This gingerbread cake is so packed with flavor, it’s pretty outrageous. I paired it with a super-zesty lemon buttercream and then encased the whole thing in a spiced Italian buttercream. My secret ingredient? Cardamom, such a good spice and I don’t think it’s used enough, including by me! I was a bit stumped for the decoration, I tried so many things, there are even a few buttercream pine cones in the freezer which did not make the cut… In the end I really love the sparkling cranberries nested on top of the cake, they’re like little balls of Christmas!!
How to Make Gingerbread Cake
1. Sift the flour, salt spices and baking powder in to a large bowl then whisk together and set aside. Add the boiling water and baking soda to a bowl then stir together and set aside. Butter three eight inch pans and cup parchment rounds for them.
2. Add the room temperature butter, brown sugar and molasses to the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat together until lighter in color and fluffy. Scrape the bowl down and mix once more.
3. Beat in the grated ginger and eggs, then add the flour mixture and water/baking soda mixture in a few alternating batches.
4. Place the parchment rounds in your pans and divide the batter evenly into the three pans. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centers will come out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans for a few minutes then invert onto a wire rack. Pull off the parchment paper and allow to cool completely.
5. For the Italian meringue Buttercream: Separate the eggs’ whites and yolks. You can save the yolks for a custard or French buttercream. Add the whites along with a pinch of salt, pinch of cream of tartar, and 1/3 cup of sugar into the VERY clean bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the remaining sugar and 1/3 cup of water to a small pot and stir together. Beat the egg whites and place the sugar over medium heat.
6. When the sugar reaches 240F it’s ready to drizzle into the egg whites which at this time should be at the soft peak stage. Drizzle the sugar in while the mixer runs on low and continue mixing until the meringue is room temperature. I like to pack my bowl with frozen peas so it cools down faster.
7. Once the meringue is room temperature you can add the butter in a tablespoon at a time while mixing on low. Add a drizzle of vanilla and then the spices. Scrape the bowl down then mix until combined.
8. For the crystalized cranberries you’ll bring the sugar and water to a boil then soak the cranberries. It’s best if you can do this overnight but if it’s just for looks you can roll them around in the sugar syrup then transfer to a wire rack to dry out a bit. Roll in sugar and they’re set. For the Lemon buttercream you’ll want to beat the butter and minced lemon zest until creamed. Beat in the powdered sugar then add the lemon juice. Scrape the bowl down and mix a bit longer. You can add salt to taste and cream to thin the consistency out if needed.
9. Add lemon buttercream to the cake’s first layer then continue to assemble. Cover in a thin layer of buttercream and smooth out. Chill the cake if needed. If you chill the cake it really stabilizes things and makes the decoration easier.
10. Give the Italian meringue buttercream a final whip and then add it to the cake’s surface and smooth.
11. Pipe a ring on the top using a large closed start tip like an 854 then fill the ring you created with the cranberries.
12. Pipe a border on the bottom with the same star tip. I made an easy shell pattern but you can do dollops or swirls too!
If you find cake decorating to be a bit intimidating then check out my How to Decorate a Cake post, it has lots of helpful tips and a full how to video.
Pro tips for this recipe
- To get FLAT layers that are moist inside and out try using cake strips! You can buy a set on the shop page or make your own from foil and paper towels at home. I made a whole blog post on it so check it out if you’re interested!
- Measure your flour correctly! Adding too much flour to the recipe is the most common mistake. The best, and easiest way to measure flour is by using a scale. If you don’t have one then fluff your flour with a spoon, sprinkle it into your measuring cup, and use a knife to level it off.
- If you don’t want to make Italian buttercream you can use the American variety. I just prefer the smoothness and taste of the Italian variety. I know it’s a pain to make two different types of frosting though!
- Check the below video out for a FULL how to on making Italian meringue Buttercream.
Frequently Asked Questions
What inspired this cake?
I remember making, to my memory, elaborate gingerbread houses before Christmas when I was a boy. Pre-made gingerbread panels (it was the 80’s), royal icing and lots of colorful gummy candies for decoration. Those were the days… I still love gingerbread but so many of the store-bought offerings are a bit off, some are stale, some are dry, some have toned down flavors etc etc. For my gingerbread cake I wanted to amp up all the spices and make it very Christmassy but still have a clean, classic look.
Can it be frozen?
- For best results freeze the gingerbread cake layers and frosting separately. Allow the buttercream to come to room temperature, whip briefly to restore consistency and assemble.
- A fully assembled and decorated gingerbread cake can be frozen. You should chill the cake first then wrap well so as not to distort the buttercream decorations. Frozen cakes can be kept for up to 6 moths but I recommend 6 weeks as a best by date.
