Prepare to wow your guests with this show-stopping holiday dessert! Made with the creamiest cream cheese + mascarpone frosting, smoothed out between three layers of deeply-flavored gingerbread cake! Add some simple sugared cranberries + fresh rosemary for trees to complete this winter wonderland cake.
This dessert has just as much punch as a plate of beautifully decorated sugar cookies, but requires far less effort (and it’s tastier too, in my opinion!). I’ve always been on Team Gingerbread for the holiday season! Peppermint takes a close second, and honestly, I could do without the frosted sugar cookies – sorry my sugar cookie-loving friends!
Today, I’m walking you through how I make this cake, including how to frost a naked cake and how to make the sugared rosemary + cranberry decorations!
How to Make Gingerbread Cake:
We’re starting with a thick, richly flavored cake batter! I didn’t use fresh ginger here because I always keep ground ginger in my baking spices – and that’s easier than remembering to buy fresh!
How to Prevent Cakes from Sticking in the Pans:
If you’ve ever had this problem, I have a tip for you. Make sure to always grease and flour your cake pans, and your cakes should never stick. To grease and flour a cake pan, rub shortening all over the inside of the pan with a paper towel, then add flour and tap the pan until the flour completely coats the shortening, tapping out any excess. It never fails!
Divide this luscious gingerbread cake batter between the prepared cake pans and bake! Next, we get to make the fun parts – the decorations + frosting!
How to Make Sugared Cranberries + Rosemary Trees:
Sugared cranberries + rosemary trees are simple to make and will transform your cake into a winter wonderland!
Start by mixing equal parts sugar + water in a pot over medium high heat. We’ll cook this, whisking, until the sugar is dissolved! This is a simple syrup – dip the cranberries + rosemary sprigs in it before rolling them in sugar. This helps the sugar adhere. Rolling the dry cranberries or rosemary in sugar wouldn’t work – it needs something to stick to! Some readers have mentioned that their rosemary turned brown at this stage – if you let the simple syrup cool before adding the rosemary, that shouldn’t happen.
Make-Ahead Tips for Sugared Rosemary and Cranberries:
These elements can be made a day ahead! Store the cranberries and rosemary in an airtight container in the fridge, with a small bowl of uncooked rice in the container to prevent them from getting soggy.
I love making these elements the day before, along with the cake layers, and then assembling it all the day of! It helps make things a little easier, especially during this holiday season!
How to Make Smooth, Creamy, Perfect Frosting:
I actually found over the years that you do not need to sift your powdered sugar to get a smooth, creamy frosting. Just make sure your butter, cream cheese, and mascarpone are all at room temperature before mixing them together, and no lumps should form.
I also love using a combination of butter + cream cheese in all my frostings – it makes them extra creamy and delicious! In this cake, I even added some mascarpone cheese – it helps cut through the sweetness of a traditional frosting, and the flavor meshes so well with the gingerbread!
How to Frost a Naked Cake:
The naked-cake element of this dessert is A) what helps give it that “wow” factor and is B) surprisingly easy – making this a fabulous option for those of you who are like me and don’t know how to make fancy decorated cakes and cookies. Truly anyone can use this method to frost a cake, even the most beginner of bakers!
Here’s how I do it. Start by laying one cake layer down on your cake stand, using strips of wax paper to protect the cake stand from getting messy. (Simply pull them away when you’re finished!) Frost a layer, making sure to spread the frosting over the edges of the cake a bit. Repeat with the next two layers! (I like to divide my frosting into 3 equal portions with a food scale to make sure things come out evenly, but you can eyeball it too!).
Once you have frosting on the top of the 3rd layer, use the remaining frosting to dot the sides of the cake, in random places. Use a cake smoother (I love this one – best two dollars I’ve spent on a kitchen tool!) to smooth these frosting blobs – hold it against the side of the cake, and slowly turn the cake while pulling the scraper towards you. You’re essentially making a cleaner crumb coat! Add more frosting in any places you feel need it. Use the back of a spoon to create swirls on the top, and add your sugared cranberries + rosemary trees.
Another tool that makes frosting a breeze is an offset spatula! A regular silicone spatula works too, but an offset one speeds things up and I find it an incredibly worthwhile tool.
As a finishing touch, sprinkle on some white sparkling sugar (also known as sanding sugar) to make the cake glisten like a fresh snow fall!
This cake is sure to become your go-to for holiday entertaining! I’ve already made it 3 times this winter, and it’s going to make another appearance on Christmas Day. I’m not sorry about it one bit, and I’m sure your loved ones will feel the same if this makes an appearance (or two) this holiday season!
