3 Holiday Cakes That Taste as Good as They Look

Put a creative twist on the nostalgic seasonal flavors of gingerbread, eggnog and peppermint with these very-worth-it festive layer cakes
christmas festive holiday cakes with traditional seasonal flavors like gingerbread, peppermint and eggnog.

These holiday cakes—by Jackie Bruchez of The Seaside Baker—bring a creative twist to traditional seasonal flavors like gingerbread, peppermint and eggnog.

When she was in elementary school, Jackie Bruchez would play hooky for a week to spend time with her grandfather in his Temecula kitchen. Together, they’d make hundreds of pounds of Italian cookies to gift friends and family during the holidays. It’s where her love of the culinary arts—and more specifically, baking—first took root. “We’d fill the house with trays of baked goods before packing them into tins to give away,” she says.

jackie bruchez the seaside baker holiday cakesFifteen years ago, she turned her lifelong love of baking into a business, selling her homemade cupcakes from her Oceanside kitchen through her online Etsy shop. “I was so busy, but I was also doing everything myself—from baking to shipping—and after several years of it, I was exhausted,” the mom of three says.

She thought she was done for good. Then her husband bought her a domain, theseasidebaker.com, for Christmas in 2012. “He knew I needed a creative outlet, and he nailed it with that gift,” she recalls. “I’ve been blogging ever since.” Her first cookbook Decadent Fruit Desserts: Fresh and Inspiring Treats to Excite Your Senses, for which she developed 65 new produce-inspired treats—from tarts and cookies to cakes and bars—came out last spring.

For the holidays (and this story), Jackie decided to put a creative twist on the nostalgic seasonal flavors of gingerbread, eggnog and peppermint. Since her 2019 bucket list includes learning to decorate cakes, she opted to make these ingredients the stars in her stunning, moist, frosted confections that she also inventively embellished.

“I went with traditional flavors and used them in different elements throughout each cake,” Jackie says. “You want people to really taste the gingerbread, eggnog or peppermint, but you don’t want it to be overpowering so you also have to find the right balance and complement.”

holiday cakes gingerbread cake with sugared cranberries and gingerbread men cookies and star anise

Though your traditions might call for loads of holiday cookies, like Jackie and her granddaddy used to make, we promise these fancy, festive holiday cakes topped with pretty sugared berries, candied nuts, chocolate bars, cookies and spices satisfy the sweet tooth and aren’t nearly as fussy—and time consuming—as baking batch after batch of cookies.

TIP: The trick to slicing a towering cake gracefully is to use a relatively short serrated knife—a blade that is five to eight inches long is best. Serrated knives create neater slices with fewer frosting smears. Before slicing, refrigerate the cake briefly (10-15 minutes). Then run the knife under hot water, dry it and cut the cake while the knife is still slightly warm to the touch using a gentle sawing motion. Wipe the knife clean between slices.

== jump to the recipes for our holiday cakes ==


While traditionally baked as cookies to eat and homes to decorate and display, gingerbread made in a cake becomes decadent with cream-cheese frosting. “The cream cheese elbows out ginger’s bite,” Jackie says.

holiday cakes gingerbread cake

“I like to play with shapes when decorating to add a bit of whimsy,” she says of the sugared cranberries, gingerbread cookies, cinnamon sticks and whole star anise she placed on top of this layered cake. “You don’t want to add too much though; it can create a mess when you’re slicing.”

Jump to the Gingerbread Layer Cake with Cinnamon Cream-Cheese Frosting recipe here.


holiday cakes peppermint bark layer cakeChocolate and mint are a match made in sweet heaven. This dreamy chocolate cake gets kissed by peppermint in the batter, the white chocolate frosting offers a minty crunch and the frosted cake wears a skirt of crushed candy canes. The pièce de résistance comes in the form of the velvety chocolate ganache coating that Jackie pours over the top, providing the perfect place to nestle in her hunks of peppermint bark.

She limited the sugar in this cake and added a bit of salt to tone down the frosting. “I’m not a huge fan of overly sweet cakes,” she admits.

Jump to the Peppermint Bark Layer Cake with White Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Frosting recipe here.


Swap the glass for a fork and plate to get a tasty dose of the rich, dairy-based beverage. Eggnog lends itself to baking with its thicker consistency and syrupy sweetness. Jackie’s cake gets a rum syrup that could be substituted with bourbon—or leave the boozy simple syrup out completely.

holiday cakes eggnog cake

“I wanted the eggnog taste to be apparent, more so than the nutmeg that accompanies it,” Jackie notes. “But I also wanted a different element altogether.” For crunch, she added a ribbon of candied pecans around the bottom of the cake and created a ring of the sweet nuts on the top, too.

