Enjoy the warm flavors of homemade gingerbread in the easiest way with this old-fashioned gingerbread cake recipe. Featuring a soft and tender texture and balance of sweetness and spice, this holiday treat will become a family favorite.
Back again this holiday season with a gingerbread dessert that does not require cookie cutters of any sort. (Yes!) Despite my best efforts, I do not possess the level of artistic skill required to crank out beautifully decorated cookies suitable for posting on the Internet. But that's okay! I'll save my attempts for home-consumption and instead stay in my lane here: seriously tasty treats, no finesse needed.
While gingerbread spritz cookies take care of my gingerbread cookie needs, this old-fashioned gingerbread satisfies the craving in a richly-flavored cake version.
I tested this recipe throughout the year to land on my take on old-fashioned gingerbread. Cake-style gingerbread recipes are a delicate dance between adding enough molasses to form gingerbread's signature flavor and not adding so much that the cake becomes sticky. All the while crossing your fingers it develops a light and airy cake texture. This one delivers!
Why You'll Love Old-Fashioned Gingerbread
- Festive without the work. Enjoy the cozy, warm flavor we expect from gingerbread without all the work of chilling, rolling, cutting, and decorating cookies.
- A balanced flavor. Molasses can easily overpower a recipe, but I've tweaked the amount here to balance sweetness and spice.
- Perfect cake texture. This easy gingerbread recipe achieves a wonderfully soft and moist texture (similar to a chocolate cake) that stays that way for days - even once frozen and thawed.
- Butter: Softened to room temperature as this recipe begins by creaming together the butter and sugar. This helps promote an aerated cake-like batter with a light and tender crumb.
- Sugars: A blend of granulated and brown sugars.
- Molasses: Use unsulphured molasses, which is the kind you will most likely find on grocery store shelves. I go for Grandma's brand, original. Don't use blackstrap molasses, which is considerably more pungent, bitter, and lower in sugar.
- Baking Soda: Baking soda requires an acidic ingredient in order to activate and leaven baked goods, and molasses fits the bill. As there's no other leavening agent here, make sure your baking soda is fresh (not expired or old) so it's most effective.
- Spices: Bring on the warm baking spices! This old-fashioned gingerbread recipe leans on cinnamon and ground ginger the most, with allspice and cloves following.
- Hot Coffee: Like in your favorite chocolate cake recipe, hot/near-boiling liquid is whisked into the gingerbread batter just prior to baking to form a smooth, cohesive, and moist batter. Coffee melds so well with the gingerbread flavors, but hot water is fine to use instead.
- Cream the butter and sugars. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2-3 minutes until light and fully combined.
- Add the wet ingredients. Beat in the eggs, then the molasses.
- Add the dry ingredients. Separately whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, salt, allspice, and cloves, then mix into the batter with the wet ingredients.
- Pour in the coffee. Heat brewed coffee until very hot (it doesn't need to be boiling), then carefully mix into the gingerbread batter.
- Pour into pan. Pour the batter into a parchment-lined 9-inch square baking pan, then use the back of a spatula to level off the top.
- Bake. Bake on the middle rack of a 350°F oven for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before slicing.
Tips and Tricks
- Double check your baking soda. Once opened, baking soda can lose its effectiveness in six months. I tested a version of this old-fashioned gingerbread with an older one just over that time frame and it noticeably did not rise as nicely. Use a fresh baking soda for best results.
- Be careful mixing in the coffee. Start stirring this into the batter by hand gently. The speed of an electric mixer risks splattering the hot coffee out of the bowl.
- Ensure a nice rise. Avoid opening the oven door during the bake time as the cool air that enters can interfere with a baked good's rise. Rely on your oven's light to check on the cake, or shine a flashlight through the door's window if your light isn't working (I've been there!).
- Let the gingerbread cool before slicing. Slicing gingerbread cake while it's still warm will cause it to crumble and fall apart.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, old-fashioned gingerbread freezes really well. Once the gingerbread cake has cooled, wrap in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and store in an air-tight freezer bag with all excess air pressed out. You can transfer the frozen slices to the fridge to thaw, or leave out at room temperature for less time.
My preference is to keep things simple and dust confectioners' sugar over the top of the cake slices before serving. The cake is so moist and spiced that it really doesn't need anything else, but some popular toppings for gingerbread include whipped cream, butter-based hard sauce (a lemon flavoring is common) spooned over a warmed up slice, or applesauce.
Once cooled, store old-fashioned gingerbread in an air-tight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. Refrigerating baked cake, especially one like this without frosting, can lead to a drier texture.
Inspiration: This recipe from allrecipes, which morphed considerably once I started working on my own version. Changes included reducing the molasses and flour, increasing the sugar (and replacing a portion with brown sugar), adding an extra egg, zhushing the spices, switching to coffee, etc.
More Festive Holiday Recipes
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- ½ cup unsalted butter softened
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup packed brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- ⅔ cup unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅔ cup hot brewed coffee or hot water
- Confectioners' sugar to dust over for serving
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper and set aside for now.
- Cream softened butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer in a mixing bowl for 2-3 minutes, or until creamy, smooth, and light. Beat in the eggs fully, then the molasses.
- In a separate bowl whisk together well the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, allspice, and cloves. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the wet ingredients in two increments, mixing until just combined and no dry streaks remain.
- If needed, heat the brewed coffee in the microwave or on the stovetop until steaming hot, then add it to the bowl of batter. Carefully mix until everything is evenly combined. Because the coffee is hot you may wish to start stirring it by hand, then switch over to the electric mixer to avoid splashes.
- Pour the gingerbread batter into the lined pan and smooth out the top surface with a spatula or wooden spoon. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the gingerbread cool in the pan before slicing, dusting with confectioners' sugar, and serving.
- Baking Soda - Make sure your baking soda is fresh so this cake rises most effectively. Generally baking soda can lose its strength around six months after opening.
- Storage Instructions - Once cooled, store gingerbread in an air-tight container at room temperature for 3-4 days. Refrigerating is not recommended as it can dry out frosting-less cakes.
- Freezing Instructions - Wrap cooled gingerbread cake in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and place in a zip-top freezer bag. Press out all excess air before sealing. Freeze for up to several months for best flavor, either thawing in the fridge or at room temperature.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.Food Safety and Nutrition Disclaimer