This festive holiday gingerbread cake combines spiced gingerbread cake layers loaded with lots of snowy cream cheese frosting, all surrounded by a forest of gingerbread cookie trees. It’s an edible winter wonderland!
Every holiday table needs a show stopping dessert like this gingerbread cake.
Thanksgiving’s got dibbs on pecan and pumpkin pie, and nobody’s ever at a loss for what to make for that holiday. But what to serve for Christmas dessert? It stumped me every year until I found this gingerbread layer cake. Everybody responds to its simple, serene beauty, and the taste? Just imagine thick layers of moist gingerbread cake loaded up with a classic tangy cream cheese frosting. This cake has it all.
The cake is spiced with the usual gingerbread suspects (molasses, ginger, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg) and bakes up into nice tall layers that make a statement on your dessert table. Even without the cookies this cake is super special, so don’t miss out if you aren’t up to making the gingerbread trees.
The cream cheese frosting is simple but delicious, with a bit of lemon juice to really bring out the natural tanginess of the cream cheese and to keep it from being too sweet. Lemon and gingerbread is a classic flavor combination originating in Britain where they serve their gingerbread cake with a warm lemon sauce…yum!
Make this Christmas cake ahead ~
The cookies-as-decoration mean that this cake has a few elements to it, no doubt about it. But, basically, you’re just making a batch of cookies and a cake ~ you got this! And luckily, it’s really easy to spread things out over a couple days.
- The gingerbread cookies keep well and can easily be made several days in advance, store them in an air-tight container at room temperature or in the fridge.
- The cake layers can be made a day or two ahead, as well, just wrap them in plastic or a ziplock bag and keep them in the fridge.
- I’d recommend making the frosting the day of so it’s nice and fresh and soft.
Tips for frosting a layer cake ~
- Make sure you have enough frosting! Seriously. It’s much easier to frost a cake when you aren’t scrimping for frosting. This recipe makes plenty.
- Do a rough ‘crumb coat’ first. A crumb coat is a thin base layer of frosting that is sort of like a primer for your cake, making a smooth canvas for the rest of your frosting to cling to. I spread on about half my frosting and then going back for a second layer rather than trying to put it all on at once.
- Make sure your frosting is nice and thick. If your frosting seems a little loose or runny, try either adding a little more powdered sugar, or putting it in the fridge for 20 minutes or so to firm up before frosting. It’s easier to frost a cake with frosting that holds its shape relatively well so that your cake layers aren’t sliding around.
- Make sure to leave plenty of frosting for the top of your cake if you want to do a kind of swoopy design like I’ve done here. When you have a thick layer of frosting on the top of the cake, simply take the back of a large metal spoon and make little swirling motions all around the top of the cake, scraping off the excess frosting off the back of the spoon after each swirl.
Try other cookie shapes for this holiday cake
I love the look of the forest of gingerbread trees on this cake, but I think it would be adorable with other cookie shapes, too…
- you could surround it with a village of cookie houses
- or a parade of forest animals (see my Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing)
- how about reindeer, with a red-nosed Rudolph leading the pack (check out my Pepparkakor Cookie reindeer)
- snowflake cookies would work, too (I’ve got Speculoos snowflake cookies)
You might find it easiest to gently remove each cookie before cutting this cake into slices and then placing them back with the cake before passing it to your guests. It will depend on the shape and size of your cookies.
More wintery cakes ~
- Chocolate Cake with Cranberry Buttercream
- Nyakers Gingersnap Cake
- Maple Walnut Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
- Modern Christmas Fruitcake
Holiday Gingerbread Cake
For the cake
- 1 cup unsalted butter, or 2 sticks, room temperature
- 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup molasses
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 Tbsp ground ginger
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp ground cloves
- 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup half and half, or whole milk
For the frosting
- 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 pinch salt, or to taste
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice (optional)
- 1/2 batch gingerbread cookies, cooled and decorated (depending on the size of your cookies, you will need about 10-12 cookies)
For the gingerbread cake
- Preheat oven to 350F. Butter 2 9-inch round cake pans, and place a circle of parchment paper at the bottom of the pans.
- In an electric stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar for several minutes until very pale and fluffy. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each one, to thoroughly incorporate them.
- Add the molasses, salt, baking powder, and spices, and mix well.
- With the mixer running on low, slowly add the flour, alternating with the half and half. Stop mixing when everything is evenly combined. Give the mixture a final stir by hand to incorporate anything that might be stuck to the sides or the bottom of the bowl.
- Divide the batter between the two pans, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until risen and starting to pull away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out with no wet batter clinging to it.
- The cake layers can be made 1 or 2 days in advance. Keep wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator until ready to frost.
For the cream cheese frosting
- In an electric stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter for a couple minutes until very smooth and well mixed.
- Add the powdered sugar, a cup or so at a time, beating briefly between each addition. Add the salt, and mix to combine.
- Taste the frosting, and if you would like it to be a bit more tangy, add the lemon juice and mix to combine. You could also add 1-2 tsp of vanilla extract or other flavoring of your choice.
- If your frosting is a little bit loose, place it in the fridge for 20-30 minutes to firm up before frosting your cake.
To decorate the cake
- Frost the cake with a thick layer of the cream cheese frosting, I used almost all of it. For a swoopy top, make sure you have a nice thick layer of frosting on the top of the cake, and use the back of a spoon to make small swirls, scraping the excess frosting off of the spoon between swirls.
- Carefully place your decorated gingerbread cookies around the outside of the cake, pressing them in slightly.
- Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve. If you've included some tall cookies like the trees here, you might need to remove a shelf in your refrigerator to accommodate the height!