My Gingerbread Layer Cake is so cozy and festive! It comes together in just over an hour and is topped with sugared cranberries for a stunning finish. Recipe includes a how-to video!
The Perfect Christmas Cake
If you could take all the festive, wintery elements of the holiday season and bake them into a cake, you’d end up with this gingerbread layer cake. With its warm, spiced gingerbread cake layers, luscious brown sugar frosting, and sparkling sugared cranberry garnish, this is a stunning holiday dessert!
This cake is a fun and pretty twist on classic gingerbread. And yes, it’s a true gingerbread cake; we’re using both molasses and gingerbread spices in the batter. It pairs beautifully with a brown sugar version of my cream cheese frosting–yum.
This is an easy recipe made with a nod to the reverse creaming method, similar to the method I used for my yellow cake. You don’t even need a mixer for the batter! You’ll get three layers that are perfect for stacking (these are slightly less fluffy/more dense than my gingerbread cupcakes to keep them from falling apart on your fork). Scroll down to take a peek at the inside!
What You Need
Let’s go over a few key ingredients you’ll need to make this gingerbread layer cake:
- Molasses. You cannot have gingerbread cake without molasses–it’s as essential as ginger! Use unsulphered molasses and DO NOT use blackstrap molasses.
- Spices. Including ginger (of course!), nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and cloves. Cloves and molasses are what really set the gingerbread flavor apart from pumpkin spice and give this cake a more wintry, true-gingerbread flavor than my spice cake or carrot cake.
- Sour cream. Sour cream is our secret weapon for ultimate moisture, tenderness, and flavor. It creates the perfect soft cake crumb. And no, you won’t be able to actually taste the sour cream in the final product! Full-fat, plain greek yogurt would also work here.
- Sugar. I recommend using light brown sugar in both the cake and the frosting. Dark brown would be overpowering and a tad too rich.
- Cream cheese. Use full-fat, brick-style cream cheese in your frosting. Do not use the low-fat or spreadable kind!
SAM’S TIP: A bit of hot water helps to bloom the spices and develop the flavor, and it also lightens the crumb of this gingerbread cake. This is very similar to blooming cocoa powder!
Remember, this is just an overview of the ingredients I used and why. For the full recipe please scroll down to the bottom of the post!
How to Make Gingerbread Cake
- Whisk together the sugar and dry ingredients until combined, then stir in the butter and oil.
- Add the eggs, vanilla, and sour cream, then stir in the hot water.
- Divide the batter between two prepared pans and bake for 28 minutes.
- Let the cakes cool in their pans for 10-15 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Cream together all ingredients except powdered sugar until smooth.
- Gradually add the powdered sugar until the desired consistency is achieved.
- Level and frost the cake layers, adding more frosting on the layers and a thinner coating on the exterior.
- Decorate as desired.
SAM’S TIP: Sugared cranberries are a fun, colorful addition for decorating the top of the this gingerbread layer cake. They may look complicated, but they’re actually very easy to make–check out my sugared cranberries post for a how-to video!
Frequently Asked Questions
First and foremost, gingerbread is typically a frosting-less, one-layer cake. It’s a bit denser and darker than this recipe, and it is prepared a bit differently than this gingerbread layer cake. Gingerbread is typically served plain or topped with a dollop of whipped cream or warm lemon curd.
I really love pairing this gingerbread layer cake with the frosting I’m sharing here, but you could also use a classic vanilla frosting, stabilized whipped cream frosting, or even lemon frosting.
You’ll want to store your cake in an airtight container, either in the fridge or at room temperature. At room temperature, your cake will last for one day. In the fridge, it will keep for 4-5 days.
I know Christmas baking is still a few weeks away, but I just couldn’t resist sharing this one a bit early 😊
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
Gingerbread Layer Cake
- 2 ⅔ cup (335 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (200 g) light brown sugar firmly packed
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 12 Tablespoons (170 g) unsalted butter melted
- ½ cup (118 ml) vegetable or canola oil
- ¾ cup (177 ml) unsulphured molasses
- 3 large eggs room temperature preferred
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup (226 g) sour cream 8 oz
- ⅓ cup very hot water
- 8 oz (226 g) cream cheese softened (use full-fat cream cheese) (226g)
- ½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter softened (113g)
- ⅓ cup (66 g) light brown sugar firmly packed (66g)
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 4 cups (500 g) powdered sugar (500g)
- 1 Tablespoon heavy cream or milk optional
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C) and grease three 8” round cake pans with baking spray and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves).2 ⅔ cup (335 g) all-purpose flour, 1 cup (200 g) light brown sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 Tablespoon ground ginger, 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ½ teaspoon ground allspice, ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- Add melted butter and vegetable oil and stir well.12 Tablespoons (170 g) unsalted butter, ½ cup (118 ml) vegetable or canola oil
- Stir in molasses.¾ cup (177 ml) unsulphured molasses
- Add eggs, vanilla, and sour cream and stir until thoroughly combined.3 large eggs, 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract, 1 cup (226 g) sour cream
- Finally, stir in hot water. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and ensure batter is uniform and well-combined.⅓ cup very hot water
- Evenly divide batter into prepared pans and transfer to center rack of 350F (175C) oven. Bake for 28 minutes or until centers are set, cake lightly springs back to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean or with moist crumbs.
