Gingerbread with Cream Cheese Frosting

December 22, 2015
13 Ratings
Photo by Phyllis Grant
  • Serves 20
Author Notes

"All I want for Christmas is lots of gingerbread," says my husband every September. I always listen.

The recipe for this gingerbread comes from a pastry cook who worked with pastry chef Claudia Fleming at Gramercy Tavern in New York City in the mid-nineties. She gave me a handwritten copy that I transcribed and have adapted over the years. You can find recipes for this gingerbread all over the internet, but this version has a lot less sugar and a few more steps.

The extra step of passing the batter through a fine strainer makes this cake so delicate. But if you don't have the proper strainer, don't stress—the texture will just be a little coarser. But if you want to add a new set of toys to your kitchen this holiday season, go to a restaurant supply store and buy a chinois, a pestle, a stand, and a bain marie. You will use them forever and ever for so many things.

You can use any combination of blackstrap, lighter molasses, maple syrup, honey, and date molasses. For me, the cake is most successful when the sweetness is balanced out with the spiciness of the molasses, fresh ginger, and ground spices.

This recipe makes at least two 10-inch cakes. But you can make 15 small ones in ramekins. Or 4 medium-sized loaf cakes. Just keep an eye on them since they will all cook at different rates.

The cream cheese frosting is a new addition this year and I love it so much; the whipped cream cheese makes it light and airy. I've cut the sugar in half. The frosting doesn’t dominate the cake, it just enhances it. (If you don't like cream cheese icing, just keep it simple and sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar and serve with crème fraîche.)

Since the recipe is so ample, I usually freeze one of the cakes. It will thaw and taste like it just came out of the oven. —Phyllis Grant

What You'll Need
  • Gingerbread
  • 1 2/3 cups blackstrap molasses (or lighter molasses, like Grandma's)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 cups beer, medium-bodied (I like using Racer 5 IPA)
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 cups canola oil
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla bean extract
  • Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 16 ounces whipped cream cheese (preferably room temperature)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Gingerbread
  2. Pour molasses, maple syrup, and beer into a large pot. Whisk together. Bring to just under the boil, then take off the heat. Add the baking soda. Careful. It will rise up like a volcano. Set aside to cool completely.
  3. Heat oven to 350° F.
  4. Butter and flour your baking pans. Grease a small extra pan just in case you have extra batter.
  5. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking power, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and salt. Set aside.
  6. Whisk together the eggs, oil, brown sugar, white sugar, and vanilla extract. Whisk egg mixture in with the cooled molasses/beer mixture. Pour liquid mixture over the sifted dry ingredients. Whisk together until there are no large clumps of flour. Small clumps are fine.
  7. Place your chinois or large fine strainer over a bowl or bain marie. Using a pestle or a wooden spoon, help the batter pass through the strainer into the container below. Stir the grated ginger in with the strained batter.
  8. Pour batter into greased baking pans. Do not pour up more than halfway or you might have quite a mess in your oven.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 325° F. Bake for another 20 minutes. If your pans are different sizes, give the smaller one a jiggle. If several inches in the center move like a water bed, it needs more time. If only the very center is loose, take it out of the oven. Another way to check is with a toothpick or a paring knife. You want the center to be a bit wet and just moving towards a crumb. Take them out earlier than you think for optimum moistness. (Sometimes this take a little trial and error. But remember, you can alway put them back into the oven.)
  10. Cool cakes completely in the pans. Top with as much cream cheese icing as you dare. If your cake is tall enough, you can cut it in half for a middle layer of cream cheese icing. Serve right away. But I have been amazed at how moist this cake will be even after a few days.
  1. Cream Cheese Frosting
  2. Place all ingredients in a standing mixer and beat the heck out of them for 2 minutes with the paddle attachment. Scrape down the sides. Taste. Add more vanilla or salt if you wish. If it's still a little lumpy, beat for 30 more seconds. This will keep in the fridge for about a week.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Helena Schaeffer
    Helena Schaeffer
  • jenny
  • Elizabeth Page
    Elizabeth Page
  • GlutenFreeBabe
  • Phyllis Grant
    Phyllis Grant
Phyllis Grant is an IACP finalist for Personal Essays/Memoir Writing and a three-time Saveur Food Blog Awards finalist for her blog, Dash and Bella. Her essays and recipes have been published in a dozen anthologies and cookbooks including Best Food Writing 2015 and 2016. Her work has been featured both in print and online for various outlets, including Oprah, The New York Times, Food52, Saveur, The Huffington Post, Time Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, Tasting Table and Salon. Her memoir with recipes, Everything Is Out of Control, is coming out April 2020 from Farrar Straus & Giroux. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and two children.

17 Reviews

Stephanie W. December 23, 2018
This cake is so good, my family ate it after I dropped it on the floor of my car. They had it the year before and were willing to take their chances — I scraped off the dirt and redistributed the clean frosting ;). It’s now a requirement at our Christmas Eve dinner and is lovingly referred to as “Floor Cake”, though I do everything in my power not to drop it.
Phyllis G. January 30, 2019
This makes me so happy.
Helena S. December 23, 2017
What bake time would you recommend if these were converted into cupcakes?
Phyllis G. December 23, 2017
It rises quite a bit so only fill a little over halfway. I would check them after 20 minutes. They cook quite fast.
Jaclyn November 23, 2016
What is a good substitute for the beer?
Beth100 October 28, 2016
can this recipe be successfully halved?
Phyllis G. October 29, 2016
yes. but i would say that it's so much work that it's worth doing the full recipe. then you can freeze the leftovers.
ghainskom October 9, 2016
Baked this as birthday cake for my now 5yo. Made the frosting blue and added some white chocolate deco for my "frozen" theme party. Success!
jenny August 6, 2016
I gluten-freed this recipe, and the flavours were amazing!!!! I've made it with and without the black beer now too, and with and without the frosting, and even the most pared down version is still just divine :-) Thanks so much :-)
starving_artist December 18, 2016
Thinking of making this for a Christmas Brunch with Gluten-free friends. Can you share what you substituted for the flour?
Elizabeth P. January 21, 2016
Whipped organic cream with a little vanilla and just a hint of brown sugar or maple syrup is nice
Carolyn J. December 28, 2015
Any vegan substitution for the egg?
GlutenFreeBabe December 27, 2015
I can't wait to make this! I just bought a bundt pan. I am going to halve the recipe. Would the halved recipe work in a bundt pan or should I use my 9 inch springform? Thanks in advance! Also please check out my recipes if you get a moment - they are also not too sweet and I think you may like them :)
Anna K. December 24, 2015
What size pans do you use?
Phyllis G. December 26, 2015
any size you want. i often do a selection of sizes this recipe makes a lot of batter. maybe one 9-inch loaf pan and another 10-inch cake pan. or 6 small loaf pans. just monitor them because they will all cook for different lengths of time.
Mrs. M. December 23, 2015
any suggestions for a icing that is not cream cheese?
Phyllis G. December 23, 2015
vanilla bean buttercream would be nice. or maple. or just a splash of creme fraiche.