What flavors pair well with gingerbread?
The zing of lemon pairs wonderfully with the rich spices of gingerbread, but a mellow vanilla also provides a nice balance to all the spice.
If you’ve tried this gingerbread cake recipe then don’t forget to leave a rating and let me know how you got on in the comments below, I love hearing from you!
For the Cake
- 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 450g
- 1 1/2 cups boiling water 354mL
- 1 tbsp baking soda 18g
- 1 tbsp baking powder 12g
- 1 tbsp ground ginger 5g
- 1 cup butter 226g, unsalted, room temperature
- 2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 5g
- 3/4 tsp ground cloves 1g
- 3/4 tsp nutmeg 1g
- 1/2 tsp allspice 1g
- 1/2 tsp cardamom 1g
- 3/4 tsp salt 3g
- 1 cup packed light-brown sugar 200g
- 1 1/3 cup unsulfured molasses 236mL
- 1 1/2 tbsp ginger 7g, freshly grated
- 3 eggs large, room temperature
For the Lemon Buttercream
- 1 cup butter 225g, unsalted, room temperature
- 5 cups confectioners' sugar 550g
- 3 tbsp lemon zest 18g
- 5 tbsp lemon juice 75mL
- 1 tsp cream 5mL, plus one more if needed
For the Italian Buttercream
- 4 egg whites room temperature
- 1 pinch cream of tartar
- 1 1/2 cups sugar 300g, divided
- 1/4 cup water 60mL
- 1 tsp cardamom 2g
- 1 tsp cinnamon 2g
- 1/2 tsp all spice 500mg
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves 250mg
- 16 oz unsalted butter 452g
- 1/4 tsp salt 250mg, optional
- 1 tsp vanilla 5mL, optional
For the Sparkling Cranberries
- 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries 150g
- 1/2 cup water 118mL
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar 100g
For the Cake:
- Preheat oven to 350F. Butter three 8" cake pans and place parchment rounds inside.
- Combine boiling water and baking soda in a medium bowl. Sift together the flour, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice and 3/4 teaspoon salt into a large bowl. Whisk together and set aside.
- Using a standing mixer with a paddle attachment beat the butter, sugar and molasses on high until lighter in color and fluffy. Beat in the grated ginger, and eggs one at a time. Add the dry mixture and baking soda/water mixture in a few alternating batches mixing until combined.
- Divide the batter evenly between the three pans and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centers will come out clean.
- Allow cakes to cool in the pans for a few minutes then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.
For the Lemon Buttercream:
- In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment cream the butter. Add sugar lemon zest, lemon juice and then add cream until desired consistency is reached.
For the Italian Buttercream:
- Add the egg whites, salt, cream of tartar, and 1/3 cup of sugar to the clean bowl of a stand mixer.
- In a medium saucepan add the remaining sugar and 1/3 cup water then stir together and place on medium-high heat.
- While the sugar is heating up beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
- When the sugar reached 240F drizzle into the mixer while running on low.
- Run mixer until merengue is room temperature. You can pack the bowl with frozen peas to cool it down quicker.
- Add room temperature butter to the cooled meringue one tablespoon piece at a time while mixing on low.
- Scrape the bowl down then mix in the vanilla, and spices. You'll want to give your frosting a quick mix just before using. This will ensure you have a nice silky consistency.
For the Cranberries:
- Heat the sugar and water to a boil and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Toss in the cranberries and allow to soak. Preferably for a few hours or overnight if possible. Move to a wire rack and allow to dry for one hour.
- Toss a few at a time in sugar and set aside. If in a rush you can totally just roll around in the syrup then coat in sugar.
For the Assembly:
- Transfer lemon buttercream to a piping bag. Pipe buttercream between each layer. Coat the cake in a thin layer of buttercream and smooth. You can chill the cake briefly to firm things up if desired.
- Pipe Italian buttercream around the outside of the cake then smooth. I use a bench scraper for the side and an offset spatula for the top.
- Pipe continuous dollops around the skirt of the cake. Pipe a ring of dollops on the top of the cake, add cranberries to the center..
- To get FLAT layers that are moist inside and out try using cake strips! You can buy a set online or make your own from foil and paper towels at home. I made a whole blog post on it so check it out if you’re interested!
- If you don't want to make Italian buttercream you can use the American variety. I just prefer the smoothness and taste of the Italian variety. I know it's a pain to make two different types of frosting though!
- Alter the spice profile as desired use more of your favorites and eliminate the ones you don't like!