A classic gingerbread cake, from a vintage recipe. Served warm, topped with warm caramel sauce and a dollop of whipped cream. A holiday season classic!
For me, there is nothing that captures the holiday season better than warm gingerbread cake. It’s such a wonderful thing to have around for a festive Christmas dessert or simply a special treat anytime.
This vintage recipe makes a truly classic gingerbread cake, that is beautifully moist, nicely spiced and features a lovely molasses flavour.
Classic gingerbread cake is not a sweet cake, so I love to pair it with a sweet sauce, such as the caramel sauce I’ve used here. Finish off your cake with a dollop of whipped cream and enjoy.
What you’ll need
A few notes on the key ingredients …
Molasses: You’ll absolutely want to use “Fancy” molasses for this cake and not the harsher flavoured Blackstrap or Cooking Molasses (which is a blend of Fancy and Blackstrap Molasses), which will produce a quite bitter cake.
Brown Sugar: You can use light or dark brown sugar here or a mixture of both. For my cake here, I used half light and half dark. Keep in mind that dark brown sugar has more molasses flavour, so if you want to keep your cake lighter on the molasses flavour, use light brown sugar. You can also use all light brown sugar if you don’t have dark brown sugar on hand.
Butter: You can use either salted or unsalted butter, but be sure to note that small adjustments to the added salt noted in the Recipe Card, depending on which one you use.
Boiling Water: This is a classic hot water gingerbread cake, that adds boiling water to the batter to dissolve the molasses and increase the depth of flavour. I don’t suggest substituting the hot water, but if you wanted to experiment with milk instead, be sure to use hot milk.
Whipping Cream – this is the heavy cream, which is typically 35% b.f. A lighter cream is not recommended here, as it would produce too thin a caramel sauce.
For the gingerbread cake:
For the Caramel Sauce:
- I love a perfect square of gingerbread, so I like to line my baking pan with parchment so I can lift it out once cooled and trim the thin edges off. Simply trim away the outside edges by 3/4-1 inch, then cut the remaining cake into neat squares about 3 1/2 inches square.
- I find the caramel sauce the perfect, sweet compliment for the lightly sweet cake. For the whipped cream, I go with a just a bit of sugar to sweeten, so the overall dessert doesn’t tip too far to the sweet side. If you’d like to skip the sauce, just go with a more generously sweetened whipped cream to balance it out.
- To make a smaller 8×8-inch gingerbread cake, halve the recipe (just use the “1/2X” button to adjust the ingredients). Baking time will be slightly less, so watch it closely.
- If you have left-over gingerbread cake, it makes a great trifle, so freeze the left-overs and get a second dessert out of it later!
How to serve gingerbread cake
I love to serve gingerbread cake lightly warmed, topped with warm caramel sauce and topped with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream.
There are other great ways to serve gingerbread cake. Scroll down for more gingerbread cake topping ideas!
More Gingerbread Cake Topping Options
- Lemon sauce is also a classic topping for gingerbread cake.
- Try a buttered rum sauce or simply add some rum or bourbon to your caramel sauce.
- A classic vanilla sauce, such as Creme Anglaise would also be a lovely gingerbread cake topping.
- Some people love the combination of peaches with gingerbread and top it simply with drained canned peaches.
Making Ahead, Storing and Freezing
The caramel sauce can definitely be made ahead and refrigerated. It will firm up in the fridge, but just needs a quick warm in the microwave or a small saucepan to thin it again.
This gingerbread cake keeps very well at room temperature, but it can get a bit sticky on the top as it sits (brown sugar cakes will often create sticky tops!). I find refrigerating the cake slows that process a bit. Be sure the cake is fully cooled before covering.
Gingerbread cake can also be frozen up to 3 months and enjoyed from the freezer.
Get the Recipe: Classic Gingerbread Cake
- 2 1/2 cups (310 g) all purpose flour, spooned and levelled
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, or solid vegetable shortening
- 1 cup (180 g) brown sugar, packed, light or dark or a 50/50 mixture of light and dark
- 1 cup (250 ml) Fancy molasses, *see Notes below
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt, reduce to 1/4 teaspoon if using salted butter
- 1 cup (250 ml) boiling water
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 large eggs, well beaten before adding to batter
- 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup (90 g) light brown sugar, packed
- 3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed (or use more light brown sugar if you have no dark brown sugar)
- 2/3 cup (165 ml) heavy whipping cream, 35% b.f.
- Pinch salt, omit if using salted butter
- Whipped cream, for topping
- For the cake: Preheat oven to 325F / 165C (not fan assisted). Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan or two 8-inch square pans. Line with parchment paper if you'd like to easily remove your cake from the pans after baking. Tip! I find it easiest to line the bottom and the long sides only, letting the long sides extend over the top of the pan to use as handles. This allows the parchment to lay perfectly flat.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and ginger. Set aside.
- (Start heating the 1 cup of boiling water for the next step)
- In a large bowl with an electric mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and brown sugar, until well creamed, 1-2 minutes. Add the molasses, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt and blend until well combined, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
- In a medium bowl or measuring cup, pour the boiling water over the baking soda, then add to the molasses mixture, stirring to combine. Add the dry flour mixture, stirring until well blended. Add the well-beaten eggs and mix well.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake for 45-55 minutes for a 9×13 cake or 35-45 minutes for two 8-inch pans, or until a tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. Tip! I always like to to set the timer 5 minutes ahead of the stated bake times, as bake times can vary by individual ovens or colour/weight of the baking pan used. When checking the bake early, simply look through the glass to start (don't open the door yet!). If the cake looks like it needs more time, all good, check again in a few minutes. If it looks like it might be close to done (pulling away from the sides of the pan, good colour) then open the door and test it with a cake tester.
- When cake is done, remove from oven and allow to cool in the baking pan. Cool to just warm to serve or cool completely, then cover to serve later.
- You can serve the gingerbread cake warm or at room temperature, topped with warm caramels sauce and whipped cream.
- For the caramel sauce: Combine the butter, brown sugars, cream and salt in a medium saucepan on the stove-top over medium heat. Stir until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a boil. Boil for 4 minutes, or until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Remove to a bowl and use immediately or cover and refrigerate until needed. Sauce will thicken when chilled, but will thin again once reheated. Re-heat in the microwave or a small saucepan.
More Gingerbread Recipes to Love!
Hi! I’m Jennifer, a home cook schooled by trial and error and almost 40 years of getting dinner on the table! I love to share my favourite recipes, both old and new, together with lots of tips and tricks to hopefully help make your home cooking enjoyable, stress free, rewarding and of course, delicious!