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Dark Forest Gingerbread Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

If you like gingerbread, you'll love this spice-filled gingerbread cake with brown sugar caramel frosting. It's rich, moist, and packed with holiday flavor, making it perfect for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or anytime you want!
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Cooling and Frosting Time 1 hr 30 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 20 mins
Servings 12 slices

Ingredients
  

Spice Cake

  • 12 tbsp (170 g) unsalted butter room temperature
  • 300 g dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp (15 g) pure vanilla extract
  • 225 g molasses
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 g salt
  • ½ tsp (3 g) baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp (6 g) baking powder
  • 375 g all-purpose flour
  • 120 g warm water
  • 210 g buttermilk
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp nutmeg

Penuche Caramel

  • 110 g unsalted butter
  • 225 g brown sugar light or dark
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 60 g whole milk
  • Pinch of salt

Buttercream

  • 8 tbsp (113 g) unsalted butter room temperature
  • 3 cups (341 g) powdered sugar

Optional Decoration

  • Food coloring (brown, green, and red)
  • Berries and chopped nuts

Instructions
 

  • Prepare: Preheat the oven to 350º F/180º C. Prepare two 8" round cake pans by coating with butter and dusting with flour.
  • Wet Ingredients: Cream together the butter and brown sugar until thick and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, molasses, and eggs.
  • Dry Ingredients: In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a third bowl, stir together the water and buttermilk. Add ⅓ of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, beat to combine, then add ⅓ of the buttermilk mixture and beat to combine. Continue alternating until everything is combined and smooth.
  • Bake: Pour half the batter into each cake pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for about 15 minutes, then remove from the pans and let cool fully.
  • Make the Caramel: While the cakes bake, add the butter, brown sugar, vanilla, milk, and salt to a small saucepan. Heat uncovered over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a gentle boil. Boil for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
  • Make the Frosting: Using a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the penuche caramel and beat until fully combined. Add the powdered sugar ½ cup at a time, mixing fully after each addition.
  • Assemble the Cake: Stack the cooled cakes with a layer of penuche frosting in between. Add a dollop of frosting on top, then use an offset spatula or butter knife to smooth it down the sides. Use a straight edge to neaten the top and sides of the cake. If desired, decorate with chopped nuts, berries, and colored frosting. I used a small round tip for the berries, a small leaf tip for the leaves, and an offset spatula for the branches. Refrigerate until cold, then slice and serve.