Molasses Spice Cake with Cranberry and Hard Sauce

A festive vegan molasses spice cake with cranberry relish and whiskey hard sauce

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On their own, each component of this dessert—the spice cake, the cranberry relish, and the hard sauce—is excellent. Put them all together and you have one of the best winter holiday desserts we think we’ve ever had. And it’s plant-based to boot!

We like how the spicy cake, the tart cranberry relish, and the sweet boozy hard sauce all complement one another and mingle to create a perfect whole. Yes, there are three different components to this dessert, but all of our testers observed that each is straightforward and easy to make, and the end result was well worth it.

Developing the Spice Cake

The cake is similar to our root muffin formula. If you compare the two, you’ll notice that the flour, baking powder, and salt measurements are identical. Both recipes call for brown sugar and molasses. Cake, however, is sweeter than muffins, so we doubled both the brown sugar and the molasses for the cake. Both recipes also call for fat, but we switched from coconut oil in the muffins to plant butter sticks. We also adjusted the fat quantity to standard cake levels.

How we make it egg-free and dairy-free

We like the texture chia “eggs” provide in our muffin formula but prefer the smoother, finer texture you get with a flax seed “eggs,” so we made that switch too.

To get that nice muffin-top bump, you want a thick batter, so we used yogurt in our muffin formula. For this thinner-battered cake, we switched to plain plant creamer. But take note: this cake batter is thicker than most. You will need a spatula to scrape it into the pan.

Cranberry Relish

We like the texture and complex flavor the cranberry sauce brings to the cake. If you have leftovers, spread it like jam on your morning toast. Since this cranberry sauce is wonderfully not too sweet, you may want to drizzle a tad bit of maple syrup over the cranberry sauce if using it as jam.

A bright bowl of cranberry relish

Whiskey Hard Sauce

Plant butter, confectioner’s sugar, and whiskey make up the hard sauce crowning the cake. One tester commented she liked it so much she could eat it by the spoonful. Since hard sauce is really just boozy frosting, use leftovers to jazz up cupcakes, biscuits, and cookies… or just eat it by the spoonful!

A dairy-free, planet-friendly whiskey hard sauce alternative to traditional buttercream icing

A festive vegan molasses spice cake with cranberry relish and whiskey hard sauce

Molasses Spice Cake with Cranberry Relish and Hard Sauce

Yield: 12 people

Recipe Notes



  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: baking soda and salt
  • 2 teaspoons each: ground ginger and cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: ground cloves and nutmeg
  • 2 sticks (4 oz each) plant-based butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seed mixed with 6 tablespoons water for 5 minutes
  • 1 cup unflavored plant-based creamer

Cranberry Relish

  • 1/2 teaspoon each: ground cinnamon and ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon each: ground nutmeg and cloves
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 cup cranberry juice
  • 1 bag (12 oz) fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 cup each: dried cranberries, small diced dried apricots, and chopped toasted pecans
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Whiskey Hard Sauce

  • 1 stick (4 oz) plant butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Irish or other whiskey


  • For the cake, grease and flour a 13- by 9-inch metal baking pan and heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices in a medium bowl. Beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Continue to beat, adding molasses, followed by the flax seed mixture, until smooth. Alternating three times, beat in dry ingredients and plant creamer to form a smooth batter. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until firm, 35 to 40 minutes. Set on a wire rack for 5 minutes to cool. Invert onto the wire rack to completely cool. (Can be wrapped and stored at room temperature overnight.)

Cranberry Relish

  • Bring spices and cranberry juice to a boil in a large saucepan. Add cranberries and return to a boil, cooking until some of the cranberries just start to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add dried cranberries, apricots, pecans, orange zest, and maple syrup; toss gently to coat. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use (Can be covered and refrigerated at least a week.)

Hard Sauce

  • With a hand mixer, beat butter until smooth, then beat in sugar until fluffy, then beat in whiskey until incorporated. (Can be covered and refrigerated at least a week.)

To Serve

  • Cut cake into squares, top with a portion of cranberry sauce and a smear of hard sauce.

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