Gingerbread is one of the classic comfort foods of the English-speaking world, and the stuff of nostalgia, real and imagined. There are endless variations, and I've never tried one I'd reject completely. Ruminations by John Thorne on the subject feature a version which actually included, if I'm remembering correctly, beef drippings. There is a lovely Laurie Colwin essay with two very nice recipes, one of which uses Lyle's Golden Syrup. Nika Hazelton's American Home Cooking has a serviceable, simple one, and I definitely intend to try the Chocolate Gingerbread in Dorie Greenspan's newest book; it looks gorgeous.
These, of course, are all soft, cake type gingerbreads. The gingerbread for cookie-cutter cookies (and gingerbread houses and the like as well) is a different animal entirely. I have favorite old standby recipes for both types. As to the soft kind, I use Maida Heatter's Moosehead Gingerbread, from her Great Desserts. That's the sort I made for dessert, to warm me up.
Gingerbread does nicely in my earthenware 9" square baking pan. I think that it keeps the outside edges from crisping up. Normally, I'm a sucker for food with crispy bits; I make gratins in very low pans, for maximum top, and love the corners of my jam bars. But I like my gingerbread soft all over, with as little hard, dark edge as possible. Using this sweet little Emile Henry number allows me to get that, without (eech) undercooking the gingerbread. The original recipe didn't call for this kind of pan, and of course you can make it in a regular metal one.
My brown pan is from the Emile Henry Artisan Series, which purports to be a reproduction of their original 19th century ware. Emile Henry stuff, in case you are not familiar with it, is made from some sort of special Burgundian clay, which causes it to be much less sensitive to temperature changes than most pottery. You can put it straight into the oven from the freezer, and even cook in it over a gas burner, with a flame tamer in between, and a careful eye. Unlike the other, more colorful EH lines, the Artisan items resemble el cheapo pottery outlet type bakeware. Perhaps this is why they seems to be often on sale, and hence more affordable. I kind of like the "fool the eye" effect myself, and all the EH things work wonderfully.
Maida Heatter's gingerbread, minimally adapted here, came from an "old time fishing guide in Maine." I can't remember which of the John Thorne books his essay came from, but I think he actually went in search of M. H.'s fishing guide. (Well, he did live in Maine then, but still.) It invariably cracks on top, but I don't mind a bit. To make it you need:
All purpose flour 2 1/2 cups
Baking soda 2 tsps
salt 1/2 tsp
cinnamon 1 tsp
powdered ginger 1 1/2 tsps
ground cloves 1/2 tsp
ground mustard 1/2 tsp
black pepper 1/2 tsp
butter 1/4 lb.
dark brown sugar 1/2 cup
molasses 1 cup
strong hot coffee 1 cup
Preheat oven to 375F.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, mix butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, and mix in one at a time. Now, beat in the molasses.
Sift dry ingredients together and add to the bowl, alternately with the hot coffee, ending with the dry mix. Pour into a 9" square baking pan, which has been buttered and dusted with dry breadcrumbs. Bake about 45 minutes, until done. Cool 10 minutes. Invert on another rack, and then back again, top up. It When fully cooled, cut into 9 squares. Consume, preferably topped with a dollop of whipped cream, or in a bowl with some runny custard poured over.
There's definitely a touch of heat in this gingerbread, what with the mustard and pepper. All to the good IMHO. As to the other kingd of gingerbread, we'll go there one day soon.
The Moosehead Lodge sign comes from the Adirondack Country Store, where they sell these wooden reproduction signs for home decor use.