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Brown Butter Gingerbread Cake Bars

Brown Butter Gingerbread Cake Bars
Browned butter is a great addition to all kinds of recipes, both sweet and savory, because it adds a lot of depth to other foods. You might not think of gingerbread as a recipe that would need browned butter, since it already has a lot of strong flavors from molasses and various spices, but adding browned butter gives a gingerbread just one more layer of flavor and makes a good gingerbread that much better. My Brown Butter Gingerbread Cake Bars are a great example. The browned butter isn’t the dominant flavor in these tender cake bars, but it adds a certain addictive element that will keep you coming back for more.

This cake is relatively thin, not towering and thick, and that is why I cut it into smaller pieces to turn them into a beautiful snack-size cake bars. They may not look as dramatic when you plate them, but the small bars pack a lot of flavor for their small size – and a smaller piece means that I don’t feel guilty about seconds. The moist, tender cake includes molasses, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla in addition to browned butter, and these all come together for a classic – but not too aggressive – gingerbread cake. It is probably my current favorite gingerbread variation.

To highlight the browned butter a little bit more, and to finish off these bars, I topped mine with a batch of Browned Butter Cream Cheese Frosting. I used a tablespoon of browned butter that I set aside after browning the butter for the cake and blended it in with regular (not-browned) butter, cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar to make a creamy icing that gives just the right finish to the cake. The tanginess of the cream cheese combined with that nutty browned butter will have you licking your spatula – but I recommend icing the cake first to make sure you have enough! If you want to use the frosting for cupcakes, you should double the recipe, as this batch only makes enough to cover these cake bars.

Brown Butter Gingerbread Cake Bars
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp baking soda
Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat, then turn up the heat to medium and cook the butter for 4-6 minutes, until the butter begins to brown. Once the butter starts to brown, it will brown quickly, so watch it carefully. Remove from heat when butter is golden and smells nutty. Pour into a large bowl and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
Set aside 1 tbsp of browned butter for the frosting (below).
Stir sugar, egg, molasses and vanilla into cooled browned butter and whisk to combine.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and baking soda. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before frosting with cream cheese frosting.
Cut into 18 bars to serve (3×6).

Makes 18 bars.

Browned Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
1 tbsp browned butter, cooled
3 tbsp butter, room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

In a large bowl, beat together browned butter, softened butter and cream cheese until well combined. Add in vanilla. Gradually blend in the confectioners’ sugar, mixing until the icing is smooth and thick.
Spread onto cooled cake.

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  • Linda
    December 21, 2012

    I know a lot of people aren’t big gingerbread fans but I love the stuff. These bars sound wonderful and I love the addition of brown butter. I am hooked on brown butter in recipes these days. SO amazing in depth of flavor. I had something in mind for my librarians tomorrow but as usual you posted something that makes me want to bake this instead. Thanks for a recipe I know will win fans!!

  • Linda
    December 23, 2012

    Made this for my librarians as I knew I would. If it tastes half as good as it smells and looks–should be a winner. Thanks again for a great recipe. I think I’ll mark this one a keeper.

  • Emily
    December 18, 2013

    Hi there —

    Made these bars last night, and I agree the flavor is amazing! But they turned out a totally different texture for me — dense like a blondie / brownie, rather than cakey. The amount of leavening seems really low for a cake-like texture — just 1/2 a teaspoon of soda. Was there supposed to be baking powder in the recipe too? That said, I actually kind of love them in the denser, more brownie-like incarnation…


  • Nicole
    December 18, 2013

    Hi Emily, I’m glad to hear that you liked the recipe! The amount of baking soda should be enough, since molasses is fairly acidic and tends to react very well with it. Is it possible that your baking soda was old or exposed to too much humidity? It can lose its potency over time and that could definitely have contributed to the dense, brownie-like texture you describe.

    I think that I might create a blondie recipe with these same flavors soon, since it sounds like it turned out to be delicious in that format!

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