- Allow cakes to cool in their pan for 10-15 minutes before running a knife around the edge and carefully inverting onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.
- Combine cream cheese, butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract and salt and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.8 oz (226 g) cream cheese, ½ cup (113 g) unsalted butter, ⅓ cup (66 g) light brown sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract, ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Gradually add powdered sugar, stirring until completely combined. If frosting seems too thick, thin it by adding heavy cream or milk and beating briefly on high speed.4 cups (500 g) powdered sugar, 1 Tablespoon heavy cream or milk
- Level cakes if needed and decorate with frosting. I used an Ateco 848 tip to pipe the swirls on top of the cake seen in the photos.
StoringStore in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 24 hours or in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. Cake may be wrapped tightly and frozen, where it will keep for several months.
Making in AdvanceCake layers may be made up to 2 days in advance of frosting, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. To prepare cake layers any further in advance, they may also be wrapped tightly and frozen until needed. Frosting may be prepared up to one day in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will need to be allowed to warm to room temperature and stirred before it will be usable for frosting the cake.
FrostingThis recipe makes enough frosting to decorate the cake as shown in photos (semi-naked decoration and decorative dollops on the top).
Sugared CranberriesSee my recipe here for sugared cranberries if you would like to use these to top off your cake – they make a fun and colorful addition!
Original RecipeI originally published a recipe for a Gingerbread layer cake with brown sugar & bourbon frosting in 2015. A number of commenters ran into issues with the original recipe so I have tweaked and revised it to be foolproof in the new version you see published here. If you are looking for the original recipe, you can find the original here. Please note that I am no longer accepting comments on the original recipe.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.
I originally shared this gingerbread cake recipe in 2015 but it was giving some readers some issues. As of November 2022 I’ve updated the recipe to be as foolproof as possible and have modified the frosting from a bourbon frosting to a brown sugar cream cheese one, which I think suits the recipe better.
Best cake I’ve ever made! The instructions were very clear, and the recipe was delicious. I put chopped crystallized ginger on top because I am not good at piping. I followed the recipe almost exactly and the cake was moist, and the perfect midpoint between the density of gingerbread and the lightness of cake. My only change was to use dark brown sugar in the icing, and it turned out well, it was not too intense a flavor for icing.
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
We’re so glad you enjoyed it, Catherine! Thanks for the review ❤️
I made this for our New Years cake and it was so so yummy! Such great flavour. I’m excited to make it again next Christmas! I may try the original recipe and I am also excited to see my decorating progress.
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
We’re so happy you enjoyed making this one, Barbra-Anne! It’s a great option for the holidays 😊
Just made this cake for my Christmas Dinner/Party. The flavor was a perfect combination of sweet and christmasy spices. My only regret is that it came out a bit dry. I followed the recipe to the T (my cakes were done in 25 minutes) and did not change a thing but still came out crumbly and dry. The crowd still enjoyed it :). Any advice?
Hi Elizabeth! Crumbly and dry is indicative of the cake over-baking, unfortunately. If your cakes were done in 25 minutes I suspect that your oven is running a bit hotter than it lets on and unfortunately they were over-baked. If baked properly they should not be at all crumbly or dry. I am so glad everyone still enjoyed, though, and I think if you shave a few minutes off the bake time next time you will be quite thrilled with the results. I hope that helps, and thank you for trying my recipe!
Do you think this recipe would work out in a 9 x 13 pan? Like just doing a single layer cake. I could probably just adjust the cook time, right?
Hi Brian! It will work in a 9 x 13. Your bake time will need to be adjusted so just keep an eye on it. 🙂
I was wondering if I can use blackstrap molasses if it says unsulphated? I a mso excited to make this!
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Jennifer! We do not recommend blackstrap molasses. Check the post for details 😊
what can I substitue for the molasses. I live in Italy and I don’t know if I can find it here. I was thinking about chestnut honey?
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Patrizia! Molasses is pretty critical here, so we’re not sure how that substitution would work 🙁
I was very pleasantly surprised that this cake recipe turned out so well at a pretty high altitude in Colorado! I didn’t make any changes to the cake but baked 6 inch cake layers instead. I did add a touch of cinnamon to the frosting though. It is delicious!
I only have 2, 8” pans. I also have 2, 9” pans and their sides are fairly tall. Wondering if the 2 9” work ?
Hi Ellie! I think it would fit in the 2 9″ pans. The layers will be a bit thicker and your bake time would probably be a bit longer, but it should work just fine. 🙂
Hi there! I made this cake last year for Friendsgiving and it was an absolute showstopper. I just looked it up to do it again and see that the frosting recipe no longer includes the bourbon or vanilla bean. Is it a different recipe? Can you help? And do you think the vanilla bean paste you used in the gingerbread cupcake frosting would work here?
Hi Lorie! I actually just updated it and added a link to the original recipe at the bottom. The vanilla bean paste will work. 🙂