This festive cake has three layers of cranberry apple cake with cranberry apple pie filling, cream cheese frosting, and sugared cranberries.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line the bottom of three 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Then, grease and butter the cake pans.
In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together oil and sugar until well incorporated. Add vanilla extract. Then, with mixer on low speed, add eggs one at a time.
Alternate adding one third of the flour mixture and one half of the milk, starting and ending with the flour, and mixing until incorporated after each addition. You will have three additions of flour and two additions of milk.
Gently fold in apples and cranberries.
Divide batter evenly between three cake pans and smooth tops with a spatula. Place cake pans on top of a baking sheet and place in oven. Bake at 350 degrees for 33-37 minutes, or until cakes pass the toothpick test.
Remove cakes from oven and let cool in pans for 5-10 minutes. Then, turn each cake out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
Combine cranberries, apples, brown sugar, spices, and cornstarch together in a medium size bowl and mix gently with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium size skillet over medium-low heat. Add fruit mixture to saucepan and cook for 5-8 minutes, until apples are tender and cranberries have broken down.
Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy and completely incorporated.
Add pinch of salt and vanilla extract, then gradually add powdered sugar (about a cup at a time), mixing on low speed until completely incorporated.
Chill for about 15 minutes to help frosting thicken up slightly.
Heat 1/4 cup sugar and water over medium heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved.
Remove from heat and stir in cranberries until they are coated in the syrup mixture.
Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer cranberries to a wire rack with a baking sheet underneath. Let dry for about an hour.
Place 1/2 cup sugar in a shallow bowl and roll cranberries a few at a time in the sugar until coated. Return to wire rack to dry.
Once layers are cool, level each cake using a large serrated knife. Place bottom layer on a cake board, using frosting to adhere.
Use cream cheese frosting to fill a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe a dam around the edge of the bottom layer of cake and fill the center with about half of the cranberry apple pie filling. Spread the filling evenly with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.
Top with the second cake layer and repeat step #2. Top with remaining cake, cut side down.
Frost top and sides of cake with remaining cream cheese frosting. Garnish with sugared cranberries. Keep cake chilled.
* Substitute for buttermilk: a scant cup whole milk mixed with one tablespoon vinegar OR fresh lemon juice. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes before adding to the recipe
**If making sugared cranberries, start them before or while the cake is baking so they have time to dry before being used to decorate the cake.