This gingerbread cake has layers of moist gingerbread that’s perfectly spiced with hints of brown sugar and molasses. Then it’s frosted with cream cheese frosting and a drizzle of butterscotch sauce for the ultimate Christmas dessert. There’s no decorating skills required and it looks absolutely beautiful on your holiday table.
Classic, old-fashioned gingerbread is a moist, almost gooey cake that’s is best served warm with a drizzle of butterscotch. I love having it as a cozy dessert over the holidays. But if you’re looking for a gingerbread cake that makes for a showstopping dessert – then this gingerbread layer cake is the recipe for you. The gingerbread cake layers are moist and tender, but a little less dense and gooey than my classic gingerbread so that it’s better for turning into a layer cake. Then it’s frosted with tangy cream cheese frosting that complements the warm spices perfectly. Last but not least, we’re adding a little butterscotch to the top. It’s Christmas after all!
It’s beautiful in its simplicity and the molasses, brown sugar and spices pair perfectly with the cream cheese frosting and butterscotch sauce.
Making the Gingerbread Cake
I’ve included step-by-step photos along with recipe tips below to help you ensure success.
- Start by preheating the oven to 350F (180C) or 325F (170C) on a convection oven – note that some convection ovens make the adjustment on their own. Then prepare your pans by lining the bottom with rounds of parchment paper and lightly greasing and flouring the sides.
- In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the hot water and molasses. This step helps the molasses dissolve so that it can mix evenly throughout the batter. Molasses is obviously very sticky – so without this step it can stay goopy in the batter.
- Then in a large bowl you’ll whisk together the dry ingredients: all-purpose flour, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, baking powder, baking soda and salt. This step helps to remove lumpy from the dry ingredients and evenly distribute the spices and leavening agents. Note that the amount of ginger you use is a little dependent on how spiced you’d like your cake to be. I use 1 full tablespoon, but feel free to use 2 teaspoons or 2 ½ teaspoons for a slightly less prominent ginger flavor.
- Then in a separate very large bowl (not the bowl with your dry ingredients in it) whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. You could also do this with an electric mixer on a low speed if you feel like getting one out of the cupboard – just be careful not to overmix (ie – stop mixing as soon as things look combined).
- Whisk the molasses and water mixture into the butter mixture. It will be very thin, so if using an electric mixer it will definitely need to be on a very low speed or your batter will splash everywhere.
- Then whisk/mix about ½ of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients – the batter will be bubbly which is totally fine.
- Follow this by whisking in the buttermilk.
- Last but not least, whisk/mix in the rest of the dry ingredients. The batter for this cake is quite thin due to the water, so don’t be alarmed.
- Then divide the cake evenly between your prepared pans. You’ll notice in my photos that I use cake strips around my pans. These are soaked in water and help the cakes bake with flat tops – which is great for layer cakes. If you don’t have cake strips, not to worry. You can easily strim the domed tops off the cake layers after they’ve cooled (more about that later).
- The cake layers will bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Before decorating and assembling the cake, the cake layers will need to cool 100%.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting
The cream cheese frosting is my basic recipe made with butter, block-style cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla and a touch of salt. When making cream cheese frosting it’s imperative that you always use full-fat, brick-style cream cheese and nothing labeled low calorie/low fat or that comes in a tub – these options are too thin and will lead to watery frosting. You also want to ensure that the both the butter and cream cheese are slightly softened, but definitely not starting to get slimy (if they are, then they’re starting to melt and your frosting will be too thin).
For the Butterscotch Sauce
Note that if you really want to skip the butterscotch sauce, that is totally up to you. I love the flavor combo and feel it really takes the cake to the next level, but it (obviously) makes the cake sweeter as well. Butterscotch is always made with brown sugar (whereas caramel is made with white sugar), so it pairs so perfectly with the brown sugar flavor in the gingerbread cake. When making butterscotch, you’ll melt together butter and brown sugar and bring them to a gentle boil. Gentle is the key here. Then you add in the cream (it should be whipping cream around 35% MF) and have the sauce boil very gently for a few more minutes. It is very important that the burner is over a low heat – otherwise the sugar can crystallize or the sauce can burn.
Note – you could also use caramel sauce if that’s your preference, or even purchase your favourite caramel or butterscotch sauce.
Assembling the Cake
As always – the most important thing is that your cake layers are 100% cooled or they’ll melt the frosting. If your cake layers are domed, I recommend gently sawing off the domed top of each cake layer (you can use a cake leveler or a serrated knife). This step ensures that the cake sits flat.
You’ll place 1 cake layer with the bottom up on the plate you plan to serve it on. Then frost the top with ½ of the cream cheese frosting. Then place the second cake layer (again, bottom side up) on top and frost the top with the rest of the frosting. I recommend making a slight lip around the top of the frosting to “hold in” the butterscotch sauce.
You also need to ensure that the butterscotch is 100% cooled, or it can also melt the frosting too. If it’s been in the fridge overnight, you may want to let it sit at room temperature for a 10-15 minutes first just so that it can pour more easily. Then pour/spoon the butterscotch on top of the gingerbread cake. If your cream cheese frosting seems a little soft, you can always pop the cake in the fridge for it to firm up first before adding on the butterscotch.
Make Ahead Tips
I always make the cake layers the day before I plan to serve the cake. Cool them fully, and then wrap in plastic, place in an airtight container and store at room temperature overnight. I also make the butterscotch sauce the night before, let it cool to room temperature, then place in an airtight container in the fridge. Then the next day I make the cream cheese frosting and assemble the cake.
