Bring in more holiday cheer with these fluffy gingerbread cupcakes! Infused with deep gingerbread flavor and topped with cinnamon brown butter frosting.
Why it works
This cupcake is packed to the brim with flavor. It has a lovely deep molasses flavor that perfectly complements the warmth and spice of the ginger, cinnamon, and other holiday spices.
It manages to stay light, fluffy while remaining delightfully moist and stay that way. We use a careful ratio of molasses, sugar, milk, flour, and leavener to give these cupcakes the best texture without compromising on all the things we love about gingerbread.
We also top the gingerbread cupcakes with the most amazing cinnamon brown butter cream cheese frosting. The brown butter adds a caramel nutty flavor that is only amplified with the warmth of the cinnamon and the tang of the cream cheese.
You will want to eat the frosting with a spoon. It will convert even the most adamant frosting avoider.
Lets break down the ingredients we are using for the cupcakes and frosting. A lot of them are pantry staples that you will likely already have in the kitchen. Others are easily found in your local grocery store.
For the cupcakes
- Flour - Flour gives structure to the cupcakes. The type of flour you use determines how your baked good will come out. Pastry flour will give you a very light and delicate crumb that can break apart easily. Bread flour will result in a more dense and tough texture. All-purpose flour gives us exactly what we need here. A delicate crumb that can still hold up to the ingredients and being handled. I do not recommend substituting the all-purpose flour with anything else.
- Baking soda - The baking soda is what we use to help the cupcakes rise. Baking soda needs something acidic to help it work. Typically, we would add something like cream of tartar, baking powder, or buttermilk, but molasses actually works to do this for us in this recipe.
- Salt - Salt is used to enhance all the flavors of the cupcakes. I find that sea salt gives the best enhancement to baked goods.
- Spices - Ginger is our main spice we use, but we also incorporate a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and black pepper. I love adding black pepper to my gingerbread recipes because it adds in a bit of bite to the ginger flavor. You can skip it if you don't like that about your gingerbread.
- Molasses - So, I've made this recipe with two different types of molasses. I love both, but they give vastly different flavor profiles to the cupcakes. I've made them with blackstrap molasses which gives the cupcakes a very dark color and a much more intense flavor that borders on licorice. It's great if you want something with a lot of impact, but I do recommend upping the ginger slightly. You can also use regular molasses and it gives a more traditional gingerbread flavor.
- Butter - We use regular room temperature unsalted butter. The butter adds richness and and moisture to the cake. You can substitute with margarine if needed.
- Milk - I recommend using room temperature whole milk for this recipe, but you can also use buttermilk or a milk alternative.
- Egg - All we need is one room temperature large egg to add structure and moisture to the cupcakes.
- Sugar - To complement the molasses, we use brown sugar. I usually use light brown sugar, but dark works just as well here. You can use what you have available.
For the frosting
We use a cinnamon brown butter cream cheese frosting for these cupcakes. It is seriously flavorful and only gets better over time. Because we use brown butter in the frosting, it requires some advance prep so the butter can cool.
- Butter - We start by browning the butter. It gives the butter a delicious caramel nutty flavor that does something magical to the frosting.
- Cream cheese - This adds creaminess and tang to the frosting. It is important that you use room temperature cream cheese so it blends well with the frosting.
- Powdered sugar - As with all American buttercream frostings, we use powdered sugar for sweetness and volume in the frosting. There aren't any substitutions for it.
- Cinnamon - The cinnamon does something magical with the brown butter in the frosting. It isn't a cinnamon frosting, so it isn't overly powerful. Instead, it complements everything else.
- Salt - I find most buttercream recipes are very sweet, so I always add a pinch of salt. It helps to temper the sweetness so it isn't cloying. It also has the added benefit of enhancing the flavors of the brown butter and cinnamon.
- Cream - To give the frosting a nice consistency, we add a touch of cream. You can use milk, milk alternative, or even water. Add one tablespoon at a time until it is a good consistency.
- Gingerbread cupcakes are prone to sinking at the center. It is so important that you do not overfill the cupcake liners. I recommend filling them only ⅔ full. This will mean you might have an extra cupcake or two. Pro tip: I will usually use the leftover batter to make a mug cake.
