a fluffy brown sugar buttercream. Make them even more festive by decorating them with beautiful sugared cranberries!
4.82 from 11 votes
Print Pin Save Recipe
Course: Cupcakes
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Vegan Brown Sugar Frosting, Vegan Brown Sugar Icing, Vegan Cranberry Cupcakes, Vegan Holiday Baking
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Cooling: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Servings: 14
Calories: 566kcal
Author: Bronwyn


For the Sugared Cranberries

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups frozen whole cranberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar

For the Cranberry Orange Cupcakes

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour see notes to make gluten-free
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp dried powdered ginger
  • zest of one large orange finely grated
  • ½ cup plant-based milk (I use soy)
  • ½ cup unsweetened orange juice
  • cup neutral oil (e.g. avocado, canola, sunflower etc)
  • 2 tbsp distilled white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup frozen cranberries, halved and quartered for even sizes

For the Brown Sugar Frosting

  • 1 cup vegan butter sticks (not tub style, see notes), softened
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3 ½ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tbsp plant-based milk, if necessary
  • sprigs of fresh rosemary for garnish, if desired


For the Sugared Cranberries:

  • In a small pot, stir the sugar and water together. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the sugar water cool for 5 minutes. Cooling is important so the cranberries don't pop when you add them to the syrup.
  • Add the frozen cranberries, stir gently to coat and let them rest for at least 2 hours. Place a small plate directly over the berries to keep them submerged if some aren't covered. Alternatively, you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge overnight before continuing with the recipe.
  • Drain the cranberries, reserving the syrup for drinks or another use.
  • Place the remaining cup of sugar on a plate. Gently roll the cranberries in the sugar, making sure all sides of each cranberry are coated. Carefully scoop them up with a slotted spoon or fork and set on a baking sheet for an hour or until dry. The cranberries keep well for a couple of days on the counter on a lightly covered plate away from heat and humidity.

For the Vegan Cranberry Orange Cupcakes:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F/177°F/gas 4. Prepare a standard sized cupcake/muffin baking tray with paper cupcake liners.
  • Sift the flour, sugar, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt and powdered ginger in a large bowl. Whisk to blend thoroughly.
  • In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the plant-based milk, orange juice, oil, vinegar, orange zest, vanilla and almond extract.
  • Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, and mix with a spoon just until combined. Fold in the cranberries. Do not over mix.
  • With a medium scoop or large spoon, fill the paper liners about 2/3 full with the cupcake batter. Do not overfill! You may have extra batter which can be baked as a second batch and enjoyed as muffins. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean or with a few cooked crumbs. Cool the bases in the tray for 5-10 minutes, then gently transfer each cupcake to a cooling rack. Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

For the Brown Sugar Buttercream:

  • In a stand mixer with a balloon whisk (or with a large bowl and beaters), beat the vegan butter and brown sugar until creamy and no longer gritty. Add in the confectioners’ sugar, one cup at a time. Beat for 3-4 minutes, scraping down the sides occasionally. Add in the vanilla and beat another minute. Add plant-based milk if necessary 1 tablespoon at a time, until the frosting reaches a pipe-able consistency, slightly too firm is easier to manage than too soft. Beat for 5 minutes more.

To Assemble the Cupcakes:

  • Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, add the frosting to a frosting bag with desired tip. Pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes and top with a few candied cranberries. Add a small spring of rosemary beside the sugared cranberries for contrast if desired.

Nutrition Info:

Calories: 566kcal | Carbohydrates: 95g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Sodium: 277mg | Potassium: 151mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 79g | Vitamin A: 74IU | Vitamin C: 9mg | Calcium: 54mg | Iron: 1mg


To Prevent Slouching Buttercream: If you’ll be serving these cupcakes in warm temperatures or leaving them at room temperature for more than an hour, you can make the frosting more stable by using cutting the vegan butter with shortening which will prevent the frosting from slumping. Instead of 1 cup vegan butter, use 1/2 cup vegan butter and 1/2 cup non-hydrogenated shortening. 
Cranberries: If frozen cranberries are not sold where you live, you can use fresh cranberries.
To Make Gluten-Free: Use a gluten-free 1:1 all-purpose flour blend which includes xanthan gum. 
Storage Suggestion: Store the cupcakes in a covered container in the fridge for up to 5 days, or if your kitchen is cool, on the counter. Assembled cupcakes (without the sugared cranberries and rosemary) may be frozen for up to a month in an airtight container.
Did you make this recipe?Tag @crumbs.and.caramel on Instagram!

The Nutrition Information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the Nutrition Information for any recipe on this site cannot be guaranteed.

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Recipe Rating

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Tuesday 17th of January 2023

These cupcakes are very tasty. The only fault I find is that they sink in the middle instead of rise. I've made them twice and both times there's a huge dip after baking. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong.

Bronwyn Fraser | Crumbs & Caramel

Thursday 2nd of February 2023

Hi Shannon! I'm glad that you've enjoyed the cupcakes but am sorry to hear you're having trouble with them sinking! I haven't had that experience with this recipe as written, but to help troubleshoot, here are some things that cause sinking cupcakes:

opening the oven too early. If the batter hasn't set up, the release of hot air can cause the cupcakes to sink as they have a sudden pause in baking. Don't open the door for about the first 12 minutes of baking a standard cupcake. 

old baking powder or baking soda - these have best before dates and if they have passed, they no longer produce the chemical reaction necessary for rising. 

over filling the cupcake cavities. This recipe makes 14 cupcakes, so if the batter is being used to make 12, the liners will be overfilled, the cupcake batter will rise rapidly but not be hot enough to be set and will deflate/sink. overwhipping the batter. If too much air is incorporated into the batter, the cupcakes will sink before the air bubbles have time to be supported by cooked batter. Use a spoon or spatula (not a whisk) to fold the wet and dry ingredients, and do not overmix.   

letting the batter sit - the chemical reaction from the leavening agents will start as soon as the wet and dry ingredients are mixed so it's important to get the batter into the oven asap so the cupcakes rise properly with the heat to set them.

oven running too hot or your fan is on.This causes the cupcake to rise too fast and then collapse before the crumb has set up. Every oven I've owned has lied to me about what temperature it displayed for what it was set for so I now have 3 thermometers in different places in the oven. This is common, so getting to know what your oven is really doing with even one extra thermometer will help you regulate the oven temperature.

over measuring leavening agents - the measuring spoon should be leveled off. If too much is added, the chemical reaction will be strong, producing too much gas, and the cupcakes will sink before the crumb is set up.

under baking: if your oven runs a bit cool or the cupcakes are taken out too early, their crumb won't be set up properly and they will sink in the middle. I like to use a toothpick test, by inserting a clean toothpick into the center of a cupcake. If it comes out clean or with a few cooked crumbs, the cupcake is ready. If there's any wet batter on the toothpick, it needs more baking time. 

I'm also wondering if the orange juice I used was less acidic than what you used. You could try leaving out the vinegar and replacing it with more milk next time to see if this helps slow down the rise to prevent sinking. I'll do some experimenting on my end, too, with other types.

Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions! ~ Bronwyn


Saturday 9th of October 2021

Hello! This looks wonderful :) Can this batter be used to make an 8 or 9 inch cake as well? Will the baking time need to be changed?


Wednesday 20th of October 2021

@Crumbs & Caramel, Thank you for your help, Bronwyn! I can’t wait to make it!

Crumbs & Caramel

Sunday 10th of October 2021

Hi Nicole! Thank you! This batter will make an 8" round cake (there's not enough batter for a decent height 9" cake). An 8" round cake should take 35-38 minutes to bake. I hope you enjoy it! ~Bronwyn

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