One day last fall, my spouse came home with five growlers of stout. How he got them is a long and boring story, but suffice it to say fridge space was at a premium for a while. I don’t drink beer, so I couldn’t help make a dent in the stash. Then, during dinner on Christmas Day, a friend mentioned she was craving gingerbread. A bit of quick Googling and easy baking later, and black beer gingerbread entered my life. Now, whenever my husband brings home stout while the weather’s chilly, I make him set aside a bottle for baking.
This is gingerbread the way I like it: plush and cakey, bittersweet and spicy. The beer and molasses make it impenetrably dark brown, and lend a gruff bitterness underneath all the flour and sugar. (If you don’t want to use beer, black coffee makes a reasonable substitute.) I also up the ginger ante by using two types. The ground ginger gets whisked into the dry ingredients; the fresh ginger gets finely grated and gently warmed with the wet ingredients, so that its hot bite mellows and infuses throughout the cake. You could easily omit the fresh stuff and just use ground, though—the cake will still be plenty intense.
The first time I made this gingerbread, I baked it in a bundt pan, as instructed on Epicurious and Smitten Kitchen. But, like many commenters on both sites, I ran into problems: the cake stuck to the pan, and it cracked along the seams when I turned it out. It turns out that this gingerbread’s wonderful qualities—its stickiness and softness—make it tricky to bake in a tall, narrow pan. Fortunately, there’s a much better alternative: a 9×13 pan lined with parchment paper. The parchment eliminates any risk of sticking, and the shallow pan means the cake stays flat and sturdy.
When ready to serve, use the parchment to lift the gingerbread out of the pan, then dust the whole thing with powdered sugar and cut it into squares. And here lies the one caveat of a rectangular cake: you may need to warn people that they’re about to eat gingerbread, not brownies.
Stout Beer Gingerbread Cake (makes 32 small squares)
Note: For best results, use regular molasses in this recipe. Blackstrap molasses is heavier and more bitter, so you can’t substitute it one-for-one. That said, I’ve successfully made this using 2/3 cup (225 g) blackstrap molasses and 1/3 cup (115 g) honey.
1 cup (340 g) molasses (see note)
1 cup (240 ml) stout beer (for a non-alcoholic alternative, use brewed black coffee)
1/2 tsp (3 g) baking soda
1/2 packed cup (105 g) brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger (optional)
3/4 cup (150 g) vegetable or canola oil
3 large eggs
2 cups (240 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp (6 g) baking powder
1/2 tsp (3 g) kosher salt
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground or finely grated nutmeg
Powdered (confectioner’s) sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350º F and position an oven rack in the middle. Line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper, leaving a bit of overhang for lifting the cake out later.
In a large saucepan, combine the molasses and beer (or coffee). Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Whisk in baking soda—it will foam up a bit—followed by brown sugar, granulated sugar, and fresh ginger (if using). Let the mixture cool until it’s lukewarm to the touch. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Whisk oil and eggs into the beer-molasses mixture. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix to combine (don’t worry too much about lumps). Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Remove the pan from the oven and transfer it to a cooling rack. Let the cake cool completely in the pan, then use the overhanging parchment to lift it out and transfer it to a cutting board. Dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar and cut into squares.
Make ahead/leftovers: The flavor of this gingerbread gets better if you make it a day ahead. It will keep, covered, at room temperature for up to 3 days. You can also wrap leftover gingerbread in plastic wrap and store in a zip-top bag in the freezer for up to 4 months.