Good gingerbread is dark and moist, with an intriguing hint of bitterness and a peppery finish. Usually it’s a rustic square cake or maybe even an attractive Bundt, but it’s never quite sophisticated enough to serve as the centerpiece holiday dessert.
We wanted to transform gingerbread into a stately layer cake. The problem? Traditional recipes are too moist to be stacked four layers high. We could fix the excess moisture problem by cutting back on the molasses or coffee or adding more flour. But both strategies would lighten the color and dull the flavor.
Instead, we added a conventional cake ingredient that’s unconventional in gingerbread: cocoa powder. Cocoa has a high proportion of absorbent starch; just 1/4 cup of it soaked up the cake’s excess moisture. The cocoa also deepened the color and flavor without making the cake taste chocolaty. As a bonus, it diluted some gluten, making the cake’s crumb more tender.
GINGERBREAD LAYER CAKE
By America’s Test Kitchen
- 1-3/4 cups (8-3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (3/4 ounce) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons ground ginger
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup brewed coffee
- 3/4 cup molasses
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1-1/2 cups (10-1/2 ounces) sugar
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
- 5 cups prepared frosting
- 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger (optional)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 8-inch round cake pans and line with parchment.
Whisk flour, cocoa, ground ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, pepper and cayenne together in large bowl.
Whisk coffee, molasses, and baking soda in another bowl until combined. Add sugar, oil, eggs and fresh ginger; whisk until smooth.
Whisk coffee mixture into flour mixture until smooth. Pour 1-1/3 cups batter into each prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes.
Remove cakes from pan, discard parchment; cool completely on rack, about 2 hours.
Clean pans. When completely cool, regrease, reflour and line with fresh parchment. Fill with remaining batter and bake.
Line edges of cake platter with 4 strips parchment to keep platter clean. Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread 3/4 cup frosting evenly over top, right to edge of cake.
Repeat with 2 more cake layers, pressing lightly to adhere and spreading 3/4 cup frosting evenly over each layer.
Top with remaining cake layer and spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake. Garnish top of cake with crystallized ginger, if using.
Refrigerate until frosting is set, about 30 minutes, before serving. (Cake can be refrigerated up to 2 days; serve at room temperature.)
Approximate nutritional information, per slice: 590 calories, 23 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 38 mg cholesterol, 365 mg sodium, 94 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 75 g sugar, 3 g protein.