Gingerbread Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

My mom is a very direct person. She’s a straight shooter and says what she means.

She also happens to be very wise.

gingerbread cake 1

These traits have led her to share a wealth of knowledge with me over the years. Some big (always keep emergency cash on hand. Always.) and some small (microwave a stale doughnut). Many in the culinary vein (if it doesn’t fit in the microwave, then find something else to cook).

One of the most important nuggets she ever shared with me was that you do not, under any circumstances, ever frost a cake that is not completely cooled. Don’t do it. Seriously. Don’t.

I was baking a cake to take into school and had a friend over. My priorities were on hanging out with my friend and not on taking any care with frosting the cake. I wanted it to be done so I could move on to more important things like gossiping about boys and listening to Cher’s greatest hits CD (I was an enigma of a teen, what can I say?).

So, I threw my mom’s cream cheese frosting on the still warm cake and went on my way, belting out “Believe” as I went. Little did I know it was going to be a complete waste of my mom’s perfect and wonderful and bestest of the best cream cheese frosting. Seriously, it’s the most amazing frosting of all time, in the history of ever.

gingerbread cake 2

The next morning, when I went to get the cake and take it to school I was greeted with a runny, melted mess of frosting. Obviously, I still took it to school and my classmates still ate it because we were teenagers and it was sugar, but I learned a valuable lesson that day.

And I’ve applied it to my life ever since. It’s come in handy as I’ve gotten more and more into baking and even more so into layer cakes. I find them so impressive and elegant, and they don’t require an insane amount of skill, just a smidge of patience while you wait for all the layers to cool completely and let the crumb coat set up in the fridge.

Any effort you put into this gingerbread layer cake is so worth it – tender and delicately spiced with just the right amount of heft from the cream cheese frosting (my mom’s recipe, obviously). This time, though, I added a hint of maple to compliment the spicy ginger and molasses in the cake.

I know Mom would be proud.

Gingerbread Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

(makes 3 9-inch layers)

3 ½ cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. nutmeg

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1/8 tsp. ground allspice

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 ½ cups brown sugar

3 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

½ cup molasses

½ cup sour cream, at room temperature

1 ¼ cup whole milk, at room temperature

1 batch of Melba’s Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and spray with baking spray, set aside.

Whisk together flour, soda, powder, salt, and spices, set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.

Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated, scraping the bowl with each addition. Stir in vanilla, molasses and sour cream.

In three batches, add the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk. Scrap down the bowl and stir to make sure everything is fully incorporated.

Divide evenly among prepared cake pans and bake in preheated oven for 30 – 35 minutes, until edges begin to pull away from pan and tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean.

Remove from oven and cool on racks in pans for 10 minutes before turning out and cooling completely.

While the cakes cool, make the frosting.

Melba’s Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 8-oz. block cream cheese, at room temperature

1 2-pound bag of powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 TBSP pure maple syrup

pinch of salt

¼ cup milk

Cream together butter and cream cheese until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down bowl and add almost all of the powdered sugar (reserve about 1 cup), vanilla, syrup, and salt, and slowly begin to combine. Add milk, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. (I like my frosting to be thick enough that if I swipe a spoon or spatula through it, it stays put.) If necessary, add reserved powdered sugar or more milk until you’re happy!

Once cake is cooled, slice off any uneven tops to leave you with three level layers. Place one layer on a cake board and cover with a generous layer of frosting, so that the extra overflows onto the sides. Repeat with the second and third cake layers.

To crumb coat the cake: frost the sides of the cake with the residual frosting from the layers and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Cover the cake in whatever frosting remains. Place back in fridge, removing at least 30 minutes before serving. Can be stored for up to three days.

Alternately, you can bake and freeze the layers – simply wrap tightly in plastic wrap before cool and defrost and frost (ha!) when ready.


5 thoughts on “Gingerbread Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

    • My mom’s recipe is no-fail! Give it a try. The most important thing to remember is frosting is about “feel” more than exact quantities. That’s why I mention reserving a cup of powdered sugar and adding the milk slowly. It’s all about feel.

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