A timeless, classic, traditional Gingerbread recipe! This is one of my family’s favorite recipes. It makes for a dense but soft, moist, and richly flavored old-fashioned recipe, perfectly flavored with molasses, brown sugar, and lots of cozy spices! Recipe includes a how-to video at the bottom of the post!
A Classic, Old-Fashioned Gingerbread Recipe
Not to be confused with gingerbread cookies, this old-fashioned gingerbread cake is a perfectly spiced holiday staple and has been in my family for decades. It originated from the same source as my favorite angel food cake: my mom’s well-worn Good Housekeeping cookbook.
I knew that I wanted to share a gingerbread recipe for the holidays, but not just any recipe, I wanted it to be this one.
Humble and rustic in appearance, the flavor of gingerbread is anything but with bright and cozy winter spices. It tastes incredible served warm with a dollop of homemade whipped cream (though many readers have said that they top theirs with lemon curd, instead!).
Let’s get to it!
I won’t go over every ingredient, but I did want to touch on a few of the key players in today’s recipe and why we’re using them (plus a few things to keep in mind when you’re searching for these ingredients in the grocery store!).
- Molasses. Molasses is an absolutely critical ingredient for true gingerbread flavor. This ingredient is often sold in several varieties, you will want to make sure that you grab a bottle that says “unsulphured” on the label. This has a milder (in a good way) flavor than sulphured molasses. I often use Grandma’s brand molasses or Brer Rabbit “full flavor” molasses (pictured above). If you can’t find either of these brands, make sure that you use a “dark” molasses and avoid “blackstrap” variety, which can be quite bitter.
- Butter. My family’s recipe originally used shortening, and you can feel free to use an equal amount of shortening in this recipe instead. However, after lots of taste-testing I decided I much preferred the flavor of real butter. If you can find it, grab yourself European-style butter (usually sold right beside “regular’ butter), which has a higher fat content and gives the gingerbread an even better flavor and more tender texture.
- Sugar. Dark brown sugar is best for this recipe as it contains a higher amount of molasses and lends itself to the rich flavor of this cake. Don’t forget that if you don’t happen to have this ingredient on hand, you can always follow my easy tutorial on how to make brown sugar!
- Flour. Use all-purpose flour, I have not tried this recipe with any substitutions and definitely advise that you avoid self-rising flour.
- Spices. This recipe uses a cozy blend of wintery spices: ground ginger, ground cinnamon, and cloves work with the flavors of the molasses for a true gingerbread flavor. Your house is going to smell amazing.
- HOT water. Very hot or boiling water is critical to this recipe as it helps to evenly incorporate all of the ingredients for a smooth, cohesive batter and (perhaps most importantly) blooms the spices for the best possible flavor.
How to Make Gingerbread
- Cream together butter and brown sugar (I recommend using an electric mixer) and then stir in molasses, egg, and vanilla extract until batter is well-combined. Sometimes you may notice that the mixture appears a bit piecey/separated at this point, that is OK! Everything will come together in the end!
- Separately whisk together your dry ingredients, then gently stir the dry ingredients into the butter/molasses mixture.
- Stir in HOT or boiling water (carefully!) until ingredients are smooth and well combined. Make sure batter is uniform in appearance, as not properly mixing could cause the cake to sink.
- Pour into a 9×9″ pan and cook until baked through.
I recommend slicing and serving yours while it’s still warm rather than waiting to allow it to cool completely. Don’t get me wrong, the leftovers are incredible, but there’s just something so delectable about still-warm gingerbread (topped with whipped cream, of course!).
Frequently Asked Questions
There are several reasons this can happen, but I’d like to cover the two most likely reasons:
1) If the cake is under-baked or the oven door is opened too many times before the cake is fully baked, the gingerbread may sink.
2) If the batter sits too long before making its way into the oven, the baking soda can begin to react with the other ingredients too quickly. This chemical reaction needs to take place in your oven, not on your countertop, so make sure your oven is preheated and ready to go and don’t let the batter sit around once it’s all mixed together — get it in the oven right away!
I recommend using a 9×9″ (23x23cm) square metal baking pan. A glass pan may also be substituted but keep in mind the gingerbread will take longer to bake this way. An 8×8″ (20x20cm) pan that is deep enough (don’t fill higher than ¾ of the way full) will also work but will similarly take longer to bake. I have not tried this recipe in any other size pan.
The toothpick test is one of the best ways to tell if gingerbread is finished baking. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean or, preferably, with a few moist crumbs (but not wet batter).
Alternatively, look for a cake that is slightly puffed in the center and springs back to the touch if you lightly touch with the pad of your finger. Small cracks on the surface of the cake are also normal and indicative of a cake that’s finished baking. If the cake is jiggly or wet looking, it is going to need more time in the oven.
Under-baking can cause a sunken cake and over-baking can cause a dry one, so making sure your gingerbread is properly baked is critical!
Gingerbread is inherently slightly dense and heavy in texture, but each bite is perfectly flavored and moist and just melts in your mouth. This is the perfect cozy wintertime treat, and I think you’re going to love it!
Let’s bake together! I’ll be walking you through all the steps in my written recipe and video below! If you try this recipe, be sure to tag me on Instagram, and you can also find me on YouTube and Facebook
- ½ cup unsalted butter (preferably European-style butter, if you can find it) softened to room temperature (113g) (may substitute vegetable shortening)
- ½ cup dark brown sugar firmly packed (100g)
- 1 cup unsulphured molasses (235ml)
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (312g)
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup boiling water (235ml)
- Whipped Cream for topping, optional
- 9×9 baking pan
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C) and prepare a 9"x9" (23x23cm) metal baking pan by either generously greasing and flouring or by lining with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Combine butter and brown sugar in a large bowl and use an electric mixer to beat until creamy.
- Add molasses and stir until well combined.
- Add egg and vanilla extract. Stir well.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves, and salt.
- Gradually add dry ingredients to wet until completely combined.
- Carefully stir in boiling water until ingredients are smooth and well-combined.
- Pour batter into prepared baking pan and bake in the center rack of 350F (175C) preheated oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
- Allow to cool before slicing and serving. This Gingerbread tastes best when topped with whipped cream!
ToppingsMy family always tops this recipe with a batch of my homemade whipped cream, but many people also enjoy it topped with warm lemon curd!
StoringStore in an airtight container (or tightly covered in the pan it was baked in) at room temperature for up to 3 days. Note: This recipe has been one my family has used since I was a child and has been closely adapted from Good Housekeeping (affiliate).
More Holiday Recipes to Try:
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This Gingerbread recipe was originally published 12/15/2017. Recipe remains the same, but the post has been updated to include video and more helpful tips.