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
- 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).
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.
More Holiday Recipes to Try:
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.
I made this but found that 1 cup of molasses weights about 340 grams. I wasn’t sure which measurement to use so I went with the 1 cup. Crossing my fingers that this is just a typo from the water measurement.
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Lillian! We have our molasses measured by volume, not weight. 235 ml or 1 cup should work just fine! We hope your gingerbread turned out great 🙂
Wow, just WOW!
I literally had a taste trip to one of my childhood happy places with the first bite of this fantastic gingerbread ❣️
Thank you so very much for sharing this recipe, it will be my go to from now on…
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Wonderful, Lynette! We’re so happy our recipe brought back some good memories for you ❤️
Love this recipe. Followed it exactly and came out perfect. Thanks!
This is the best gingerbread I ever made.Easy!
Do I have to use a metal pan or can I use a glass one?
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Patti! We actually go over this in the post 😊
She addressed this in the frequently asked questions section above.
Hi! Do you think I can freeze once completely cooled?
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Absolutely! Enjoy, Ana 😊
Connie F Harned
I made this and used boiling water and it did not even rise. Then i made it again and just used warm water and it turned out great.
Hi Connie! I’m glad it turned out for you. I’m not sure what happened with the first one. The boiling water is to help the flavor bloom it doesn’t affect the rise of the cake.
Could you bake this in a 9×5 loaf pan?
I think it could work. I’m not sure about the size here, whether you would need more batter or not have enough. I also am not sure on a bake time. Let me know how it goes if you do try it. 🙂
Will this or another gingerbread recipe work using mini loaf pans?
Hi Cindy! This should work in mini loaf pans but your bake time will change. 🙂
I just made this cake for my friends birthday. It sunk in the middle. What did I do wrong? I followed the recipe exactly. I’m excited to try it after dinner.
Hi Pam! I’m so sorry to hear this. A few things that can cause this sinking are under-mixing and under baking. Did you you the toothpick test to ensure it was done completely?
I love this recipe! I’ve made one small change that I can’t recommend enough, when you boil the water, add fresh ginger in it to make a ginger tea. Add the ginger tea instead of just the hot water to give it that extra kick! My 3 year old called this ninja bread and I’ve got to agree. Thanks so much!
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Thanks so much for letting us know how you like the gingerbread, Gwen! We love that tip–thanks for sharing 😊
How much ginger did you add Gwen?
Awesome Gingerbread recipe. My wife and I were never really a Gingerbread fan, but after baking this bread oh man. Even my wife’s German Friend loved it. Now she is asking me to make her a loaf on Tuesday.
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
We’re so happy you loved it, Derek! Thanks so much for your five star review ❤️
I made this today first time ever making gingerbread turned out great and the flavor so good😋, used 8×8 glass dish was perfect.
I feel as if I must have done something incorrectly as although the texture was absolutely wonderful – moist and sticky, the flavor was incredibly overwhelming almost tasting like robust black licorice. disappointed for sure as I’ve followed many of your incredible recipes with delicious results which again makes me think I made an error.
I’m so sorry to hear this Monika! What type of molasses did you use?
I just found my Moms recipe and yours is exactly the same except Mom used 1 cup of granulated sugar and this has 1/2 cup brown sugar (which I would rather use). I love Gingerbread and your video! Thanks for posting!😊❤️
This reminded me of gingerbread from my childhood. Amazing! Hubby loved it too. Said it tasted like the gingerbread his aunt Donna used to make. We will make this one often. Love, love, love!
I’m so glad everyone enjoyed it so much! 🙂
One cup of molasses was overpowering. You taste it too much. I would recommend using 1/3 cup less ( (2/3 cup) and double the ginger powder and add more brown sugar. Everything else works I also used regular unsalted butter.
Oh no! I can’t recommend reducing the molasses as I think the flavor is carefully balanced perfection, but I am glad you were still able to enjoy the gingerbread!