Why It Works
- Brown sugar and molasses provide a bold flavor and mellow sweetness.
- Buttermilk helps with tenderness and rise.
- Whole wheat flour adds a nutty, graham cracker–like flavor.
- Ginger and cinnamon do the heavy lifting, but warm hints of nutmeg, cloves, black pepper, and Chinese five-spice powder add complexity and depth.
This simple sheet cake comes together in no time flat, but don't let that simplicity fool you—it's the perfect dessert for any holiday gathering, thanks to a bold dose of molasses and spices (plus buttermilk for a moist but fluffy crumb). Finish it up with a tangy dollop of cream cheese frosting or whipped Greek yogurt, either of which will offer the perfect counterpoint to the cake's earthy flavor.
- 8 ounces light brown sugar (about 1 cup, packed; 225g)
- 3 ounces unsulfured molasses, not blackstrap (about 1/4 cup; 85g)
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon (2g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 large eggs, straight from the fridge (about 5 1/4 ounces; 150g)
- 8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks; 225g), melted and cooled to about 100°F (38°C)
- 5 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 1/4 cups, spooned; 155g)
- 2 1/2 ounces whole wheat flour, not stone-ground (about 1/2 cup, spooned; 70g); see note
- 8 ounces cultured lowfat buttermilk or kefir (about 1 cup; 225g)
- To Serve:
- 1 batch Fast and Easy Cream Cheese Frosting or 1 batch Whipped Greek Yogurt (optional)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Line a 9- by 13-inch anodized aluminum cake pan with parchment, then grease lightly with pan spray.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine brown sugar, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cloves, five-spice powder, black pepper, and eggs. Mix on low until moistened, then increase to high and whip until foamy and thick, about 8 minutes.
Reduce speed to low and drizzle in melted butter, then add all-purpose and whole wheat flours, followed by buttermilk. Once combined, shut off mixer and fold batter once or twice from the bottom up with a flexible spatula, then scrape into prepared pan.
Bake until cake is puffed and firm (though crust will retain a light impression when pressed with a fingertip), about 32 minutes. Cool in pan until firm, then slice into squares with a knife. If desired, top with swirls of cream cheese frosting or whipped Greek yogurt.
Stand mixer, flexible spatula , 9- by 13-inch anodized aluminum cake pan
If you don't have whole wheat flour on hand, feel free to use an equal amount of all-purpose flour instead; the cake won't be quite as flavorful and tender, but it'll be close enough in a pinch.