This deeply spiced and moist gingerbread cake is wonderful any time of day, whether served plain or dressed up with spiced cream cheese frosting and sugared cranberries. You can make it as a single layer cake, or try the 3 layer cake versions detailed in the Notes. No matter how you bake and serve it, this is a classic gingerbread recipe the whole family will love during the holiday season!
Reader MK commented: “Soooo delicious! My grandma used to make gingerbread every year and never used a written recipe. This is the closest thing I’ve tasted to it in years. ★★★★★”
Nothing tastes more like the holidays than the warm, cozy flavors of gingerbread. The smell of ginger, cloves, and molasses can instantly transport anyone’s mindset to December.
Every holiday season, I make my favorite gingerbread cookies, and gingerbread waffles are fast becoming a favorite winter weekend tradition in my house, too. But what about just, simply, gingerbread? A sweet, spiced stick-to-your-fork-moist cake that can do double-duty as Christmas morning breakfast and dessert… welcome to my quintessential gingerbread recipe!
While adding a layer of cream cheese frosting makes it a wonderful holiday dessert, this cake would be just as welcome as a special holiday breakfast, snack, or late-night last-minute gift-wrapping fuel.
Gingerbread has no time-of-day limitations. 😉
Why You Will Love This Gingerbread Snack Cake
- A 1-layer cake, perfect for when you aren’t feeding a big crowd
- You can even make it as an upside down pear gingerbread cake
- Warm, comforting holiday flavors of molasses, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves
- Moist cake crumb, not dry or dense at all
- Top with spiced cream cheese frosting, enjoy it plain, with whipped cream, or with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar
- Adaptable to other pan sizes—see below
- Quick and easy prep makes for a low-maintenance holiday dessert
Ingredients You Need:
- Flour: The base of the gingerbread cake recipe.
- Baking Soda: As you may have read in my baking powder vs. baking soda post, molasses and brown sugar are both acids. So we need baking soda to give the cake its lift!
- Spices: Ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt—the gingerbread mainstays.
- Molasses: In addition to the spices, molasses is the other signature flavor in most gingerbread recipes. I recommend using unsulphured or dark molasses, not blackstrap, which has a more intense flavor that’s a bit too much in baked goods. (I always use Grandma’s brand molasses.)
- Hot Water: As you’ll read about below, whisking the thick molasses with hot water before adding it to the batter makes everything come together easily. The water also adds supreme moisture to each and every bite.
- Butter: You just can’t beat the flavor of this baking staple!
- Brown Sugar: Sweetening with brown sugar provides extra moisture + molasses flavor.
- Egg: 1 egg serves to bind the ingredients together, and adds richness.
- Vanilla Extract: Because, you know, cake. 🙂
How to Mix Sticky Molasses Into Cake Batter
Whisk the molasses with hot water before adding it to the batter. Why? As you know, molasses is very thick. The thick goop, for lack of better words, doesn’t mix easily into cake batter. It’s fine for cookie doughs such as iced gingerbread oatmeal cookies and gingerbread cookie bars, but hot water helps loosen the viscous consistency of molasses, which helps incorporate it into a thinner cake batter.
The resulting cake is dense, yet soft. Buttery, perfectly spiced, and impeccably flavored.
The rest of the prep work is pretty simple, too. You’ll cream the butter and brown sugar together, so an electric mixer is undoubtedly helpful (you’ll need it if you make the frosting, too). As the recipe instructs below, add the dry ingredients and water/molasses mixture to the wet ingredients in separate additions.
The batter is a little thick, and some small lumps are OK:
Different Pan Size Options
This is a versatile gingerbread cake recipe. It can be made a multitude of ways: as a 1-layer round, square, or 11×7-inch rectangle cake; as a gingerbread loaf cake; or as a layer cake. I originally published this recipe in 2015, and when testing this recipe again this year, we tried all of these variations so we could tell you which pans do and don’t work. We went through a LOT of molasses, and had a LOT of cake to give away.
Here’s what we know: The recipe as written makes about 3 cups of batter, and weighs about 850–890g. A 9-inch springform pan is best because this gingerbread cake rises high. No matter what size pan you use, bake the cake at 350°F (177°C). Insert a toothpick in the center of the cake to test for doneness. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.
Here are the pans that won’t work:
- There is too much batter for a 9-inch round cake pan.
- There is not enough batter for a 9×13-inch pan or a Bundt pan.
Yes! I suggest making the batter twice, and reducing the molasses (see Note below). This will be a lot of batter (about 6 cups or 1745g) and is the perfect amount for a 3-layer cake. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Fill the cake pans halfway (about 575g batter in each). Bake for 22–25 minutes. If you don’t want to make the batter twice, you can make it once and bake it in three 6-inch round cake pans, to make a 3-layer 6-inch cake.
Yes! For about 14 cupcakes, fill liners halfway and bake for 20-22 minutes. Or try my slightly different recipe for gingerbread cupcakes.
Topping Gingerbread Cake
This gingerbread snack cake is absolutely fantastic on its own—you don’t even need frosting! But if you want to make it a little more special, slather on some sweet and tangy spiced cream cheese frosting. (Included in the recipe card below.) It’s like absolute heaven on this not-too-sweet cake.