Happy Baking, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to you all!
Did you make this recipe? Snap a photo and leave a comment!
Gingerbread Cake with Mascarpone Cream Cheese Frosting
For the Cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour can sub all-purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cloves
- 1 and 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 2 sticks salted butter, softened
- 2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 eggs room temp
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup molasses not blackstrap!
- 1 cup buttermilk see note if you want to use regular milk
For the Frosting
- 20 tbsp salted butter, softened (2 sticks + 4 tbsp)
- 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 10 ounces mascarpone cheese no need to soften!
- 6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 2 and 1/2 tbsp milk
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/8 tsp salt
For the Sugared Cranberries + Rosemary Trees
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup granulated sugar, for rolling
- 7 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
- Make the Sugared Cranberries + Sugared Rosemary Trees: Mix water and sugar in a medium pot on the stove. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for a bit before dipping the rosemary in the mixture (this helps keep the rosemary from browning). Set aside on a plate or small pan lined with parchment paper to dry for 15 minutes. Next, add the cranberries into the mixture in the pot. Cover with a dish towel and let sit 10 minutes. Remove cranberries (save the syrup!) and set on a piece of parchment paper to dry for at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour before sugaring. (I've made these in a rush before and only waited 15 minutes and they turned out just fine.)After the dry time is up for each element, roll in a bowl of granulated sugar and set on a new, dry piece of parchment paper and let set 10 minutes before using or storing (see make ahead tips below).
- Prep: Grease + flour three 9-inch cake pans and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Make the Cake Layers: Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl (flour through nutmeg, as listed above). Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream softened butter. Add brown + white sugar and mix until well combined and creamy. Add the eggs, 2 at a time, and mix until just combined. Add molasses + vanilla and mix until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is well incorporated. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then mix. Add 1/3 of the buttermilk, then mix. Repeat until everything is well incorporated. Evenly distribute the batter between the three pans (use a kitchen scale or eyeball it). Bake for 14-16 minutes (see note below), or until cake layers look just done and a toothpick comes out with cake crumbs on it, not wet batter. NOTE: I've had a few people comment that their cakes took an extra 5-7 minutes to bake. I realized that when I made and tested this cake last winter our oven had been running hot and I haven't made this cake again since our oven was re-calibrated. So, if you do need to bake the cake layers for closer to 20-24 minutes, don't be alarmed. Let cake cool in the pans 10 minutes, then invert them onto cooling racks. Let cool completely before frosting or storing (see make ahead tip below).
- Make the Frosting: In a large mixing bowl, cream softened butter. Add cream cheese and mix until well combined. Add the mascarpone cheese and mix until well combined and creamy. Sift in the powdered sugar, 2 cups at a time, and mix until well combined. Add milk, vanilla, and salt and mix until well combined. Add up to 1/2 cup additional powdered sugar if the frosting is too thin or could use a little extra sweetness. Divide frosting into 3 equal parts using a food scale, if desired, to ensure even layers. This is totally optional - I usually eyeball it!
- Assemble + Frost Cake: Lay a thin strip of wax paper going in each direction on your cake stand, with the edges hanging over (forming a square with an opening in the center). Place one cake layer down, and add the frosting in a big blob in the center. Frost with an offset spatula, spreading the frosting out and a bit over the edges of the cake (see photo in post above). Repeat with second layer. Use remaining frosting to cover the top of the cake and dot the bare sides of the cake in random places, all the way around. Use a cake smoother/scraper to smooth the dots of frosting by holding it against the side of the cake, and slowly turning the cake and pulling the cake smoother towards you while turning the cake the opposite direction. Continue until desired effect is reached. Use the frosting removed by the cake smoother to add back to spots where you want more frosting. Create swirls on the top of the cake using a spoon, and decorate with the trees (place the sprigs upside down to make that pine tree look!) and cranberries. Sprinkle with white sanding sugar for a fresh snowfall sparkle effect.
- Serve + Store: Serve immediately! Store leftovers tightly covered in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Make Ahead Tips: The frosting and cake layers can be made a day in advance, along with the sugared cranberries and rosemary trees. Make cake layers and let cool completely. Place each on a plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Store at room temp until ready to use. Cover frosting tightly and keep in fridge - take out a little bit before frosting the cake so it's not solid as a rock and un-spreadable. Sugared cranberries + rosemary can be made a day ahead and kept in the fridge, in an airtight container with a small bowl of rice in it. This keeps them from getting soggy.
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