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.
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.
- Yield:Makes 12 (3-inch) squares
- Active time: 15 minutes
- Total time:1 hour 15 minutes
- 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.