As the holiday season approaches, the delightful aroma of gingerbread wafts through the air, bringing back cherished memories. This Gingerbread Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting recipe, perfect for this time of year, is a harmonious blend of warm spices and tangy cream cheese frosting. It’s an ideal dessert for your Christmas dinner or any festive occasion. Let’s embark on a journey to create the perfect gingerbread layer cake, rich in flavors and history, a classic gingerbread delight that’s sure to be the best thing at your holiday table.
What is Gingerbread?
Gingerbread refers to a variety of baked goods flavored with ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and molasses or honey. These ingredients contribute to its moist texture and warm, spicy flavor, characteristic of traditional spice cakes. From gingerbread cookies to gingerbread houses, this treat has been a holiday staple for centuries, symbolizing warmth and festivity.
Where Did Gingerbread Come From?
Tracing the roots of gingerbread leads us on an intriguing journey through history and culture. The origins of gingerbread are as rich and complex as its flavors, dating back to ancient civilizations. Ginger, the key ingredient, was revered for its medicinal properties in places like Ancient China and Greece. It was used to treat a variety of ailments, from digestive issues to inflammation.
As trade routes expanded, ginger and other exotic spices such as cinnamon and cloves found their way into Europe. This marked a significant turning point. In medieval Europe, these spices were both rare and expensive, making them a symbol of wealth and status. The incorporation of these spices into bread and cakes began as a luxury only the wealthy could afford.
The first recorded instances of gingerbread can be traced to monasteries, where monks would bake ginger-spiced bread for special occasions. Over time, gingerbread evolved from a simple spiced bread to a confection that was often shaped and decorated, particularly around holidays and festivals. By the 17th century, gingerbread baking had become an acknowledged profession in Europe. In fact, in some European countries, gingerbread bakers were formed into guilds with strict regulations on how gingerbread was made.
One of the most significant evolutions of gingerbread was in Germany where Lebkuchen, a softer, more cake-like gingerbread, was developed. This German tradition laid the foundation for what many of us recognize as gingerbread today. It was here that the tradition of baking gingerbread houses, likely inspired by the famous Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel,” began.
As European settlers traveled to the Americas, they brought with them their cherished gingerbread recipes, which continued to evolve. The introduction of baking soda in the 19th century transformed gingerbread into the lighter, more cake-like texture we are familiar with today.
Gingerbread’s journey from an ancient medicinal remedy to a beloved holiday treat is a testament to the cross-cultural exchange of ideas and traditions. It reflects the historical significance of spices in shaping culinary history and stands as a symbol of festivity and celebration that transcends cultures and time.
Making the Cake
This delicious gingerbread cake recipe is straightforward and simple to make. You can make it in any shape you like. I used standard cake pans for my cake, but I also found an adorable Gingerbread Man cake pan that would be so cute! Whether you’re making a gingerbread layer cake, gingerbread cupcakes, or even a gingerbread sheet cake, this recipe is versatile.
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1 C brown up sugar
- 1 C molasses
- 1 C warm water
- 1 C buttermilk, room temperature
- 2 large eggs
- 1 Tbsp ground ginger
- 1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 2 C all-purpose flour
- Non-stick baking spray
Note: For the frosting, I used my Cream Cheese Frosting recipe, adding a little orange zest for a twist. But this will be just fine with any frosting or buttercream you prefer, like cinnamon cream cheese frosting.
Start by preheating the oven to 350º and spraying your baking pans with the non-stick baking spray. Set them aside.
In a large bowl or stand mixer, whisk together butter, sugar, molasses, eggs, water and buttermilk. Beat together until fully combined.
Next, add in your spices – ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.
Add your baking powder, flour and baking soda, and whisk everything until just combined.
Divide your cake batter between your pans (I had four pans), then place in the oven for around 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
All the cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire cooling rack.
Make the Cream Cheese Frosting (or use store-bought). Add it to a piping bag with a 1A piping tip.
When your cakes are completely cool, pipe an even layer of the cream cheese frosting between each layer of cake. Make sure to frost the top, as well. For mine, I did not frost the sides of the cake, as I wanted each layer to show. But you can do as you see fit.
Add any decorations to the top of your cake just before serving.
Pro tip: It is easier to frost a frozen cake. If time allows, freeze the cake layers to make frosting it easier. This is especially true if you are not using a piping bag. Freezing makes sure you avoid crumbs. You can wrap the layers in plastic wrap and store them in an airtight container until you’re ready to frost.
And that’s it! Such an easy, yet stunning cake to make, and it’s absolutely perfect for the holidays. Make it for the family for a beautiful Christmas dessert. You won’t regret it.
