Gingerbread Layer Cake Recipe

how to decorate a gingerbread cake

There’s something about using buttercream to glue candy onto gingerbread that evokes whimsy and creativity, no matter what age you are. It’s one of my favorite Holiday traditions, and although it’s a whole lot of fun to decorate a gingerbread house, I find that they end up being more for displaying than eating. Maybe it’s because in order to get a solid structure, you’ve got to make sure the gingerbread is rock hard, or maybe it’s because you’re just so proud of your creation that it’s too pretty to eat. Either way, I wanted to pair the fun of creative candy placement with a gingerbread cake that actually tastes good enough to eat! Behold:

gingerbread cake by sugar and sparrow

So much fun, right? I actually made a similar gingerbread cake last year, but decided to revamp it this year to focus more on tweaking the flavors. Last year, my cake was a little too dense and molasses-y, and did not pair super well with the rich chocolate ganache it was covered in. So this year I made a few changes to amplify flavor and create a gingerbread cake that’s moist and delicious, tastefully spiced, and so easy to whip up!

I decided to pair the gingerbread cake with a cinnamon-vanilla buttercream filling to really bring out the flavor in the cake. I chose chocolate buttercream for the finish because it actually makes the cake look like gingerbread, so when decorated with candy and white chocolate ganache, it has more of a striking resemblance to the gingerbread house creations we know and love. Thankfully, the chocolate buttercream actually pairs so well with the cake and filling flavors, so you’ve got a Holiday cake that looks too pretty to eat but actually tastes good! A win win in my book.  

gingerbread cake with chocolate buttercream
gingerbread cake with spiced vanilla buttercream

For decorating this cake, all you need is your favorite Christmas candy, a half batch of vanilla buttercream, some pretty piping tips, and imagination that’s fueled by Holiday spirit! I love Wilton tip 4B (the open star tip) for whimsical finish work like this, and I’ve also used Wilton tip 3 to pipe some small dots. The white chocolate ganache drip is totally optional, but it reminds me of the royal icing that’s used to glue gingerbread structures together, so I added one for looks. It’s got such a light flavor that it doesn’t clash with all the rest of the flavors going on. I’ve got the recipe here just in case you want to add one yourself!

gingerbread cake recipe by sugar and sparrow
gingerbread decorating techniques

Here’s a quick video to demonstrate the decorating techniques I’ve used to create this gingerbread cake: 

Since the design of this cake is meant to be a bit childlike and fun, decorating it would be such a fun project to do with little ones! Just an idea for your long Holiday weekend as an alternative to the traditional gingerbread house. Whatever you decide to do design-wise, I think these flavors make the perfect Christmassy dessert to celebrate the season!

Gingerbread Layer Cake Recipe

A Holiday classic: layers of moist and flavorful gingerbread cake filled with spiced vanilla buttercream, topped with chocolate buttercream and Christmas candy. 

Ingredients

Gingerbread Cake

  • 3 3/4 cups (400g) cake flour, sifted before measuring
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 1/8 cup (254g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup (310g) granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup (95g) packed brown sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (118ml) molasses
  • 1 1/2 cup (355ml) full fat buttermilk* see notes for diy recipe

Cinnamon Vanilla Buttercream Filling

  • 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups (420g) powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp whole milk, room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups (339g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 5 cups (600g) powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup (63g) natural, unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 Tbsp (60ml) whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Instructions

Make The Gingerbread Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare three 6-inch cake pans by spraying the sides with a cooking spray (Baker’s Joy is my favorite) and a wax paper circle fitted to the bottom of the pan. Alternatively, you can grease and lightly flour the pans. 

  2. Sift the cake flour and then measure by spooning and leveling it in your measuring cup. Add the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves into a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

  3. In the bowl of your stand mixer (a handheld mixer works fine too!), cream the butter for on high for two minutes until it’s light and fluffy. Add in white and brown sugars and beat on medium-high for another two minutes, scraping down the bowl and paddle as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla and molasses and mix for one minute on high, scraping down the bowl and paddle once more. 

  4. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the buttermilk and mix until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and give it a few stirs to make sure there are no lumps. Batter will be slightly thick, but pourable.

  5. Pour batter into prepared cake pans (no more than 2/3 of the way full) and bake for 35-40 minutes. They’re done when they spring back to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pan for five minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack for an additional few hours of cooling. Make sure they’re entirely room temperature before applying any frosting.

Make The Cinnamon Vanilla Buttercream

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together powdered sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. Cream butter on med-high until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes), scraping down bowl and paddle a few times in between. Add powdered sugar/cinnamon mixture a few cups at a time, scraping down bowl and paddle between intervals. Mix on medium until fully incorporated.

  2. Turn mixer to low and add vanilla and milk. Mix on medium for two minutes. Scrape down bowl and paddle and add salt. Mix for another minute on medium until incorporated.

Make The Chocolate Buttercream

  1. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip butter on medium speed until creamy and light in color, about four minutes. Scrape down the bowl and paddle and add the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, milk, salt, and vanilla extract. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for two minutes.

Assembly

  1. Fill and crumb coat the room temperature cake layers with Cinnamon Vanilla Buttercream and chill for 20 minutes in the refrigerator. Frost the final coat of the cake with Chocolate Buttercream and chill for another 30 minutes. Decorate by adding a white chocolate ganache drip (optional) and adhering candy to the cake with Vanilla Buttercream. Alternatively you can adhere the candy with Chocolate Buttercream or Cinnamon Vanilla Buttercream.

Recipe Notes

*Homemade Buttermilk Recipe: if you can’t find full fat buttermilk at your local store, you can easily make it yourself by adding 4 tsp white vinegar to a jar and pouring 1 cup of whole milk over the top. Give it a few whisks and let it sit for 15 minutes before using or placing in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.  

Make Ahead Tips: The Gingerbread Cake can be made ahead and stored at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for up to one day. Alternatively, you can tightly wrap the cake layers and place them in the freezer for up to two months before thawing and using.

The buttercream recipes can be made ahead and stored in airtight containers at room temperature for up to one day. Alternatively, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks before bringing back to room temperature and re-whipping with your stand mixer to bring them back to the correct consistency.

What are you planning on making for your Holiday dessert table this year? I really hope you get a chance to make this cake! If you love the flavor of spicy gingerbread + the soft, fluffy texture of cake, this recipe is a real Christmas treat. Let me know if you make it by tagging me on Instagram or letting me know in the comments! Happy Holidays! 

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