Honestly, I made this gingerbread layer cake back in September – basically the moment it turned to fall and felt at least moderately seasonally appropriate. But I realized I really ought to post it for y’all before the window closes again! (I have oddly strong feelings about gingerbread and molasses being strictly fall/winter flavors. I’ve just never been able to bring myself to make gingersnaps after February).
This was the second time I made this cake, which is good news since I was decidedly underwhelmed with the first attempt. That was a few years ago, and in hindsight, I’m fairly certain I made it with blackstrap molasses instead of light molasses, which was a big mistake. I also used the frosting suggested in the Cook’s Illustrated recipe, which was also a mistake. I remember it being lumpy and inadequately flavorful to balance out the cake. I salvaged it by adding lemon, but the cake was disappointing.
Overall, I’m honestly kind of surprised I gave this cake a second try. But I really wanted a fall-flavored layer cake, and this ticked those boxes. Plus, I had all the ingredients on-hand, which was a big selling point, too. Plus, plus! You don’t have to use a mixer, which is always a nice bonus.
Working out of the America’s Test Kitchen – Perfect Cake cookbook (which I definitely recommend), I heeded the headnote in the book and did not use blackstrap molasses. (The online version doesn’t include this warning, which I blame for the underwhelming results the first time). I used regular molasses, did not tweak any of the spice quantities, and baked each layer in a separate pan – just as the recipe suggests. I did, however, make my own frosting variation, and it was gooooooood.
This cake is now being added to my short list of I-am-certain-this-will-be-awesome cake recipes along with this carrot cake and an almond cake recipe that I need to post soon.
It’s quite spicy and delicious and probably not very kid-friendly. Like, this is a cake for grown ups who want to feel mildly sophisticated about eating cake. You know, it’s got a robust bouquet, a very spice-forward palate, and… other fancy sounding descriptors for fancy adult-type people…
Legit, though, it’s almost more spicy than sweet. That’s why I paired it with a honey cream cheese frosting – both because I love cream cheese frosting and because I wanted to mellow out the spice a bit with a frosting that was still warm (in a flavor sense, not a temperature sense).
Anyway, this cake was rad. I might make it a fall solstice tradition. It’s probably a once-a-year kind of cake, since I’m much more apt to reach for something chocolate on the regular. But it’s now in my arsenal, and if you’re looking for something warm and spicy and autumnal or wintery – here it is for you!
Spicy Gingerbread Layer Cake with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 ¾ cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup (3/4 ounce) cocoa powder
- 2 Tablespoons ground ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup brewed coffee
- ¾ cup molasses (not blackstrap)
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ½ cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
- 16 oz cream cheese (2 – 8oz packages)
- 1 cup of butter (2 sticks)
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1-2 cups powdered sugar (to taste and texture)
Heat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour 8-inch round cake pans and line pans with parchment paper (ideally, you have four of these, but since the layers are thin, you can use two, then wipe the pans and repeat. Don’t try to bake two layers and slice them into four – the cake won’t hold up well enough for that. It’s a delicate crumb and a better idea to bake layers separately).
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, ground ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and cayenne.
In a separate bowl, mix coffee, molasses, and baking soda together. Then, add the granulated sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and fresh ginger and whisk until smooth.
Whisk together the wet and dry ingredients, mixing until smooth and no major lumps remain.
Pour 1 1/3 cups batter into each prepared pan (or, if you have a kitchen scale – which you should! – divide the batter evenly across four pans). Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 12 to 14 minutes.
If you’ve only got two pans, let the cakes cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert the slightly cooled cakes onto a wire rack and peel off parchment, then flip the cakes right side up to continue cooling. Wipe the pans clean with paper towels. Grease and flour the pans again and line with fresh parchment. Repeat baking and cooling process with remaining batter.
Once the cakes have cooled, make the frosting: using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter and cream cheese together until smooth (about 2 minutes). Add honey and vanilla and mix to incorporate. Then add around a cup of powdered sugar and taste.
I typically make my frosting to taste/texture. So if you want a sweeter or more sturdy frosting, add a quarter or half a cup of powdered sugar at a time until you’re happy with the result.
Frost the layers to your satisfaction, then enjoy!
Note: in the hopes of some (far off) day being able to quit my day job, this post contains affiliate links. I only link to things I actually recommend, and I might earn a commission if you end up buying something. That would be cool, but no worries if it’s not your thing.