cardamom rose gingerbread cake

cardamom rosewater gingerbread

As promised, today I’m sharing a low-key version of that wedding cake I recently posted. So here it is, just in time for gingerbread season—my cardamom rose gingerbread cake, with rose cream cheese glaze! It has an incredibly tender crumb, a robust spiced ginger and rose flavor, and a delightful cream cheese glaze that smooths out all that fragrance.

If you’ve been reading along for a while, you might notice that this cake’s flavors and design are pretty much identical to the cardamom rose gingersnaps I made for Design*Sponge last year. Those cookies are perfect for sharing with friends, family, and coworkers (especially now, in the heart of baking season), but this cake is a lovely way to end a big holiday dinner, and best of all, it’s actually pretty simple to make. You don’t even need a stand mixer or any special baking or decorating experience to pull it off. I’ve included some instructions for making it ahead (which you can even start to do now, if you’re a plan-way-ahead kind of person).

cardamom rosewater gingerbread cake
cardamom rosewater gingerbread cake
cardamom rosewater gingerbread cake
cardamom rosewater gingerbread cake

making this cake ahead

  • You can bake the cakes a few weeks ahead of serving, but you should store them in the freezer rather than the refrigerator (even if it’s for just a day or two). The fridge tends to dry baked goods out, while the freezer preserves them without drying them out. Just make sure you let them cool completely, wrap in plastic wrap, seal in a bag, and try to squeeze out as much air as possible before freezing (just don’t crush the cakes—they’re fragile!). Alternatively, feel free to bake the cakes the day before serving, and keep them at room temperature.

  • You can make the frosting a few days ahead of time, and keep it in the refrigerator. Make sure it’s tightly sealed so it doesn’t take on any weird fridge smells. This glaze actually freezes a bit better than most cream cheese frostings, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend freezing it because it sometimes gets grainy and doesn’t look quite as good (but luckily it’s super easy to throw together).

  • You can crumple the rose petals weeks ahead of time.

  • Up to a couple hours before serving, you can assemble the cake, ice it, and decorate with rose petals. The decorating only takes a few minutes, and is really easy to do at the last minute while entertaining (you won’t need to bring out a rotating turntable or any cake decorating gear).

cardamom rosewater gingerbread cake
cardamom rosewater gingerbread cake
cardamom rosewater gingerbread cake
cardamom rosewater gingerbread cake

some tips on styling

Most of these tips are in the recipe below, but I thought I’d add a little more detail, in case you want to know more about how to get the look in these photos:

  • Make sure the glaze is the right consistency. It needs to be pourable, but thick. If you thin it out too much, it won’t cling correctly, and it will just run off the sides. It’s totally fine to make more of a thick cream cheese frosting instead, but in that case, you’ll want to make swooshes on the surface (rather than pouring it), like the applesauce cake in my apple cabbage dolma post. The consistency will depend on how strong your rosewater is—if it’s weak, you might need to add the full amount called for in the recipe, which means you shouldn’t have to thin the glaze out any more. If it’s strong, you might only add a teaspoon, which means you can thin the glaze out further with some leftover buttermilk, or leave it as is and swoosh it.

  • When encouraging the glaze down the sides of the cake, remember that less is more. It will always drip down further and wider than you want it to, and more of the glaze should end up on the cake than on the pedestal. To better control the dripping, you can hold off on adding all of the glaze to the top at once, adding a little more as you need it.

  • Carefully separate the rose petals, making sure you use just the pink ones (any brown ones can be saved for making tea later). The best way to do this is to squeeze the stem part of the bud to crush it slightly. The outer petals will then easily fall away. Once you’ve harvested all the pink petals, further crush the bud between your fingers to release the seeds and pollen from the inside of the bud. These little black dots add a lot of nice contrast and give the cake a less girly froufrou look (although there’s nothing wrong with going full froufrou!).

  • Sprinkle the petals over the cake, rather than carefully placing them. Sprinkle from about 10 inches above the cake, and keep your hand moving as you go. You want it to look kind of rustic, and not too precise (see the sprinkling photo above).

