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Call me a scrooge, but the flavors of Christmas just don’t do it for me. Sure, I like the combo of chocolate and peppermint and will take all of your chocolate peppermint bark if given the chance (and your peppermint chocolate whoopie pies…and your peppermint stick ice cream with hot fudge sauce). But your gingerbread men and your spiced gingerbread loaves and really all your desserts calling for ginger and cinnamon and molasses? Those you can keep for yourself. 

Related Reading: A Chocolate Snacking Cake with a Secret Ingredient

Now I realize that this is a wildly unpopular—and dare I say “anti-holiday”—stance, and so this year I’m compromising and making something with all of the spices that you love, but in a sweet package that I love: a chocolate gingerbread snacking cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.

I was inspired by Martha Stewart’s wildly delicious chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies. I figured if I could capture the vibe of those cookies in a cake, I might just be able to embrace the holiday sweets spirit in a whole new way. Moreover, I am a huge snacking cake fan, as well as a huge chocolate cake fan, and once those two boxes are checked, I’m quite set for dessert.

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For this cake, chocolate and ginger are the perfect marriage, and the molasses not only adds flavor but also moisture. The cake is oil-based and easy-peasy, and besides the time you’ll spend hunting in your spice drawer for the ginger, cinnamon, and white pepper, it comes together in minutes. The tang of the cream cheese frosting is lovely with the spiciness of the cake, and the cinnamon marries the two components together nicely (although its inclusion is optional). I like to sift some Dutch process cocoa powder (it has the best color) and cinnamon on top of the frosted cake, preferably in an ombre pattern.

And for those who are like me and consider themselves anti-gingerbread, don’t reject this cake. I promise you, too, will reexamine your feelings about ginger and molasses. It may very well be a holiday miracle.

Chocolate Gingerbread Snacking Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

The cake is even better on the second day— that’s the secret of oil-based cakes—so feel free to make it, wrap it in plastic wrap, and leave it on the counter overnight before frosting.

Chocolate Gingerbread Snacking Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • A rounded 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil, preferably light olive oil
  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 tsp espresso powder
  • 2/3 cup boiling water
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
  • One 8 oz package of cream cheese, room temp
  • 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  1. Dusting of cinnamon and Dutch process cocoa powder for decorating.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8x8x2-inch pan with cooking spay or softened butter. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
  3. To make the cake, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and white pepper in a medium-sized bowl.
  4. Place the oil and sugars in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Add the molasses and vanilla and whisk again. The oil may separate briefly from the rest of the ingredients, but just keep whisking until it all comes together. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue whisking until smooth. Add the espresso powder to the boiling water, stir to combine and add this to the wet batter, whisking to combine.
  5. Add the dry ingredients and using a rubber spatula, gently fold to combine. Do not over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan: it may be lumpy. That is fine.
  6. Bake for 35 to 38 minutes, rotating at the halfway point, until a cake tester comes out looking just slightly wet. I find if you wait until the tester has only a crumb or two, the cake is just too dry. Let cool until easy to handle before inverting the cake on to a cooling rack and then flipping it right side up to cool to room temperature.
  7. To make the frosting, combine the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and on low speed, beat the butter/cream cheese until smooth and uniform. Add the vanilla and beat again.
  8. Add the sugar one cup at a time to the mixer bowl, mixing thoroughly until combined after each addition. Add the salt and cinnamon and mix just to incorporate.
  9. Generously frost the cooled cake, making swirls with the back of a large spoon. Sprinkle cinnamon and cocoa powder over it all and enjoy.

Header image by Jessie Sheehan.

Jessie Sheehan is a cookbook author, food writer, recipe developer, and baker. She is the author of The Vintage Baker (one of the Washington Post’s best cookbooks of 2018 and beloved by Oprah and Nigella) and the co-author of Icebox Cakes (both published by Chronicle Books). She has developed recipes for many cookbooks, besides her own, and has contributed recipes, written and/or created video content for Better Homes & Garden, Rachael Ray Everyday, the Washington Post, Fine Cooking, Yankee Magazine (October 2020) Epicurious, Food52, The Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family Show, The Feed Feed, The Kitchn, TASTE, Chowhound, Yummly, Spruce Eats and Little Sous, among others. Jessie blogs at and can be found on Instagram at @jessiesheehanbakes.
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