Old-Fashioned Gingerbread Cake

My father and my father’s father were ginger freaks, and clearly this is a hereditary trait. My grandfather, born in 1903, used to nibble crystallized ginger as a regular treat. He knew way back before other people in the West knew such things that ginger has medicinal benefits and a soothing effect on the stomach. Ancient Chinese wisdom from a Brooklyn-born Jewish milliner. 

Gingerbread Cake

The flavor of this gingerbread smooths out and gets rich and deeper after a few days, and just . . . better, really. This is the perfect recipe to remember when you want to make something ahead of time. And on top of that, it’s a great traveler—it’s one of those things you can whip up when you need to mail someone a little holiday cheer, or send a treat to a college kid. 

What is Gingerbread?

People mean different things when they refer to gingerbread!  To me, gingerbread refers to a moist cake, filled with warm spices in scent and flavor.  Ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon are the most common spices.  Molasses is the most commonly used sweetener, though other sweeteners, like honey and brown sugar might also be included.  You might find a spice combo called “gingerbread spice” which contains some or all of the mentioned spices.  I prefer to use my own individual spices, skipping the nutmeg (I’m allergic) and focusing on the ginger, cinnamon and cloves, with a strong emphasis on the ginger.

Gingerbread Cake

What is Molasses?

Molasses is a thick, dark syrup, the natural byproduct of sugar refinement.  There are three stages of refining sugar, and each produces a different type of molasses.  Abby Dodge, in her seminal book The Everyday Baker, explains the differences between the three types of molasses.  The first stage of refining sugar produces light molasses, which is light both in color and flavor.  Dark molasses, from the second level of sugar refinement, is thicker darker and stronger in flavor.  Finally, Blackstrap molasses is made from the final stage of sugar refinement, and that molasses is darker, thicker and somewhat bitter.  

Unsulphured molasses has a cleaner taste than sulphured, which is caused by the sulphur (which is a preservative).  

Gingerbread Cake

Gingerbread Cake: Moist and filled with warm spices like ground ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. Perfect for the holidays.

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Molasses in Gingerbread

What makes gingerbread taste like gingerbread are the ginger (you knew that) and the molasses.  I have used the very readily available Grandma’s Molasses for years, with great results, but in the last couple of gingerbread testings I ended up using a bottle of Plantation Blackstrap unsulphured molasses, and everyone went completely bonkers for this version.  No one found it to be too strong in flavor, just delicious.  

This is interesting because most of the advice for using blackstrap molasses involving saving it from savory preparations, and skipping it in the baking of sweet things, because its flavor can be overpowering.  We didn’t find it to be the case at all, but you can’t go wrong with using light or original or mild, and if you want a stronger flavor dark or robust molasses. 

Gingerbread Cake

What Can I Substitute for Molasses?

Southern Living suggests a few easy substitutes for molasses:  

For savory dishes, replace 1 cup of molasses with the same amount of honey, dark corn syrup, or maple syrup. 

For baked goods, replace 1 cup of molasses with a mixture of 3/4 cup sugar, 1 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar, and 1/4 cup of hot water or other liquid that is in the recipe. 

Gingerbread Cake

If there are spices in the recipe, increase them just a little to compensate for the loss of the molasses flavor.

What the Kids Can Do:

They can measure, stir, blend, crack eggs, blend some more, pour, smooth, and cut into squares. 

Make Ahead Gingerbread

Not only is this a recipe you can make ahead, it (like stews and chilis, interestingly) gets better over the next day or two or three.   It will keep for up to 5 days, well-wrapped, at room temperature.  It will keep for up to 6 months, well-wrapped, in the freezer.  Defrost in the fridge or at room temperature.

How to Serve Gingerbread: 

Gingerbread can be happily served all by its lonesome, but a generous dollop of whipped cream is, you know, pretty wow.

Gingerbread Cake

Other Desserts with Ginger:

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Gingerbread Cake

Moist and filled with warm spices like ground ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. Perfect for the holidays.
Yield: 24 People
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Cooling Time 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Diet: Vegetarian


  • Unsalted butter or nonstick cooking spray for greasing the baking pan
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter , at room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup molasses
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup boiling water


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking pan, or spray with nonstick spray.
  • Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves in a large bowl. In another large bowl, combine the butter, sugar, and molasses with an electric mixer until blended. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and blend on low speed until combined. Pour in the boiling water and beat on low until combined and smooth.
  • Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick or a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, 32 to 35 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack until completely cool, then cut into 24 pieces (or more).

Nutrition Information

Calories: 154kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 29mg | Sodium: 150mg | Potassium: 177mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 14g | Vitamin A: 197IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 29mg | Iron: 1mg

The nutrition values are provided as an estimate. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.

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