Jump to the Eggnog Cake with Rum Simple Syrup and Eggnog Frosting recipe here.

You Can Make It Ahead

Save your sanity. Jackie says you can make—and freeze—almost everything you need for any one of these three holiday cakes up to a week in advance. (Frosting lasts up to three months in the freezer.) Here’s how:

  • After removing the dome from your holiday cakes (before frosting), wrap each layer individually in plastic wrap and place them in a large zip-close freezer bag. The bags can be stacked on top of each other. Remove them 30 minutes before you plan to frost them.
  • Store buttercream frosting in an airtight container. It will last in the fridge for 4-5 days and up to three months in the freezer. When you’re ready to use, place it in the refrigerator overnight to thaw. Before you frost the cake, let the buttercream come to room temperature and give it a good stir with a wooden spoon before spreading it on the cake.
  • If you’re strapped for time, you could frost the cake days before you intend to serve it and use the same technique people apply when they freeze the top of their wedding cake. Place the cake, uncovered, in the freezer for two hours. Take it out, cover it in plastic wrap and put it in a domed, airtight food-storage container to slowly thaw, then. put it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Take it out, remove the plastic wrap and garnish it.

The Recipes

holiday cakes gingerbread cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting gingerbread men and sugared cranberries

Gingerbread Layer Cake with Cinnamon Cream-Cheese Frosting

Serves 10-12

For the cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cardamom
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup molasses
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup hot water

For the frosting

8 oz. (1 block) full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Sugared cranberries (recipe follows)

For the garnish

Gingerbread cookie
Cinnamon sticks
Star anise, optional 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of two 8- or 9-inch round baking pans with parchment paper rounds. Grease and flour the sides of the pans. 

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Set aside. 

In a separate large bowl, beat oil, molasses and sugars on medium speed until mixture is light and airy. Scrape down bowl and add eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Stir in vanilla extract. 

With beaters running on low, gradually add in flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Batter will be thick and lumpy. Scrape down sides of bowl and add hot water. Mix on low until batter is smooth. 

Evenly pour batter into pans and bake for 25-28 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cakes for 15 minutes in pans then transfer to a rack to cool completely. 

Meanwhile, to make the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and smooth. Add powdered sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and beat until combined. Increase mixer speed to high and beat frosting until light and airy, about 4-5 minutes. 

If needed, level the cakes by cutting off the domes using a serrated knife. Place one cake layer on a cake stand or serving plate. Evenly spread about 3/4 cup of frosting on the layer. Top with second layer and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with sugared cranberries (below), gingerbread men, cinnamon sticks and star anise, if desired. 

holiday cakes garnishes star anise cinnamon sticks and sugared cranberriesSugared Cranberries

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/3 cup sanding sugar

Combine granulated sugar and water in a small pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves. Once simmering, remove from heat and cool syrup for 10 minutes.

Place cranberries in a large bowl and pour the syrup over the top. Stir gently to coat the cranberries with the syrup. Let cool completely, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Once cranberries have steeped, and are now cold, drain into a colander. Place sanding sugar in a shallow dish. Add the cranberries in small batches, rolling to coat with sugar. Spread sugared cranberries in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Let cranberries sit at room temperature until dry, about 1 hour. Store cranberries in an airtight container for up to one week.

TIP: Sanding sugar is the large crystal sugar you find in the decorating section of any baking aisle.

Peppermint Bark Layer Cake with White Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Frosting

holiday cakes peppermint bark cakeServes 12-15

For the cake layers

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
1 1/2 cups hot coffee, or boiling water 

For the frosting

1/2 cup white chocolate pieces
7 large egg whites
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the chocolate ganache 

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the garnish

1/3 cup finely crushed candy canes
1/2 cup crushed candy canes
Peppermint bark chunks (see below)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour four 8-inch round pans.

Note: If you only own two round pans, fill them evenly with the batter, increase the baking time by 10-15 minutes (check to ensure a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean) and cut the cakes in half once cooled. 

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. 

Create a well in the center of the flour mixture and add eggs, buttermilk, oil and extracts. Whisk until ingredients are incorporated; batter will be thick and lumpy. 

Carefully pour in hot coffee, and whisk until batter is smooth and runny and no longer bumpy. 

Divide batter equally into pans. 

Bake cakes for 26-28 minutes or until a knife is inserted into the center of the cake and comes out with only a few small moist crumbs. 

Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and place on a cooling rack to cool completely. 

Meanwhile, in a microwave-safe dish, melt white chocolate on high for 60 seconds, then remove from microwave and let rest for 1-2 minutes. Stir chocolate until smooth and chips are completely melted. If needed, heat in additional 15-second increments. Let cool until chocolate is room temperature and no longer warm.

