Hello December, how I’ve missed you! Sure, December is a cold, wet month with the least amount of daylight. I will admit to loathing how during December, I leave home for the office in the dark each morning, and then leave the office for home in the dark each evening. It’s pretty depressing. But December also brings endless holiday cheer – lights, decorations, and parties parties parties!
The holidays (and all those parties) also provide ample opportunity for baking. The unofficial kick-off party of the holidays – Thanksgiving – gave me the opportunity to try out a new cake that could easily be the centerpiece of any holiday party dessert table. With pumpkin, pecan, and apple desserts already well-represented at Thanksgiving dinner, I opted for a ginger-flavored layer cake, adapted from the fabulous Top with Cinnamon.
Layer cakes are so fun to make, and this one – with a salted whiskey caramel sauce that’s both in the frosting and on top of the cake – was an especially fun project for Thanksgiving morning. I will admit it was a bit of work. I made the cake layers the night before, and then the next morning made the ginger syrup, whiskey caramel sauce, and frosting. But for a special occasion, it’s worth it. Based on the rave reviews at Thanksgiving dinner, I’d say it was especially worth it!
This was the first time I’ve done “naked” or semi-frosted layer cake, where there is frosting between each cake layer, and then a thin coating of frosting (often called a crumb coat) around the top and sides of the cake that only partially masks the cake below. I’ve been digging this look for the past year or so, and it was fairly simple to recreate in my own kitchen. The key is a bench scraper, which helps smooth over the sides while removing just the right amount of frosting to give the cake that rustically charming look.
And of course, the rustically charming cake gets topped with a shiny caramel sauce flavored with a bit of whiskey (optional) and flaky sea salt. The gingerbread cake layers themselves are not particularly sweet, so the addition of the caramel sauce gives the cake the perfect sweet-but-not-too-sweet balance.
- The ingredients are often listed below by their weight – it’s a good idea to invest in a kitchen scale, it makes baking so much more accurate!
- The recipe below will make two eight-inch cake layers. I wanted a three layer cake, so I whipped up another half-batch to make three layers. If using six-inch pans, you can make the cake as written below in two six-inch pans, then split each layer in half to end up with a four layer cake! Check out Top with Cinnamon’s post for a six-inch cake.
- I added the ginger syrup to this recipe – it ups the ginger flavor a bit, and also keeps the cake layers moist.
- The whiskey in the caramel can be left out – I bet you could replace it with some maple extract for a maple salted caramel sauce!
Gingerbread Layer Cake with Salted Whiskey Caramel
Makes one two-layer, eight-inch cake
170 g (6 oz / 3/4 cup) unsalted butter
150 g unsulfered molasses
100 g golden syrup – use corn/agave syrup if you can’t get this
225 g (1 cup) soft dark brown sugar, not packed
2 medium eggs
300 ml (1 1/4 cups) whole milk
350 g (scant 3 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 ounce fresh ginger (peeled or unpeeled), cut the ginger into thin slices
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
Salted Whiskey Caramel Sauce
250 g (1 cup + 2 tbsp) caster sugar
300 ml (1 1/4 cups) double (heavy) cream
50 g (2 oz/ 1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon whiskey (optional)
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
Whiskey Caramel Frosting
200 g (7.5 oz / 1 cup minus 1 Tablespoon) unsalted butter
330 g (2 1/3 cups) powered sugar
100 ml (scant 1/2 cup) salted whiskey caramel sauce (see above)
For the cake
Preheat the oven to 335°F. Prepare two eight-inch round cake tins by greasing and lining the base with parchment paper. I’m a big fan of using a non-stick baking spray for the “greasing” part – spray the bottom and sides of the pan, line the bottom of the pan with parchment, then also spray the parchment.
Heat the butter, molasses and golden/corn syrup in a large saucepan over a low heat until the butter has melted. Whisk in the brown sugar, then set aside to cool slightly.
In a separate bowl, combine the eggs and milk together. Slowly beat into the butter and sugar mixture (you want to be sure not to cook the eggs!).
Sift the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt into the saucepan and beat until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly between the 2 prepared pans and bake for 30 – 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few crumbs attached. Let cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
For the Ginger Syrup
Place the ginger, water, sugar, and salt in a nonreactive saucepan. Heat to a boil, then reduce the heat to a steady simmer, and cook for 30 minutes.
Let cool, then strain the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer. Store the strained syrup in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use. The syrup should keep for at least two weeks in the fridge.
For the Salted Whiskey Caramel Sauce
Heat the sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar starts to melt, swirl the sugar into the liquid areas of the pan without stirring.
While the sugar is melting, gently warm the cream and butter in a separate pan on low until the butter has melted.
Once the sugar has completely melted and is a dark amber color (this took me around 10 minutes), remove the saucepan from the heat.
Immediately whisk in the warm cream and butter mixture. The mixture will seize up but that’s okay – keep stirring. If any sugar solidifies and your sauce has some lumps, return the pan to medium-low heat and whisk until the mixture is smooth again.
Remove from heat (if necessary), and stir in the salt and whiskey. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a heatproof bowl to remove any remaining lumps of sugar, and leave to cool.
For the buttercream
Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat the butter in a bowl for 3-4 minutes until pale and creamy. Add the icing sugar, and beat for 2 more minutes. Add whiskey caramel sauce then continue to beat for another minute until smooth.
Level the cakes with a serrated knife by cutting off the domed tops, making sure each cake layer is flat on top.
Place the first layer of cake down, and spread with 2 Tablespoons of the ginger syrup. Then spread the first layer with around 1/6 of the buttercream. Make a thicker layer of buttercream like a dam around the edges of the layer (see the second picture from the top – you can do this with a pastry bag, but you can just as easily do it with your knife or offset spatula), and spoon in 2-3 Tablespoons of the slightly cooled caramel (if it is too thick to pour, warm it gently for a few seconds on the stove and stir). Place the second layer on top and repeat. Top with the last layer and cover the entire cake with a thin layer of the buttercream to get that naked look. A bench scraper is great for this.
Chill the cake for 30 minutes then pour over the caramel (again, warm it if it is too thick to pour, or chill if it is too runny).