Gingerbread Layer Cake is a festive and delightful dessert that is full of your favorite holiday flavors. The combination of light and fluffy gingerbread cake layers with the cinnamon cream cheese frosting is a perfect blend of delicious seasonal spices. And when topped with sugared cranberries, cinnamon sticks, and star anise, this gorgeous Gingerbread Layer Cake will be the star of your holiday dessert table.
Gingerbread is truly synonymous with the holiday season. Which is why our annual family tradition of making gingerbread cookies is something we all look forward to for months. And after last year's success with our Ombre Gingerbread Tree Cookies we will definitely be making several batches for our holiday cookie swap party this year.
But for me, it is gingerbread cake that I love and crave this time of year. There is something about a moist and delicious cake with the comforting combination of molasses, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. And wrapping it up in a snowy white cinnamon-spiked frosting is well, the icing on the cake. Simple, elegant, and full of classic flavor. This truly is the gingerbread cake that Christmas dreams are made of!
What is Molasses?
Molasses is simply a by-product of the sugar-making process. Sugar cane or sugar beets are crushed, the juice is extracted and then boiled to form sugar crystals. Light molasses is the liquid that remains after removing the white sugar crystals.
What Type of Molasses for Gingerbread?
While you can use light or dark molasses to make gingerbread, it is dark molasses that gives gingerbread its signature flavor.
And, there are actually three types of molasses: light molasses, dark molasses, and blackstrap molasses.
The light variety of molasses has a mild, almost fruity flavor and is used to make baked goods and candies. Dark molasses is made from boiling cane syrup a second time, and is thicker and darker in color. Dark molasses has caramel undertones and more complex flavor.
Blackstrap molasses is the result of a third boiling and as such contains the least amount of sugar. It is much darker and has a stronger, somewhat bitter flavor. Blackstrap molasses is commonly used in savory recipes like barbecue sauce.
Tips for Making Gingerbread Layer Cake
- Be sure your cream cheese has fully come up to room temperature before making the frosting.
- Using freshly grated nutmeg will add an amazing amount of flavor to this gingerbread cake. Use a nutmeg grater and scrape the side of the nutmeg seed to get the amount you need.
- When entertaining, you can bake the cake layers ahead of time. Wrap them in plastic and store in a cool place until needed.
How To Make Sugared Cranberries
- Combine sugar and water in a small pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and cool syrup for 10 minutes.
- Place cranberries in a large bowl and pour the syrup over the top. Stir gently to coat all the cranberries with the syrup. Let cool completely, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Once cranberries have steeped and are now cold, drain into a colander. Place sanding sugar in a shallow dish.
- Add the cranberries in small batches, rolling to coat with sugar. Spread sugared cranberries in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Let cranberries sit at room temperature until dry, about 1 hour.
- Store cranberries in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to one week.
More Holiday Cake Recipes
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tablespoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon cardamom
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup molasses
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup hot water
- 8 oz 1 block full fat cream cheese, room temperature
- ½ cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 3 cups powdered sugar sifted
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup fresh cranberries
- ⅓ cup sanding sugar regular sugar will work here too
- Gingerbread men
- Sugared cranberries
- Cinnamon sticks
- Star Anise optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of two 8 or 9 inch round baking pans with parchment paper rounds. Grease and flour the sides of the pans.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside.
In a separate large bowl, beat oil, molasses, and sugars until mixture on medium speed until mixture is light and airy. Scrape down bowl and add eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated.
Stir in vanilla extract.
With beaters running on low, gradually add in flour mixture, mixing until just combined. The batter will be thick and lumpy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add hot water. Mix on low until batter is smooth.
Evenly pour batter into pans and bake for 25-28 minutes or until a knife is inserted into the center of the cake and comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool for 15 minutes in pans then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting-
Beat cream cheese and butter until light and smooth. Add powdered sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and beat until combined. Increase mixer speed to high and beat frosting until light and airy, about 4-5 minutes.
If needed, level the cakes by cutting off the domes using a serrated knife. Place one cake layer on a cake stand or serving plate. Evenly spread about ¾ cup of frosting on the layer. Top with the second layer and spread remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with sugared cranberries, cinnamon sticks, gingerbread men, and star anise, if desired.
To make the Sugared Cranberries- from Decadent Fruit Desserts Cookbook (my cookbook)
Combine sugar and water in a small pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Once simmering, remove from heat and cool syrup for 10 minutes.
Place cranberries in a large bowl and pour the syrup over the top. Stir gently to coat all the cranberries with the syrup. Let cool completely, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Once cranberries have steeped, and are now cold, drain into a colander. Reserve syrup for cocktails! Place sanding sugar in a shallow dish.
Add the cranberries in small batches, rolling to coat with sugar. Spread sugared cranberries in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Let cranberries sit at room temperature until dry, about 1 hour. Store cranberries in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to one week.