This is not the airy, sugary kind of cake you’d typically stick a candle in for birthdays — this cake satisfies in a completely different way. Homey and comforting, it boasts a moist, muffinlike crumb, is studded with cranberries and is topped with a crunch of brown-sugared walnuts. Like the most delicious holiday candle, it’s perfumed with orange, cinnamon and cloves.
Called a snacking cake because it’s ideal for exactly that, it begs to be shared with a friend over a cup of tea or coffee or savored as a recharge on a bustling winter’s afternoon.
With just the right level of sweetness from maple syrup, whole grain flour, healthful oil in place of butter, and plenty of nuts, this cake provides more than pleasure; it gives you some steady sustenance, too.
CRANBERRY-ORANGE SNACKING CAKE
Storage: The cake will keep, tightly wrapped at room temperature, for up to 3 days.
FOR THE TOPPING
1/2 cup raw walnuts, finely chopped
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon mild olive oil, or another neutral-tasting oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch kosher salt
FOR THE CAKE
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (or 1 cup each regular whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup mild olive oil, or another neutral-tasting oil, plus more for brushing the pan
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup fresh cranberries, halved if large
1/2 cup raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle. Brush an 8-by-8-inch square baking dish with oil.
Make the topping: In a small bowl, combine the walnuts, brown sugar, oil, cinnamon and salt and work it together with your fingers until it is blended.
Make the cake: In a small bowl, finely grate the zest of the oranges until you have 2 teaspoons zest. Squeeze ⅓ cup of juice from the oranges, and save whatever is left of the fruit for another use.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves. In another medium bowl, whisk together the just-squeezed juice, zest, maple syrup, oil and eggs. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in two batches, stirring just enough to combine but not over-mixing. Stir in the cranberries and the walnuts, then pour the batter into the baking dish.
Sprinkle the topping over the batter and bake, 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes or until warm to the touch, then cut into 12 squares and serve.