Cake layers can also be frozen. Cool them fully, then wrap in plastic at least 3 times. Then either wrap again in tin foil or place in a freezer bag/container and freeze for up to 2 months. Always thaw in the fridge! If you thaw the cake layers on the counter, you can end up with a cake that’s gummy in texture.
For more Christmas desserts, be sure to try:
- 2 8-inch round cake pans with sides at least 2.5 inches tall or two 9-inch round cake pans
- ¼ cup unsalted butter (56 grams) cut into cubes
- ½ cup brown sugar (105 grams) packed
- ½ cup whipping cream (120 ml) around 35% MF
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt or any salt
Gingerbread Layer Cake
- ¾ cup molasses (180 ml) do not use blackstrap
- ½ cup boiling water (120 ml)
- 2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour (344 grams)
- 1 tablespoon ginger powder feel free to use 2 -2 ½ teaspoons for a less strong ginger flavor
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup unsalted butter (168 grams) melted
- 1 cup brown sugar (210 grams) packed
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¾ cup buttermilk (180 ml) see substitutions in notes
Cream Cheese Frosting
- ½ cup unsalted butter (112 grams) cut into cubes and softened slightly
- 8 ounces brick-style cream cheese (226 grams) be sure that it's full fat
- 2-3 cups powdered sugar (220 - 330 grams)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon whipping cream (15 ml) if needed
Butterscotch Sauce (Can be Made Ahead of Time)
- Add the chopped butter and brown sugar to a medium saucepan over low heat.
- Stir gently then bring to a very gentle boil for about 1 minute.
- Carefully add in the cream and bring to a very gentle boil while occasionally stirring/whisking. Gently boil for about 3-4 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla and salt. The sauce will thicken as it cools. Allow the sauce to cool fully before using. You can place in an airtight container and store in the fridge until ready to assemble the cake.
Gingerbread Layer Cakes
- Preheat the oven to 350F or 325F on a convection oven (180C or 170C). Line the bottom of two 8-inch (20 cm) cake pans (with at least 2 inch (5 cm) sides) with parchment paper. Lightly grease and flour the sides.
- In a liquid measuring cup whisk together the molasses and water. Set aside.
- Whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
- In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. This can also be done with an electric mixer on a very low speed.
- Whisk the molasses and water into the butter mixture until smooth.
- Whisk/mix on low speed about ½ of the flour mixture into the butter and molasses mixture. It will have air bubbles.
- Then whisk in the buttermilk until smooth.
- Whisk in the rest of the flour mixture. Be sure that there are no lumps, but stop mixing as soon as everything is combined.
- Divide the batter evenly between the 2 prepared pans. Lightly tap the pans on the counter a few times each to remove any air bubbles.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
- Cool in the pans for at least 20 minutes, then carefully invert the pans and continue cooling on a wire rack.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- Beat the butter until smooth.
- Cut the cream cheese into cubes/pieces and beat the cream cheese into the butter until incorporated.
- Add in 2 cups powdered sugar, the vanilla and salt. Start with the mixer on a low speed and mix until incorporated.
- If needed (ie the frosting isn't sweet enough for your liking), beat in the rest of the powdered sugar until the desired sweetness is reached. If needed, beat in 1 tablespoon of cream.
Assembling the Cake
- Ensure that the cake layers and butterscotch sauce are completely cooled. If the butterscotch sauce has been in the fridge, take it out of the fridge about 10-15 minutes before so that it isn't as cold and thick.
- If the tops of your cake layers are domed, use a serrated knife or cake leveller to gently saw off the rounded top.
- Place one cake layer bottom side up on the serving plate.
- Frost the top with ½ of the cream cheese frosting.
- Place the second cake layer on top, bottom side up. Frost with the remaining ½ of the frosting creating a slight lip around the edge.
- Spoon/pour the butterscotch sauce over the top of the cake.
- Pan Sizes: If you do not have 8-inch (20-cm) pans with high sides (at least 2 inches/5cm), then be sure to use two 9-inch pans. The bake time will be around 25 minutes. Do not use two 8-inch (20 cm) sandwich tins with 1.5 inch sides. This recipe could also be made in a 9x13 inch (23x33 cm) pan. The bake time will be around 45 minutes.
- Butterscotch Sauce: This can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge. You likely will not need all of the butterscotch sauce.
- Brown Sugar: I recommend using dark brown sugar for both the butterscotch sauce and the cake.
- Buttermilk: To make your own, add 2 teaspoons of either white/distilled vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then fill to the ¾ cup line with milk (1% or 2% is best). Give it a stir and let sit for 5 minutes before using.
- Cream Cheese: Ensure that you use brick-style, full-fat cream cheese. Do not use anything that comes in a tub or is labeled low calorie/low fat, whipped or spreadable.
- Make Ahead Tips: Cake layers can be made 1 day in advance, cooled fully, then wrapped tightly in plastic and stored at room temperature overnight. Butterscotch sauce can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Make the frosting and assemble the cake the day you plan to serve it.
- Nutrition: Details provided are an estimate only and based on 1 slice of cake with frosting and butterscotch, assuming the cake is sliced into 12 equal slices.
- Storage: Store leftovers covered/in an airtight container for up to 12 hours at room temperature or in the fridge for up to 3 days.