Bring a small pot with 2 inches of water to a simmer over medium heat. Place the egg whites and sugar in a heat-proof clean bowl. Place bowl over the simmering water to create a double boiler. Whisk egg whites until sugar has dissolved completely, about 4 minutes. You can test the mixture by rubbing a small bit between your fingers. If smooth, egg whites are ready. If grainy, it needs more time. 

Remove the bowl from the pan and beat egg-white mixture on high until it has doubled in size, stiff peaks form and egg whites are no longer warm. 

With the mixer running on medium speed, gradually add in the cubed butter and salt. Increase mixer speed to high and beat for 10-15 minutes. There will be a point when the meringue looks lumpy and like it is separating, but it will come together at the end. 

Scrape down the bowl and add the melted white chocolate and extracts. Beat for an additional 5 minutes until smooth. 

Once the cakes are completely cooled, level them using a serrated knife to remove the domes. 

Place the first layer on a cake stand. 

Evenly spread about 3/4 cup of frosting on the top of the cake, top with second cake layer and repeat with remaining layer. 

Spread a thin layer of frosting around the outside of the cake to create what’s called a crumb coat. Refrigerate or freeze cake for 20-30 minutes. 

Once cold, pipe a generous amount of frosting around the outside of the cake. Run a cake scraper along the edge of the cake to flatten out the frosting and remove excess. 

Refrigerate cake for 1-2 hours (or overnight) to allow frosting to set. 

To make the ganache, pour the heavy cream into a medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl and heat for 30-45 seconds or until hot.

Add the chocolate chips and let sit for 4-5 minutes, then stir until smooth.

Drizzle the ganache around the edges
of the cake, then use remaining ganache to fill in the top of the cake. Spread with an offset spatula, if needed. 

Garnish the cake with crushed candy canes and peppermint bark.

Refrigerate cake for at least 30 minutes to allow ganache to set. 

Once ready to serve, let cake come to room temperature for 15-20 minutes before slicing. 

TIP: This time of year, you can find premade peppermint bark at nearly every grocery or specialty food store, but you can also make your own:

  • Heat dark or milk chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler.
  • Spread the melted chocolate into a lined pan.
  • Repeat with white chocolate, and use the back of a spoon to cover the dark or milk chocolate completely with the white chocolate.
  • Sprinkle with crushed candy cane, and cool completely.

holiday cakes peppermint bark chocolate ganache

holiday cakes eggnog cake with rum simple syrup and eggnog frosting

Eggnog Cake with Rum Simple Syrup and Eggnog Frosting

Serves 10-12

For the cake

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup eggnog, room temperature

For the simple syrup

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. rum (or bourbon) 

For the frosting

2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3-4 Tbsp. eggnog
Cinnamon for sprinkling
1 cup candied pecans, chopped coarsely

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans. 

In the bowl, beat together butter, oil and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly before each addition. Stir in vanilla extract. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients. 

Gradually alternate adding the dry mixture and the eggnog to the butter-egg mixture (3 flour additions, 2 eggnog additions), mixing only until just combined. After all ingredients have been added, stir batter a few more times with a wooden spoon or spatula. 

Evenly spoon batter into prepared pans. Bake cakes for 25-27 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes then invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely. 

If using the simple syrup, bring water and sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Continue cooking until sugar has dissolved, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in rum. Cool completely and set aside. 

Start the frosting. Beat butter, spices, salt and vanilla until light and fluffy. With the beaters running on low, gradually add powdered sugar and 3 tablespoons of eggnog. Increase mixer speed to high and beat frosting until airy, about 5 minutes. If frosting is still too stiff, add the additional tablespoon of eggnog. 

Before assembling the cake, cut off cake domes using a serrated knife to level, if necessary, and brush each layer with the rum simple syrup. Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or serving plate. Top cake with 2/3 cup of frosting. Repeat with remaining layers then frost the outer sides of the cake. If desired, use remaining frosting to pipe around the top of the cake.

Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon and top with candied pecans. Chill for 20 minutes.  

TIP: Skirting your holiday cakes with candy or nuts can be tricky. To get a perfect coating—whether you’re using nuts, candy or something else—start with a generous handful. Working your way around the cake, pat the coating into the frosting. Don’t press too hard; use just enough pressure to ensure it sticks.

6 Uses for Leftover Buttercream

Now that you’ve made these holiday cakes, you probably have a little frosting leftover. If eating extra icing straight from the container with a spoon isn’t your style, here are a few other uses.

Categories: Entertaining, Recipe Top Story