If there’s a way to improve on this traditional New England dessert, I certainly haven’t found it. This is the gingerbread we all dreamed of as children and have only rarely tasted. It is moist, spicy and loaded with flavor. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square pan with 1 tablespoon of butter. Dust with ¼ cup dry bread crumbs and tap out any excess. In a small bowl, soak ¼ cup chopped crystallized ginger in ¼ cup Cognac or brandy. Sift 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger, ¼ teaspoon ground cloves, ½ teaspoon dry mustard and ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper together into another bowl.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream 8 tablespoons butter until it is light and fluffy. Slowly add ½ cup dark brown sugar. Whip until fluffy. Add 2 eggs, one at a time, while continuing to beat. Add 1 cup unsulfured molasses.
DissoLve 1 tablespoon instant espresso crystals in boiling water. Add the hot liquid to the butter mixture, ¼ cup at a time, alternating with the flour mixture, until both are fully incorporated. Strain off and discard the liquid from the ginger. Fold the ginger into the batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top evenly and bake for 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. Invert onto a plate.
This cake can be prepared 3 days in advance. So if you’d like to serve it for Christmas, you can get started on it now! Just wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If you make the gingerbread 1 day ahead, refrigeration isn’t necessary.