Dark and spicy gingerbread cake made with coffee to enhance the molasses flavor. This single layer gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting is an easy way to celebrate the holiday season!
This post is sponsored by Domino® Golden Sugar and all thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Katiebird Bakes possible!
There is just something about gingerbread, isn’t there? That spicy, dark, gingery molasses flavor instantly transports you to the holidays. Even just the smell is enough to make me excited for twinkly lights and hot cocoa and allllll the Christmas movies.
I know everyone gets excited about sugar cookies and snickerdoodles and peanut butter blossoms at this time of year – and I don’t blame them – but give me a well-spiced molasses cookie or a soft, tight-crumbed Christmas gingerbread cake and I will instantly be the most excited person you know.
The complex flavor of molasses is hard to replicate or even explain unless you’ve had it. Deep, almost caramel, thick liquid gold, if that gold had been cooked down to its most intense version.
I knew molasses was the perfect complement to my continuing partnership with Domino® Sugar featuring their new, less processed Golden Sugar, which you can buy on Amazon! It’s a cup-for-cup replacement for any recipe in which you’d use white sugar, and because it’s less processed it retains a hint of molasses resulting in a beautiful golden color. What better way to use it than to pair it with actual molasses??
What makes a great gingerbread cake?
In my mind, an ideal gingerbread cake has to be dark and intense in color, and just as hefty in flavor. It should be rich, indulgent, and full of depth. The ginger flavor should be noticeable, but also rounded out by the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. It should be sweet, but not too sweet.
And of course, it should be topped with cream cheese frosting. Yes. Gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting is a no-brainer – the tang of the cream cheese against the rich gingerbread cake is just heaven.
Here’s the problem though: many recipes that I’ve seen in my research and experimented with myself come out too light. Too light in color, too light in flavor, and too light in the crumb.
More of a snack cake, than an “omg-this-is-a-transcendent-experience” cake.
A snack cake is fine, and a light crumb is good for those cake for breakfast type situations or for a more virtuous-feeling dessert. But that’s not what we want with this gingerbread cake.
At Christmas and the holidays, it’s about decadence, and this cake does it. How?
1. Coffee. After much time contemplating it and a great deal of recipe research, I discovered that most classic gingerbread cake recipes call for at least a cup of very hot, if not boiling, water to be added to the batter before it goes in the oven. Supposedly, this trick loosens the tight gluten strands and creates a lighter, softer cake.
But my thought was that the water probably also thins out the flavor. This isn’t what we want in a dense and rich gingerbread.
I’ve made a gingerbread bundt cake before (don’t judge the photos; it was early days) that called for stout beer in the batter, which definitely added more flavor but required more babysitting in the form of cooking the beer on the stove first with the molasses. I wondered if I could achieve the same thing by using hot coffee, which would add color, depth, and flavor without additional time or complexity.
The answer, as it turns out, was a resounding yes. Don’t worry, the finished cake doesn’t taste like coffee. It just rounds out the flavor!
2. My tried and true melted butter trick. I’ve now used this trick in many of my recipes to both save time and create a dense texture when it’s needed (see, e.g., the easiest peanut butter cookies).
The theory is no different here. If we don’t want a light and fluffy cake, we’re not going to add unnecessary aeration by creaming butter and sugar. In fact, the cake portion of this recipe doesn’t require a mixer at all. My favorite way to bake!
3. Rich cream cheese frosting. This is essential to offset the intensity of the cake. I use a 1oz:1tbsp cold cream cheese to room temp butter ratio, which I think produces the best flavor and texture. I was even able to use the Domino® Golden Sugar in the frosting by blending it on high speed in my blender until it turned into powdered sugar. This is definitely optional – you can use regular powdered sugar – but I liked the complementary flavor it added against the gingerbread cake.
To turn the Golden Sugar (or any granulated sugar) into powdered sugar, simply blend half the volume of powdered sugar you’ll ultimately want (i.e., if you want 1 cup powdered sugar, blend 1/2 cup granulated sugar) in a blender or food processor on high speed, until it is a fine, fluffy powder. You may have to stir it around and blend a couple times to make sure it all gets powdery. That’s it! Use immediately so it doesn’t get clumpy.
4. Quick candied walnuts on top! This was Brian’s idea the day I was photographing this cake. I was madly frosting the cake and racing against the last bit of winter daylight (aka, it was 3pm) when he suggested it, so he helped me make them. I think it was a stroke of brilliance.
The candied walnuts cook up VERY quickly (10 minutes on the stove!) and they add crunch and textural contrast to the cake. I love the sparkle of them too. You can totally use pecans if you’d prefer, or omit entirely if it’s not your thing. You guessed it, we used Golden Sugar for these too.
Gingerbread Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting: The Flavor Just Gets Better with Time
Most of the research I’ve done about gingerbread suggests that it keeps better than most cakes because it is kept moist by the molasses. I definitely found this to be true.
Because this gingerbread cake has cream cheese frosting on it, you should keep it well-wrapped in the refrigerator – and I found that the cake’s flavor, once it was warmed to room temperature or just a bit warmer in the microwave – just got better with each passing day.
No joke, my parents and I tried it nearly a week after it had been baked, and it was not only still moist, but had the best flavor of all the days I tried it. The ginger and cloves really come forward as the cake sits.
The point? This is a great cake to make ahead if you’re having guests over. One less thing to worry about on the big day! You can keep the cake covered at room temperature until you frost it.
