Not too long ago I put together a piece on molasses for Culinate.com. This time of year seems to be the only time that forgotten jar of molasses gets to come out of the cupboard and play awhile, usually mixed into gingerbread. 

But I love molasses! It’s thick and not overly sweet, and it has a sordid past! Read my piece for a few uses - or do yourself a favor and make this beautiful molasses cake.

A recipe I culled from The Kitchn, this cake described as one for chocolate haters. It’s dense and moist with great flavor - and the cream cheese frosting is absolutely wonderful. It’s perfect for holiday baking! 

Dark and Damp Molasses Cake
serves 10 generously

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks 
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) unsulphured dark or unsulphured blackstrap molasses * (see Note below)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional
1 teaspoon vanilla 
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups whole milk

Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter or grease a 10-inch springform cake pan.

Place the chunks of butter in a 2-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Pour in the molasses and whisk in the brown sugar and white sugar. Whisk as the butter melts. When the butter has melted and is completely liquid, and the sugar has dissolved and is no longer grainy, give it a final stir and turn off the heat. Set the pan aside to cool. (The molasses will look slightly separated from the melted fat; they won’t be smoothly combined.)

Use a clean dry whisk to combine the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and espresso powder in a large bowl. (The espresso powder is optional; it will lend one more dimension of flavor to your cake.)

Whisk the vanilla, eggs, and milk into the saucepan with the molasses and melted butter. When it is completely combined, pour this liquid slowly into the bowl of dry ingredients. Whisk thoroughly to combine, making sure there are no lumps.

Pour the thick batter into the prepared springform pan. Bake at 350°F for 45 to 50 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 20 or 30 minutes, then run a thin, flexible knife around the inside of the pan to help the cakes edges release. Remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely on a cooling rack before icing.

Note on molasses: If you want the very dark, nearly black cake seen here, use unsulphured blackstrap molasses. Lighter molasses varieties will still work fine in this cake, but it won’t be as dark or have any many bitter notes. If you want a lighter spice cake, then use regular molasses.

Extra-Creamy Cooked Cream Cheese Icing
makes enough icing to sandwich and cover two 9-inch cake layers

16 ounces (2 bars) full-fat cream cheese, softened at room temperature for at least 1 hour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place the softened cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer (or simply use a large bowl and hand beaters). Whip the cream cheese on high speed for several minutes, until it is completely smooth and silky. Scrape the cream cheese out into a separate bowl and set aside.

Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together in a small saucepan. Turn the heat on to medium and slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. It will look lumpy at first but whisk vigorously to create a smooth paste. Continue whisking as the mixture comes up to a simmer. It will thicken rapidly and dramatically as it comes to a boil (see photo below). Simmer for 1 full minute, then turn off the heat. Scrape the flour and milk paste into the mixer bowl. (If you want to be 100% sure there are no small lumps, pour it through a mesh sieve.)

Turn on the mixer or beaters and whip the flour-milk mixture for 10 minutes, or until it is lightened and no longer piping hot. It should be lukewarm or cooler. Slowly add the whipped, softened cream cheese, whipping constantly. Add the vanilla. Continue whipping until the the two are completely combined and smooth and silky. (See photo below.)

It is best to let this icing firm up a bit more in the refrigerator but you can use it now to ice a completely cooled cake. If not using immediately, store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Whip again briefly on high speed before using. It is also best to refrigerate cakes that are iced with this frosting. It is best eaten within three days or so.