Tender vanilla cake is filled with fresh cranberries and orange zest, then topped with cream cheese frosting in these cranberry orange cupcakes. Great for Thanksgiving or Christmas dessert!
In a small saucepan bring the sugar and water to a boil and dissolve the sugar completely. Let the syrup rest for 5 minutes to cool it, then pour it into a bowl with the cranberries. Let the syrup cool to room temperature, then cover the bowl and put it in the refrigerator overnight.
Drain the cranberries and shake them out a bit to make sure you only have a thin coating of the syrup on them. Spread out the superfine sugar on a plate and roll the cranberries in the sugar. Test out the rolling with just a couple at first. If the coating seems gloppy or thick, shake out the cranberries some more or pat them dry with a paper towel.
Transfer the cranberries to a tray lined with wax paper and let them dry for 1-2 hours. Once they are ready the sugar will have formed a stable crust.
Preheat oven to 350F. Set out a standard sized 12 well muffin tin and fill the wells with cupcake liners.
Using a food processor or a knife, roughly chop the cranberries until you have 1 1/2 cups of chopped cranberries.
In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a small bowl rub the sugar and the orange zest together until the sugar is fragrant. Using a stand mixer with the flat beater on medium speed, cream together the butter, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Scrape down the sides and add the eggs one at a time, scraping after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat in.
Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients. Beat until just mixed together with a little flour still showing. Take the bowl of the mixer off the stand, add the cranberries, and fold them in with a silicone spatula.
Divide the batter among the 12 wells in the tin. Bake for 25-28 minutes, or until the cupcakes are lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean. Let them rest for 2-3 minutes, then carefully take them out of the muffin tin and let them cool on a cooling rack. Can be made up to 2 days ahead.
Using a hand mixer, whip the cream cheese and butter on high until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix in. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix on low until combined, then increase the speed to high and beat together until smooth.
Pipe or spread frosting over the tops of each cupcake. If you wish, sprinkle a bit of red sanding sugar over to decorate. (Another good idea would be to use themed sprinkles depending on the occasion.) If you made the sugared cranberries, top each cupcake with 2 or 3 of them.