How to Make Cranberry Duff, aka New England Upside-Down Cake

This easy retro recipe from 1953 is perfect for fall or any time you want a taste of New England.

I’m a sucker for a good vintage cookbook and I love bringing an old recipe back to life. The latest recipe I’ve decided to dig up from the archives comes from The Family Circle Cake & Cooky cookbook from 1953 (nope, cooky is not a typo!). It’s a cranberry duff, AKA a New England-style upside-down cake.

This upside-down cake caught my eye immediately, as the crisp autumn air gets me craving cranberries like nobody’s business. (Fun baking fact: The majority of the cranberries we eat don’t actually come from New England—they’re from Wisconsin!)

New England Upside-Down Cake Recipe

Even if you don’t consider yourself a pro baker, this is one of those easy cake recipes anyone can tackle. It starts with a cake mix and a can of cranberry sauce; it doesn’t get easier than that!


ingredients for Cranberry Duff on a kitchen counterAllison Robicelli for Taste of Home

  • 14-ounce can whole berry cranberry sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • White or yellow cake mix, plus whatever ingredients are called for on the box; the boxed cake mix I used called for water, eggs and vegetable oil


Step 1: Make the cranberry topping

Cranberry topping in a bowl with lemon slices on the sideAllison Robicelli for Taste of Home

In a bowl, mix the canned cranberry sauce and lemon juice together. Make sure you’re using whole-berry cranberry sauce here to get the right texture (the jellied stuff will just fall apart).

Step 2: Prepare the pan

glass baking dish lined with parchment paper and filled with a thin layer of cranberryAllison Robicelli for Taste of Home

Grease a square cake pan, and line it with either parchment paper or aluminum foil. Pour the cranberry mixture into the pan and spread evenly across the bottom.

Step 3: Make the cake layer

eggs and cake mix in a bowl being mixed with a rubber spatulaAllison Robicelli for Taste of Home

Prepare the cake mix according to the package directions. If you want to make box cake mix taste homemade (or homemade-ish), add a teaspoon of almond extract or vanilla extract.

Then carefully spoon the batter evenly on top of the cranberry layer.

Step 4: Bake

cake mix in a glass pan lined with parchment paperAllison Robicelli for Taste of Home

Bake the cake for 35-45 minutes at 350ºF until a cake tester inserted into the center comes away clean. (The exact baking time will depend on the cake mix used, as well as the size of the baking pan.)

Here’s What I Thought

New England upside-down cake is a quick and easy dream. It’s as good for breakfast as it is for dessert, and for all times in between the two. The cranberry duff goes delightfully well with a warm latte, a cup of tea or a cozy mug of hot apple cider.

Most of us are so used to eating boxed cake mix with slick, sugary frosting, so tasting it with nothing more than a tart layer of cranberries made me appreciate its flavors much more. The lemon juice helps cut the sweetness of canned cranberry sauce, but doesn’t have a pronounced flavor; if you’d like a stronger taste of lemon, add lemon zest as well as the juice.

Cranberry duff is wonderful when fully cooled to room temperature, but I think it’s best when eaten warm. What you don’t eat right away can be cut into squares, wrapped in plastic, and stored at either room temperature, in the fridge, or for long-term storage, the freezer. Then, before serving, pop it into the microwave and heat in 20-second increments until it’s warmed to your liking. For a cool contrast, serve the warm cake with a dollop of cold vanilla yogurt.

Allison Robicelli
Allison Robicelli is a James Beard-nominated food and recipe writer, humorist, and the author of four (quite good) books. Her writing credits include the Washington Post, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Wine Enthusiast, Eater, Food52, The Takeout, and other major publications. Before becoming a full-time writer, she spent over a decade as a working chef, and was the co-owner of the acclaimed Robicelli's Bakery in Brooklyn. In addition to food and comedy, she also writes about history, parenting, and cannabis. She lives in Baltimore with her two teenage sons and four patient cats.