  • Careful not to add too much food coloring to the cream cheese glaze. Since dried rose petals are usually a deeper shade of pink, using a more pastel shade for the glaze gives the cake more contrast.

cardamom rosewater gingerbread cake
cardamom rosewater gingerbread cake

cardamom rose gingerbread cake with rose cream cheese glaze

serves 10
active time: 30 minutes
total time: 90 minutes
very loosely adapted from a
Cook’s Illustrated recipe
for cookies with a similar look and flavor profile, try my
cardamom rose gingersnaps
download a PDF to print

cardamom rose gingerbread cake

  • butter for greasing the pans

  • 250g (1 3/4 cup) all purpose flour

  • 21g (1/4 cup) cocoa powder

  • 14g (2 tablespoons) ground ginger

  • 6.5g (1 1/2 teaspoons) baking powder

  • 3g (1/2 teaspoon) baking soda

  • 2.5g (1 teaspoon) ground cinnamon

  • 3g (1 1/4 teaspoons) cardamom

  • 5.5g (3/4 teaspoon) salt

  • 240g (1 cup) buttermilk

  • 140g (3/4 cup) molasses

  • 300g (1 1/2 cups) sugar

  • 150g (3/4 cup) vegetable oil

  • 3 large eggs (140g)

  • 30g (2 tablespoons) fresh grated or puréed ginger

  • up to 45g (3 tablespoons) rosewater (add 1 tablespoon at a time)

  • rosewater cream cheese glaze (below)

  • edible dried rose buds* (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F/177° C convection.** Butter 2 8-inch cake rounds, line them with parchment rounds, and then butter the parchment.

  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, ground ginger, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt.

  3. In a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a mixing bowl with a whisk), combine the buttermilk, molasses, and sugar. Then add the vegetable oil, eggs, fresh ginger, and 1 tablespoon of rosewater at a time. Mix and taste between rosewater spoonfuls, and add more as necessary (different brands vary significantly in strength. Too much will taste soapy).***

  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and mix at low speed just until it comes together (do not over-mix). Fold 3 or 4 times with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom of the bowl to make sure it’s fully incorporated. Pour into the parchment-lined rounds, and bake for about 22 minutes. They’re done once they’re no longer wobbly in the center, and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean with just a few crumbs.

  5. Let them cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the pans’ edges to loosen the cakes. Be very careful when you invert the cake—it has a very delicate crumb. Place a plate over one pan, flip the whole thing in 1 swift motion, and carefully remove the pan. Place a cooling rack over the inverted cake on the plate, and carefully flip it again so it’s right-side-up on the rack. Repeat with the other one, and let them cool completely.

  6. Make the glaze (below) and crumble the rose petals while you wait.

  7. Once cool, carefully shave off the slight hump of 1 cake with a serrated knife. Place that layer cut-side-up on a plate or cake pedestal. Top with about 1/3 of the glaze, and spread into a thin layer. Place the second layer bump-side-up. Top with the remaining glaze, encouraging it to drip down the sides a little. Sprinkle with rose petals and seeds, and serve.

rosewater cream cheese glaze

  • 227g (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened at room temperature

  • 57g (4 tablespoons) butter, softened at room temperature

  • 210g (1 1/2 cups) powdered sugar

  • up to 22g (1 1/2 tablespoons) rosewater (add 1 or 2 teaspoons at a time)

  • a few drops pink food coloring (optional)

  • additional buttermilk (as needed)

  1. Beat the cream cheese and butter together until they lighten a little, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the powdered sugar and a little rosewater, and beat together. Taste, and continue adding rosewater until you’re happy with the flavor (careful not to overdo it).

  2. Once you’re happy with the flavor, take a look at the consistency. It should be very thick, but pourable, like perfectly tempered chocolate. If you need to thin it out slightly (probably because you went with a smaller amount of rosewater), add a teaspoon of buttermilk (or milk) at a time, until you reach the right consistency, but careful not to let it become thin or runny. Or, if you like it on the spreadable side, simply swoosh it on top instead of glazing the cake.