TO RECAP: this single layer gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting is dark and spicy; sweet and rich; filled with holiday flavors; will make your whole house smell amazing; and keeps for at least a week. Anything else you need to know?
Single Layer Gingerbread Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
For the Gingerbread Cake:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (252g; measured via spoon and level method)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (113g; 1 stick)
- 3/4 cup molasses (255g; don't use blackstrap)
- 1 cup hot brewed coffee* (227g)
- 1/3 cup
Domino® Golden Sugar(66g; granulated sugar works too)
- 1 large egg
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 4 ounces cream cheese cold (113g)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature (56g; 1/2 stick)
- 1 cup powdered sugar** (113g)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
For the Candied Walnuts:
- 1 cup walnut halves (113g)
- 1/4 cup
Domino® Golden Sugar (50g; granulated sugar works too)
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter (14g)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Cake:
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch round springform cake pan, or a normal 9-inch round cake pan with at least 2-inch high sides.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside.
- In a large microwave-safe bowl (I use a large glass bowl), or in a saucepan on the stove, melt the butter. Whisk in the molasses and hot coffee until fully combined and smooth. Whisk in the
Golden Sugar, followed by the egg, until fully combined.
- Dump the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients and stir together until well-combined and no lumps remain.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth out the surface, and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until cake springs back when touched and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Let cake cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove the sides of the springform pan to release the cake. Let cake cool completely while you prepare the frosting.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
- In a large bowl using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or a hand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter at high speed until pale and very fluffy – this should take 2-3 minutes. You want to incorporate as much air as possible into the mixture to make it light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt, and beat at medium to high speed until fully combined and light.
- Spread cooled cake with cream cheese frosting. It should make a thick layer, and can be swirled in pretty patterns with an offset spatula.
- Sprinkle top of cake with candied walnuts if desired. Serve!
For the Candied Walnuts:
- Place all ingredients in a skillet over medium heat. Stir occasionally, until the
Golden Sugarbegins to melt, about 5 minutes. Once sugar melts, stir constantly to prevent burning until all nuts are coated, about 1 minute more. Remove from heat and spread the nuts out on a baking sheet lined with parchment to cool (this prevents clumping). Once cool, sprinkle over top of cake. Leftover nuts keep up to a week in a sealed container at room temperature.
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I baked this cake for my family for Christmas and it’s been a smashing hit 👍 Everyone’s loved it !! Spot on recipe and ticks all the boxes of a perfect cake 😊 Honestly can’t thank you enough for making our holiday so special and memorable ☺️ Please do check out the pictures(maybe not perfect) I posted on Instagram whenever time permits. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and your family ❄️
Thanks so much Sudha, so glad you enjoyed it!
Hi Katie – just wanted to say how great this cake recipe is again! Not sure why we waited till it was Christmas season to make this again – but wow it is such an amazing cake and it was such a hit. I decided to make this into a layered cake – just because – and it was so delicious. Thanks again for this amazing recipe and the effort you put into all the helpful notes.
Thank you so much for this wonderful feedback Nan! So glad you enjoy the recipe!
This cake is AMAZING!!! I made it for a holiday party with friends, and everyone loved it and wanted seconds! The addition of the coffee is genius – it really brings the recipe to the next level!
I am already counting down the days until Christmas so I can make it again!!
I’m so glad you loved the coffee addition as much as I did!
This is such an amazing cake recipe!! So easy to make, looks gorgeous when iced, and absolutely delicious! We have made it countless times over this Christmas as we can’t get enough of it. It is delicious with or without (when you can’t wait for the cake to cool) icing!!! We never got around to making any other “ginger bread” baking as we were too content eating this cake. Thank you!
I love that! thank you Nan!
This was delicious! The 20-30 sec in the microwave made it better. Loved the candied walnuts on top!!
The microwave trick works every time! Thank you Valerie!
I just found out the gathering for which i m making this cake has grown and i m afraid there will not be enough…Can I double it and bake in a bundt pan?
Hi Pat – yes, I think that would work! Increase bake time to 45-55 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. I think you can keep the frosting recipe the same and just add some milk to thin it to a pourable consistency for a cream cheese glaze if you want! Let me know how it turns out!
Delicious and exactly what I hoped it would be. Moist, dense, not too sweet. It’s a keeper!
Exactly what I was going for! Thanks for the great review, Cathy!
Hello! Can watered down espresso be used? I live in Italy and it’s nearly impossible to find American brew coffee.
Yes – you can absolutely do that. Just make sure it measures out to 1 cup.
I whipped this up yesterday to have today and it was fantastic. Fridged overnight, let it sit out for an hour, and then microwaved it, frosted and all, for thirty seconds. Perfecto. It’s the perfect combination of fluffy and dense, rich and sweet, ginger and molasses. I didn’t have a deep enough cake pan, so I just filled it 3/4 full and used the rest in my mini-cake pans. I’m a huge fan of bold, soft gingerbread and this will be my new go-to. I won’t know if it gets better later because 4 adults and a couple kids finished it off after lunch just now. Thank you!
Hi Amy – I am so glad you loved this recipe! Thank you for the great review! Enjoy the holiday season.
Gingerbread is my favorite holiday flavor! This cake + cream cheese frosting = AMAZING.
Thank you for sharing the recipe Katie, and have a Merry Christmas!
Thank you Peggy! I hope you have a wonderful holiday!