I need to take a dessert to a party and thought something with cranberries would be fun and seasonally appropriate, however I can't find a recipe I like. I have tried the Nigella one you do in a spring form with the cranberries on the bottom (so when inverted, the berries form the topping) and I thought the cake was very dry. I was thinking of something like the famous Galleygirl pear tart, only with cranberries, and maybe a little orange zest, but cranberries are significantly less juicy than pears, so I am not sure how that would work.
Here's a recipe from Abby Mandel (LA TIMES) from a '98 article titled "Crazy for Cranberries" that is along the same lines as the Nigella one you've rejected. I think recipes with sour cream produce a lovely moist cake. (I've completely revised the instructions to avoid any copyright infringement issues.)
Cranberry Upside Cake
Do Ahead Note: This cake can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept at room temperature, covered airtight.
1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons butter
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups (12-ounce bag) cranberries, rinsed and picked over
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Generously grease a 9-inch springform pan using extra butter than called for in the recipe. Set aside.
Melt the 1/2 cup measure of butter in small saucepan.
Add 1 1/2 cup measure of granulated sugar, along with the water and cinnamon to the saucepan. Cook, stirring until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Stir in cranberries. (Note: Mandel does not supply a cooking time for the cranberries. Therefore, I assume the goal here is simply to coat the berries in the butter/sugar mixture rather than to cook the berries.)
Pour mixture into the prepared springform pan, spreading evenly. Securely wrap foil around the outside of pan to prevent leakage. Set pan on baking sheet. Set aside.
Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Set mixer on medium-low speed and cream together remaining 6 tablespoons of butter, remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and full measure of brown sugar. Blend until smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. On low speed, add half the flour mixture; mix until well combined. Add all the sour cream and vanilla. Blend until well-combined. Finally, add the remaining flour mixture and combine until smooth.
Pour batter over the cranberries in the springform pan, spreading evenly.
Bake at 350 degrees on middle rack of oven until the cake is golden brown or toothpick comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes.
Loosen cake by running a knife around the edge. Invert the cake onto a serving platter. Remove the foil, and both the springform ring and pan bottom.
To serve, cut into wedges.
I have another recipe for a Cranberry-Streusel Cake sheet cake that includes 1 1/4 cups of sour cream. I don't often go to this board, but I'll check it out for the next couple of days in case someone wants me to post that recipe, too.
If you have Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours (which is an excellent, highly recommended baking book for anyone who loves to bake) her recipe for the "Cranberry Upside-Downer" is easy and delicious. Would make a great seasonal dessert. Pretty and a crowd pleaser.
I made this Cranberry Walnut Upside Down Cake for Thanksgiving last year and enjoyed it. It is tasty, relatively easy and looks nice in a rustic way. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Cranberry-Walnut-Upside-Down-Cake-233012
The current issue of Gourmet had a Pear Cranberry cake that looks fantastic, but I have not tried it. It is well-reviewed by a few so far.
A thousand years ago (or... like, 20) I improvised a really nice cranberry-orange pound cake. Dead simple, just an ordinary pound cake with some orange liqueur, orange zest, and halved cranberries tossed with a bit of flour. It's super-moist and flavorful, and zero work.
And also many moons ago I made cranberry bars -- basically a shortbread crust with cranberry streusel filling.
If you're wanting to do a tart-like thing, I'd recommend mixing with another fruit, like apples. But an upside-down cake sounds very interesting... what if you did a sour-cream coffee cake type base, with a spiced cranberry topping, in a cast-iron skillet? I may have to try that for my church's christmas potluck... :)