  3. Once you’re happy with the consistency, add a couple drops of pink food coloring, and keep mixing in more drops until it’s a pale pink color (careful not to make it too bright—I used 6 drops of pink to get this color. Use much less if you’re using red).

* When I crumble the rosebuds, I like to also use the little black seeds that fall out. They add some nice contrast to the pale icing and colorful rose petals. Some rose buds will have yellowish-brown petals on the inside—I just use the outer pink ones for decorating (sometimes with a little yellowish-brown), and save the scraps to make tea.
** If you don't have convection, you may need to bake them slightly longer. Keep an eye on them, and take out of the oven once they're no longer wobbly in the center.
*** If you don’t want to eat raw egg, wait to add the eggs until after you’ve tasted it, but keep in mind it should taste a little rosier without them. The cake has rosewater in both the frosting and the cake, so it’s better to under- than over-do it, and you can always sprinkle the finished cakes with a few drops if you didn’t add enough.

cardamom rosewater gingerbread cake
cardamom rosewater gingerbread cake

see more:

sage and cinnamon chelsea buns

chelsea buns

This recipe was inspired by my friend Abeer, and the beautiful sage she brought me from a recent trip to Palestine, where sage leaves are often steeped with black tea and sweetened with a little sugar. This wonderfully fragrant tea is emblematic of one of my favorite features of Middle Eastern and North African cuisine: in my experience, we don’t treat most ingredients as inherently savory or sweet, but neutral, which means that they can become savory or sweet depending on the context. These sage and cinnamon chelsea buns go wonderfully with a pot of lightly sweetened sage tea, and they are a perfect way to start an October weekend morning.

Chelsea buns
chelsea buns

Speaking of chelsea buns/cinnamon rolls… I recently did an Instagram AMA, where I asked people to write in with cooking questions and problems, which I tried my best to answer and solve, sometimes phoning a friend for advice. So when someone asked how to bake cinnamon rolls that turn out super soft and fluffy, I asked Kate from Wood and Spoon and Abeer to chime in, because they bake the softest looking cinnamon rolls I’ve ever seen, while mine tend to have a more coffee-cake-like texture

I would have assumed that the trick is adding more butter and milk, but there was a clear consensus that if you want super soft cinnamon rolls, the key is to take them out of the oven when they’re still light golden brown, and around 190°F on the inside. The ones photographed here are baked to closer to 200°F, so they’re a little more on the coffee cake side (which I like) but if soft and fluffy is what you’re after, make sure you keep a close eye on them, and pull them at 190° F, or a little above.

Whatever you do, don’t overproof your cinnamon rolls! If you let them double in size, they’ll often end up springing up and uncoiling as they bake. I mean, they still turn out delicious—it’s just a presentation thing. It can be hard to tell whether something has risen enough, but it helps to take a before photo on your phone so you have something to compare it to.

chelsea buns

sage and cinnamon chelsea buns

active time: 30 minutes
total time: 3 hours 30 minutes
serves: 8 buns
download a PDF to print
for a variation, try cardamom swirls


  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

  • 2 teaspoons yeast

  • 1 large egg, at room temperature

  • 1 yolk from 1 large egg, at room temperature

  • 1/4 cup sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 450 grams all purpose flour (about 3 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups)

  • 5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

  1. Preheat the oven to 180° F (you will be shutting it off to proof the dough)

  2. Combine the buttermilk, yeast, egg, yolk, sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl. Once the yeast has dissolved, Add the flour and butter and knead everything into a dough for a few minutes in the bowl. If the dough seems a little dry, add another tablespoon of buttermilk and continue kneading; if it seems a little wet, add a couple tablespoons of flour (using a scale to measure the flour takes out the guesswork). The dough will smooth out and look much less shaggy after a few minutes of kneading, although it might still look a tiny bit lumpy and not perfectly smooth (this is fine).