Or keep it plain so you can warm your slice up and top it with vanilla ice cream. Maybe a little salted caramel sauce on top there, too? Why not!?
I also love to garnish it with cranberries for color. Sugared cranberries are especially festive, and see my notes in that tutorial for sugared rosemary. Here’s a slice from my 9-inch springform pan:
Here’s the layered cake, detailed in the recipe Notes below:
And here’s the gingerbread cake baked in a 9-inch square pan with festive Christmas sprinkles. The little holly decorations are by the brand Wilton, and I can’t seem to find them online anymore. These Christmas trees are similar, though!
More Gingerbread Recipes
- Gingerbread Muffins
- Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread Cake
- Gingerbread Cookie Bars & Gingerbread Cookies
- Gingerbread Whoopie Pies
- Homemade Gingerbread House (with free template)
- Gingerbread Waffles
This is my timeless classic gingerbread. You can enjoy it plain or with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar or dollop of whipped cream. You can also top it with spiced cream cheese frosting (recipe included below). You can make it as a single layer round or square cake, or try the layer cake versions detailed in the Notes.
- 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour (spooned & leveled)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup (180ml or 225g) unsulphured or dark molasses (do not use blackstrap; I prefer Grandma’s brand)
- 3/4 cup (180ml) hot water (about 100°F (38°C))
- 1/2 cup (8 Tbsp; 113g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1/3 cup (67g) packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting (optional)
- 8 ounces (226g) full-fat brick cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 2 Tablespoons (28g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 and 3/4 cups (210g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1 Tablespoon (15ml) milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- small pinch each of ground cinnamon, ginger, and cloves
- optional: sprinkles and/or sugared cranberries for garnish
- Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease a 9-inch springform pan, 9-inch square pan, or 11×7-inch rectangle pan. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt together until combined. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl or in a liquid measuring cup, whisk the molasses and hot water together.
- In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat on high speed for 1 minute until creamed together fairly well. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a silicone spatula as needed. On medium-high speed, beat in the egg and vanilla until combined. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a silicone spatula as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the hot water/molasses, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and mixing each addition just until incorporated. Avoid over-mixing. Give it a whisk by hand at the end to make sure there are no large lumps (a few small lumps are OK). Batter is slightly thick.
- Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for around 35 minutes, or until the cake is baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean with only a couple moist (not wet) crumbs, it’s done.
- Allow cake to cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack. The cake must be completely cool before frosting.
- Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a handheld mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed until creamy and no lumps remain, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, milk, and pinches of spices. (Note that the video does not include the spices in the frosting, but the pictures do!) Beat on low speed for 20 seconds, then increase to high speed until everything is completely combined and the frosting is creamy. Taste. Add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet. Spread on top of cake. Spread around the sides if you have extra frosting.
- Slice and serve.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: Prepare cake through step 6. Wrap the baked and cooled cake tightly and keep at room temperature for 1 day or freeze up to 3 months. Bring to room temperature (if frozen) then continue with step 7. Frosting can also be made 1 day ahead of time. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. Beat the frosting on medium speed for a few seconds so it’s creamy again, if needed. Frosted cake freezes well, up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature or serve cold. See How to Freeze Cakes.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): 9-inch Springform Pan | Glass Mixing Bowl | Whisk | Electric Mixer (Handheld or Stand) | Silicone Spatula | Cooling Rack | Offset Icing Spatula
- Different Size Pans: No matter what size pan you use, bake the cake at 350°F (177°C). A 9-inch springform pan or 10-inch springform pan is best because this gingerbread cake rises pretty high. 9-inch cake pans are too short. You can also use a 9-inch square pan or 11×7-inch rectangle pan. For all of these pans, the bake time will be about 35 minutes. Insert a toothpick in the center of the cake to test for doneness. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. There is not enough batter for a 9×13-inch cake pan or a Bundt pan.
- Gingerbread Cupcakes: For about 14 cupcakes, fill liners halfway and bake for 20–22 minutes. Or try my slightly different recipe for gingerbread cupcakes.
- 9-Inch Layer Cake: You can make this as a 3-layer 9-inch cake. I suggest making the batter twice, and reducing the molasses to 1/2 cup (150g) in each (for 1 cup (300g) total in the layer cake). You do not have to reduce the water. Don’t double this recipe—make it twice and then combine the batters; the batter is too heavy to double all at once. You will have about 6 cups or 1745g of batter. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Fill the cake pans halfway (about 575g batter in each). Bake the layers for 22–25 minutes. The best amounts/ratio of ingredients to use for the frosting would be the same cream cheese frosting from this carrot cake recipe. Feel free to still add a pinch of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves to it if desired.
- 6-inch Layer Cake: You can make the batter as written above and divide it between 3 6-inch round cake pans, to make a 3-layer 6-inch cake. The cream cheese frosting written above is enough for the 3-layer 6-inch cake.
- Adapted from Gingerbread Muffins.
Keywords: gingerbread cake