- It is very important that you follow instructions for beating the ingredients and alternating the flour and the milk. This is because we are working to create a light and air texture and a stable emulsion of ingredients.
- The reason we do not dump all the flour or the milk into the batter is to keep that airy emulsion stable. The milk cannot be added before the flour because the mixture we've created cannot handle anymore liquid and it will cause it to deflate or separate. We cannot add all the flour because it is so dense that it will thicken the mixture too much and too fast that it will deflate all the air.
- Once you start adding the flour, mix the batter as little as possible. You should mix just until the flour and the milk are combined into the mixture uniformly. This is because the liquid and the beating activate the gluten in the flour, which will make the cake tough. To keep the texture of the cupcake as tender and moist as possible, we want to handle it very gently.
- Do not open the oven door for at least the first 15 minutes. Opening the oven will release the heat baking the cupcakes and the delicate rise it has before its had a chance to set will be likely to collapse because the proteins on the sides will set while the center is still liquid. This leaves you with sunken and/or dense cupcakes.
- I recommend you make the brown butter before you start work on the cupcakes. For cohesion, the recipe is written with the cupcake instructions followed by the frosting, but to speed up your process, you can brown the butter so it has plenty of time to reach the right consistency when cooled.
- The brown butter should smell nutty and be a nice light caramel color. If you overcook the brown butter, it will smell burnt and taste bitter, err on the lighter side if you are new to browning butter.
Cupcakes will last for about 3 days at room temperature in an airtight container before they start to get a bit stale.
You can chill frosted gingerbread cupcakes in an airtight container for up to a week. The cupcakes can also be frozen in an airtight container for up to a month. Thaw at room temperature.
The frosting alone can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and freezer for several weeks. Thaw at room temperature.
First, we can see if the mixture is too warm, which will make the butter too soft, and even melt. Leave the frosting in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour. Take it out, and give it a quick mix. If it is still too thin, you can add more powdered sugar (and another pinch of salt) or a tablespoon or two of meringue powder.
Chances are that you either accidentally added too much molasses, or more likely, overfilled the cupcake liners.
Yes, absolutely! This recipe as-is will be great for a modest double layer 6-inch cake. To make an 8-inch cake, double the recipe. You can multiply this recipe 1.5 times to make a nice sheet cake, too.
If you are as into all things gingerbread, you will need to check out a few of these recipes These gingerbread bundt cake houses is just as delicious as they are cute. This gingerbread babka is amazing, and so is this gingerbread hot chocolate. You may also like to try this gingerbread fudge and this gingerbread cake with mini gingerbread cookies.
- 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter room temperature
- ½ cup brown sugar packed
- ½ cup molasses
- 1 large egg room temperature
- ½ cup milk room temperature
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 ounces cream cheese room temperature
- 3 ½ cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 - 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cupcake tin with liners.
- Mix together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pepper, and sea salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- Beat together the butter and brown sugar for about 4 - 5 minutes on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.
- Add in the molasses and egg and beat for another 2 - 4 minutes on medium-high speed.
- Alternate between adding the flour (in three additions) and the milk (in two additions). Begin and end with the flour. Mix just until the flour is fully incorporated.
- Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake liners. Fill the liners ⅔ full. It is very important that you do not try and use up all the batter and overfill the liners. You may have just enough batter for a 13th or even 14th cupcake.
- Bake for 15 - 18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool.
- Make the frosting while the cupcakes are baking.
- Add the butter to a skillet and cook until the butter begins to brown and smells nutty.
- Transfer to a bowl, be sure to scrape the caramelized milk solids from the bottom.
- Place the butter in the freezer until the butter is mostly solidified, but there may be some liquid butter.
- Beat the butter and cream cheese until it is smooth. Add the powdered sugar a little at a time until fully combined.
- Add in the cinnamon, salt, and vanilla, mix well.
- Slowly add the heavy cream one tablespoon at a time until the frosting is a nice pipeable consistency. Fill a piping bag with frosting.
- Pipe the frosting onto cupcakes.
- Start checking the cupcakes at 15 minutes to ensure you don't accidentally overbake the cupcakes.
- You can brown the butter ahead of time and leave at room temperature until it solidifies.
- The frosting overall can be made up to three days ahead of time, stored in an airtight container. The longer it sits, the more the flavors develop.