  3. Turn the oven off and open the door for about 30 seconds to let it cool off a little. Cover the bowl of dough with plastic wrap, place it in the oven (again, make sure the oven heat is off), shut the door, and let it proof for about 1 hour. The dough is done rising once it's noticeably larger, and has approximately doubled in size.

filling and rising

  • proofed dough

  • 4 tablespoons butter

  • 1/3 cup raisins

  • 2 teaspoons ground sage

  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

  1. Roll the risen dough out into an approximately 14 by 19-inch rectangle (do not use flour. While the dough will stick as you roll, it is buttery enough that it won't stay stuck to a smooth surface). Start by flattening it with your rolling pin, and then gently pull 4 corners out to make it more of a square. Pat the top and sides to nudge it into a more regular-looking square or rectangle, and then continue to roll out. It will want to become an oval whenever you roll it, so pull and pat it back into a rectangular shape between rollings. It should be very thin, about 1/8-inch or thinner, by the time you're done rolling it out. Let it stay stuck to the counter to relax while you mix up the filling.

  2. Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the raisins and stir for about 2 minutes, until they have slightly plumped up and softened. Remove from heat and add the sage, cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar. Stir it together and let it cool down to room temperature.

  3. Once the filling is cool, spread it out over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border at the two shorter ends. Make sure the raisins are evenly distributed.

  4. Tightly roll the dough up from one short side to the other short side (you want to end up with a 14-inch-long log, not a 19-inch one).

  5. Use a sharp serrated knife to slice about 1/2 inch off either end of the log.* Then cut the log into 8 equal pieces (carefully saw back and forth—don't just chop straight down or they won't look perfectly round and spirally).

  6. Butter an 8-inch cake round and place a parchment round in the bottom (butter under and on top of the parchment). Place the biggest looking chelsea bun in the center of the cake round, and surround it with the 7 other rolls.

  7. Cover the rolls with plastic wrap and let them proof in a 70° F room for about 1 hour, being careful that they don't over-proof. They're ready to bake once the tops start to look a bit round (like this).** Toward the end of their rise, preheat the oven to 350° F convection.***

  8. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until they're golden brown.

  9. Feel free to let them cool and serve them in the pan. If you're going to place them on a cake stand or plate, remove the whole thing from the pan after they've been out of the oven for about 10 minutes (treat them like a cake: loosen the sides with a knife, place a cutting board over the top, flip, remove the pan, place the plate or cake stand, and flip again).

the glaze

30 grams buttermilk (2 tablespoons)
180 grams powdered sugar (about 3/4 cup)
a pinch of ground sage

  • Whisk the buttermilk and powdered sugar together until there are no lumps. The glaze should be free-flowing, but it shouldn't be too runny or it will disappear and become kind of translucent after you pour it. If it's too thick, add a drop or two of additional buttermilk at a time to thin it out. If it's too thin, add a tablespoon or two of additional powdered sugar at a time to thicken it.

  • Once the chelsea buns have cooled off a bit, drizzle the glaze with a spoon, and then sprinkle with a tiny pinch of sage. Serve immediately****

* Discard the ends, or flatten them into a pancake, cook it on the stove, and enjoy while you're waiting on the rolls to bake
** Take a photo before, and then take another one later to compare how much larger they've become.
*** If you’re not using a convection oven, you may need to slightly increase the temperature and/or cook them just a minute or two longer.
**** If you're not serving them within an hour, keep the un-glazed chelsea bun covered or in a plastic bag for up to 1 day, and reheat in the microwave just to warm them a little and take off the stale (in my microwave, about 45 seconds for the whole pan works great). Then glaze them at the last minute. You can also freeze them unglazed and then glaze them after thawing—if you seal them tightly before freezing, these will be pretty enough to serve to company. If you have any leftovers after glazing, you can also freeze these, but they just won't look as pretty after they thaw (great for midnight snacks and decadent weekday breakfasts). If you want them to be super fresh, you can leave the shaped rolls in the refrigerator overnight before baking.

chelsea buns