Spicy Chocolate Ginger Cake

February 12, 2012
5 Ratings
Photo by Stephanie B (Food52 Baking Club)
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Makes 1 8" square cake
Author Notes

I’ve loved gingerbread ever since I discovered Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking. I love how you can throw it together in a short time, and that you can vary the spices according to your taste. I love how it can be shallow and dense and chewy or light and fluffy. This cake is a cross between gingerbread and chocolate spice cake.
The cake uses three kinds of ginger--freshly grated (I used a microplane, a snap when the ginger is frozen), ground spice, and candied. It also contains Chinese five-spice powder and black pepper. You don’t taste the pepper; there’s just an undertone of heat.

Unlike a lot of cakes, it is even good warm out of the oven. And the flavors develop as it cools. Perfect for when your best friend pops over for coffee.

Test Kitchen Notes

This cake delivered everything it promised; a hybrid of gingerbread and chocolate spice cake. Spice notes were subtle, not "in your face." I especially loved the 5-spice powder. Very sophisticated, mellow flavor, not too sweet, perfect texture. The only change I will make when I make this again (and I will), would be to reduce the salt in the topping; the 1 tsp was a little too much for me, but go by your own taste preferences there. —Tarragon

What You'll Need
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled

  • 2 cups (240 grams) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt. Other salts are more salty. Use less.)
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 3/4 cup (75 grams) Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 cup (200 grams) dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (from about a 2 inch long piece)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • For the topping:
  • 2-3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
  • 2-3 large pieces candied ginger, finely chopped
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt ( see note above)
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Heat oven to 350 and generously butter an 8 inch square cake pan. Melt the butter and set it aside to cool.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, brown sugar, grated fresh ginger and cocoa. (Sift the cocoa into the bowl if it’s lumpy.)
  3. Pour milk and yogurt into large measuring cup. Add melted butter, molasses, and eggs. Stir till well blended. Pour into bowl with flour mixture and gently fold until completely combined. The batter will be thick like brownie batter. Scrape it into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
  4. For the topping, combine the turbinado sugar, chopped candied ginger, salt, allspice and cinnamon and sprinkle it over the top of the cake. Bake for 40-50 minutes till a tester comes out clean. Eat it warm or at room temperature.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Stephanie B.
    Stephanie B.
  • trish
  • Melanie
  • tota
  • drbabs

29 Reviews

NXL December 25, 2020
I will always choose a spice cake over any other, and I've made a gingerbread with three gingers, so I knew this should be good. Love the salty crunch on top and the fudgey density. Baked in 9 inch round, which took a bit longer.
drbabs December 25, 2020
Thanks; me too. I’m so glad you liked it.
Stephanie B. April 11, 2020
This is a very interesting cake! I love that it packs the flavor of a gingerbread cake, but the depth comes from cocoa instead of molasses (I don't like molasses much). The spices are great in this. Since the recipe called for melted butter, I took it a step farther and browned it. I also used whole grain (rye and red wheat, which I like with chocolate), and was worried the cake would be stodgy but it turned out rich and fudgey. I do think it could use a little more sweetness, and next time I'll do a cup of lightly packed brown sugar (I wasn't sure it was supposed to be packed, so I didn't pack it down). This is a very grown up cake between the dark cocoa flavor, the spiciness, and the sweetness level - but if you love ginger and chocolate/don't love molasses, make this cake!
drbabs April 11, 2020
Thanks! I'm so glad you liked it. (Wow, that's a terrible picture...)
drbabs April 18, 2020
Stephanie, thanks for letting me use your photograph. (Not a terrible picture anymore!)
Stephanie B. April 20, 2020
No problem! Thanks again for such a yummy cake recipe!
trish December 2, 2019
Holy moly, THIS cake is delicious! This cake is incredibly moist, chocolatey, spicy (but not hot spicy), gingery yum! The freshly grated ginger gives it really nice rich flavour, the Chinese 5 spice, allspice, black pepper and ground ginger gives it multiple kicks of flavour! I swapped out the milk for heavy cream and yogurt for high fat (18% MF) content sour cream because that’s all I ever have in my fridge, this made it super decadent and delicious! The crispy cinnamon candied ginger topping gave it a nice crunch! While baking, the aromas give me Christmas 🎄 feels 😊 this might be my new favourite holiday cake! Christmas baking in full effect in my kitchen! Thank you for sharing this recipe!
drbabs December 3, 2019
Wow, thank you so much! I love the changes you made. Thank you for commenting.
Indypihlak October 31, 2019
This is a great recipe! Not just because it’s delicious, but I made it exactly as written and it came out exactly as promised! It even baked in the time stated and I nearly always need to bake longer. I was worried I should have lined the pan with parchment paper, but butter was enough! Very easy cake that I was able to make for breakfast when I woke up a little early for no reason.
drbabs October 31, 2019
Melanie September 24, 2015
Made this tonight. Delicious! Love, love, love the crunchy topping. What a great idea. It's a great boost of spiciness! I served it with softly whipped cream.
drbabs September 25, 2015
I'm so glad you liked it! Thanks for letting me know.
tota March 12, 2012
Bingo! I think your comment on the varied salts might be the key to our slight differences. I did use Mortons, I have so many various sea salts but that is the kosher on hand, so it may have been this. But don't think for a minute the cake did not get eaten and enjoyed! Thanks.
drbabs March 12, 2012
I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks.
tota March 12, 2012
made this last week and it was excellent...a grown up cake, not too sweet and interesting spices but..have to agree with the comment about salt (and I am a huge salt fan) I cut back a bit on topping but still found it a teensy bit oversalted. Though the chococlate-seasalt thing does work nicely! so would still keep it, just reduce amount.
drbabs March 12, 2012
Hi--this is the 2nd comment about the topping being salty, and I think it may be that we used different salts. I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, which is somewhat less salty than Morton's or regular salt. See this discussion:
drbabs March 12, 2012
That said, i'll be more specific in the recipe.
Jessica T. March 1, 2012
This looks absolutely incredible -- added to my to do list, thank you!
drbabs March 2, 2012
Thanks. It's really easy and good. One of my favorite things that I made this year so far!
drbabs February 17, 2012
Thanks, mrslarkin.
mrslarkin February 17, 2012
Sounds so good, drbabs. Gingerbread is the perfect vehicle for chocolate and spice! I use the frozen ginger trick, too - it's so great.
AntoniaJames February 15, 2012
Oh, this does sound lovely. Thanks for the tip about grating the ginger with a microplane while frozen! I like your use of the three gingers + allspice (an under-appreciated spice, to my mind). What a great idea, too, to put the allspice on the very top, where you can smell it while taking a bite. Mmmmmmmm. ;o)
drbabs February 15, 2012
Thanks for your sweet comments. Please come for coffee and cake any time.
hardlikearmour February 14, 2012
Okay, this sounds beyond fantastic! I love the use of the 5-spice. I'd come over for coffee and this cake any time!
drbabs February 15, 2012
Let me know when you're in NY and I'll make it for you!
aargersi February 14, 2012
I heart this a LOT! I am coming over when Liz does, K??
drbabs February 15, 2012
Anytime! You're always welcome.
Lizthechef February 12, 2012
Oh, I love this! I'm a huge fan of ginger and Laurie Colwin. Can I be your best friends and come for coffee and cake ;)
drbabs February 12, 2012
Thanks! It would be my honor to have you as my best friend. :)