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A traditional gingerbread cake with lemon sauce dates back to Colonial Virginia, and has been loved for generations! Pull out this time-tested recipe each holiday season. It’s a delicious dessert for Christmas, a lovely snack with coffee or tea, and a festive addition to a brunch spread. Everyone loves the classic taste of molasses baked with warm spices like ginger, nutmeg, and cloves!

Front shot of pouring lemon sauce over a slice of traditional gingerbread cake

Recipe for Gingerbread Cake

You can’t beat the nostalgia or the taste of classic gingerbread cake! This seasonal flavor is loved around the world, and can be found in a variety of baked goods. The term “gingerbread” refers to anything from a crunchy cut-out cookie to a soft, moist cake. The holiday treat is typically flavored with ginger, cloves, cinnamon, or nutmeg, and is sweetened with honey, sugar, or molasses.

Gingerbread cake on two red and white vintage plates

European settlers originally brought gingerbread to the Americas, and recipes in our country date back to at least 1796 when Amelia Simmons published seven different types of gingerbread in her cookbook, American Cookery (source). I’ve shared the wildly popular Williamsburg ginger cakes here, and I’m now excited to include another version of Virginia gingerbread — in the form of cake! This recipe is adapted from the gingerbread cake that was originally served in Massie’s Mill, a nearby community in the Virginia Blue Ridge.

Sifting dry ingredients for gingerbread cake

The Difference Between Gingerbread and Ginger Cake

In most parts of the world, gingerbread can refer to either cookies or cake. As a result, many folks clarify the recipe to avoid confusion, and specify either gingerbread cookies or gingerbread cake. A gingerbread cake has a soft, cake-like texture, and can be baked in either a square baking dish (as shown here), or in a loaf pan. By contrast, gingerbread cookies are typically crunchy or soft and chewy, and are cut-out into shapes. They might be round (like these) or in the classic gingerbread man form (like these).

Whisking wet ingredients for gingerbread cake in a bowl

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a moist gingerbread cake. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • All-purpose flour: the base of the cake batter.
  • Baking soda: the leavening agent that helps the cake rise.
  • Ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg: warm spices that give the gingerbread its traditional, cozy flavor.
  • Salt: to enhance the other flavors in the cake and to balance the sweetness.
  • Egg: gives the cake structure.
  • Vegetable oil: keeps the cake moist. You can substitute with another neutral oil, such as canola oil.
  • Sugar: for just the right amount of sweetness.
  • Molasses or sorghum: adds robust flavor and helps to sweeten the gingerbread.
  • Boiling water: loosens the gluten strands in the flour, giving the gingerbread a lighter, fluffier texture.
Process shot showing how to make gingerbread cake

How To Make Gingerbread Cake

This classic gingerbread cake is quick, easy, and doesn’t even require an electric mixer or a stand mixer! You can stir together the batter by hand in about 10-15 minutes.

  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Whisk together the egg, oil, sugar, and molasses in a separate bowl.
  3. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients, and stir just until combined.
  4. Pour the boiling water over the top. Stir until smooth.
  5. Transfer the batter to a greased or parchment-lined square baking pan.
  6. Bake in a 350°F oven for 22-28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  7. Let the gingerbread cool before slicing and serving.
Square front shot of traditional gingerbread cake with lemon sauce

Serving Suggestions

There are a variety of ways to serve the gingerbread, so here are a few options to get you started:

  • A dusting of powdered sugar;
  • A dollop of whipped cream (add grated lemon peel to the whipped cream for a bright, fresh touch);
  • Vanilla ice cream is delicious alongside a warm piece of cake;
  • lemon glaze made with powdered sugar, milk, and fresh lemon juice;
  • Caramel sauce (like this);
  • Cream cheese frosting (we love this recipe); or
  • Lemon sauce (see the recipe below)
Two red and white plates with slices of old fashioned gingerbread cake

Storage

Store the easy gingerbread cake in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 to 3 days, or in the fridge for up to 5 days. If your house is particularly warm, it’s best to store the cake in the refrigerator. Remove the cake from the fridge an hour before serving to let it come back to room temperature.

Wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, the cake will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Overhead shot of a box of sliced gingerbread cake

Recipe Variations

  • To prepare a larger cake, double all of the ingredients and bake the gingerbread in a 13 x 9-inch pan. You’ll need to increase the baking time by a few minutes as well.
  • For a gingerbread cake without molasses, see this recipe that calls for dark brown sugar.
  • Add a cup of chopped walnuts or pecans to the batter for a nutty crunch throughout.
  • Raisins, dried cranberries, or chocolate chips would all be tasty additions to the flavorful batter, too.
  • Add chopped crystallized ginger for a spicy punch of extra flavor.
Close up front shot of a slice of old fashioned gingerbread cake on a red and white plate with lemon sauce

Tips for the best gingerbread cake recipe

  • Be careful not to over-mix the batter. Stir just until combined, but no more. Over-mixing the batter can cause the cake to become tough and dry.
  • For a stronger flavor, increase the ginger and other spices in the cake. You can use 1 tablespoon of ground ginger, as well as extra cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. You might also like to add a dash of allspice.
  • Do not substitute with blackstrap molasses in this recipe. The blackstrap molasses has a different flavor and texture, so it is not an equal substitute.
  • The lemon sauce is an optional topping, but it adds great moisture and flavor to the cake. If you prefer, you can omit the lemon sauce and instead just dust the cake with powdered sugar, finish with a dollop of whipped cream, or top the cake with a classic cream cheese frosting.
Overhead image of traditional gingerbread recipe with lemon sauce
Square front shot of traditional gingerbread cake with lemon sauce

Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Sauce

5 from 1 vote
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Cooling Time 2 hours
Total: 2 hours 40 minutes
Servings 9 slices
Calories 137 kcal
A traditional gingerbread cake with lemon sauce dates back to Colonial Virginia, and has been loved for generations!

Ingredients
  

GINGERBREAD

  • 1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup molasses or sorghum
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • Optional, for serving: lemon sauce (recipe follows), powdered sugar, or whipped cream

LEMON SAUCE

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour an 8-inch or 9-inch square baking pan, spray with nonstick baking spray, or line with parchment paper; set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, sugar, and molasses.
  • Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients; stir just until combined. Do not over-mix.
  • Pour boiling water over the top of the mixture; stir until smooth.
  • Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.
  • Bake for 22-28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake the cake or it will become dry.
  • Cool on a wire rack before slicing. Dust with powdered sugar, top with a dollop of whipped cream, or drizzle warm lemon sauce over top.

FOR THE LEMON SAUCE

  • In a small saucepan, whisk together sugar and cornstarch. Gradually add the boiling water.
  • Place the pan over medium heat on the stovetop. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens.
  • Remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, butter, and vanilla extract. Whisk just until the butter melts and the sauce is smooth.
  • Spoon or drizzle the sauce over individual slices of gingerbread.

Notes

  • Be careful not to over-mix the batter. Stir just until combined, but no more. Over-mixing the batter can cause the cake to become tough and dry.
  • For a stronger flavor, increase the ginger and other spices in the cake. You can use 1 tablespoon of ground ginger, as well as extra cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. You might also like to add a dash of allspice.
  • Do not substitute with blackstrap molasses in this recipe. The blackstrap molasses has a different flavor and texture, so it is not an equal substitute.
  • The lemon sauce is an optional topping, but it adds great moisture and flavor to the cake. If you prefer, you can omit the lemon sauce and instead just dust the cake with powdered sugar, finish with a dollop of whipped cream, or top the cake with a classic cream cheese frosting.

Nutrition

Serving: 1slice of cake (not including lemon sauce)Calories: 137kcalCarbohydrates: 29gProtein: 3gFat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0.2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.2gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.2gTrans Fat: 0.002gCholesterol: 18mgSodium: 385mgPotassium: 39mgFiber: 1gSugar: 11gVitamin A: 27IUVitamin C: 0.01mgCalcium: 10mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: gingerbread cake, gingerbread cake recipe, moist gingerbread cake, old fashioned gingerbread cake, recipe for gingerbread cake
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I grew up eating this around the holidays and this is the best version I have ever tried! It is SO GOOD. Thank you!!