Getting Perfect Layers
Achieving perfect layers in a gingerbread cake is both an art and a science. Here’s an expanded guide to ensure your gingerbread layers are as impressive in texture as they are in taste:
Room Temperature Ingredients
The importance of room temperature ingredients cannot be overstated. Ingredients like eggs, buttermilk, and butter should be at room temperature before mixing. This ensures they blend more uniformly with the dry ingredients, resulting in a smoother batter. For eggs, this means they emulsify better, trapping air and giving the cake a lighter, more even texture.
Consistent Bake Time and Temperature
Oven temperature plays a crucial role. Preheating the oven to the right temperature (350 degrees for this recipe) is crucial. Using an oven thermometer can help verify the accuracy of your oven’s settings. Consistency in bake time is key. Every oven is different, so it’s important to check the cake at the minimum baking time recommended. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
Using Cake Strips
Cake strips are an excellent tool for achieving even baking. These fabric strips, soaked in water and wrapped around the outside of the cake pans, help regulate the temperature. They slow down the baking on the sides so that the edges don’t bake faster than the middle. This results in layers that are uniformly baked, with less doming and dry edges.
Allowing the cake layers to cool properly is as important as the baking process. Start by cooling the cakes in their pans for about 10 minutes. This allows the cake to settle and reduces the risk of it breaking apart when removed. Then, transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool completely. Cooling on a wire rack prevents moisture from building up at the bottom of the cake, which could make the layers soggy.
Leveling the Cake
For a truly professional look, leveling the cake layers is a must. Once the cakes are completely cool, use a serrated knife or a cake leveler to trim off the domed tops. This creates a flat, even surface that makes layering and frosting the cake much easier and more stable.
If time allows, chilling the cake layers in the refrigerator for about an hour before assembling and frosting can make them firmer and easier to handle. This is especially useful when using a softer frosting like cream cheese.
By following these detailed steps, including using an electric mixer on medium speed to combine the wet and dry ingredients separately in a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, you ensure a fluffy cake batter. When you pour the batter into the prepared pan, you’re on your way to baking the perfect gingerbread cake.
How Much Frosting Should You Use Between Layers?
The amount of frosting between each layer depends on personal preference. However, for a balanced taste, a medium thickness that complements the cake without overpowering it is ideal. Using a piping bag with a 1A piping tip can help achieve an even distribution of frosting.
- Electric Mixer vs. Hand Mixer: Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment can ensure a smooth and well-combined batter. However, a hand mixer can also suffice.
- Molasses Choice: Using blackstrap molasses can intensify the flavor, giving the cake a deeper, richer taste.
- Additional Decorations: Consider garnishing with sugared cranberries or a sprinkle of powdered sugar for a festive look.
This gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting is not just a dessert; it’s a celebration of tradition, warmth, and the joy of baking. Whether it’s your first time or you’re a seasoned baker, this recipe promises a moist, flavorful, and tender cake that’s sure to delight your taste buds and add a special touch to your holiday season.
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup brown up sugar
- 1 cups molasses
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoons ground ginger
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- Non-stick baking spray
- Preheat the oven to 350º and coat your cake pans with nonstick baking spray. Set them aside.
- In a large bowl or stand mixer, whisk together butter, sugar, molasses, eggs, water and buttermilk. Beat until well combined.
- Add your spices - ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt, whisking on low.
- Add your baking powder, flour and baking soda, and continue to whisk until just combined.
- Divide batter between cake pans, and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Allow cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Make the frosting, and add it to a piping bag with a 1A tip.
- Frost each layer of cake, stacking them as you go.
- Add decorations to the top just before serving.
If using 8 inch round pans, double the recipe for a larger stacked layer cake.
If you do not have a piping bag and will be spreading the frosting, freeze the cake layers first to stop crumbs from getting in the frosting.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 295Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 47mgSodium: 234mgCarbohydrates: 55gFiber: 1gSugar: 39gProtein: 4g
This nutrition information is automatically calculated and may not be entirely accurate. Please do your own research if you are overly concerned about specific macros.
Katie Reed is a passionate writer and mother of four vivacious boys from Salt Lake City, Utah. Drawing from her own journey through TTC, pregnancy, and the joys of raising children, she offers a wealth of insight into the world of motherhood. Beyond her heartfelt tales, Katie delights her readers with family-friendly recipes, engaging crafts, and a curated library of printables for both kids and adults. When she’s not penning her experiences, you’ll find her crafting memories with her husband and sons—Dexter, Daniel, Chester, and Wilder.