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!
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!
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 Chocolate Fudge Cranberry Bundt cake is adorned with a crown of sugared cranberries.
To make the sugared cranberries:
- combine the water and sugar in a small pot and simmer for 2 minutes
- let the sugar and water mixture cool for 10 minutes then add the cranberries
- cool the cranberries (in the syrup) completely, then drain (reserving the syrup for another use)
- roll the cranberries in sugar then let dry on a cooling rack for about an hour. You’re done!
More Festive Vegan Cupcakes & Desserts
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
For the Sugared Cranberries
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups Stahlbush Island Farms 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
- ⅓ 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 Stahlbush Island Farms 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.
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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