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Rye Gingerbread with Grand Marnier Hard Sauce

More than meets the rye.

One 9-inch round or square cake


About 1 hour to make and bake, plus about 30 minutes to cool

If your leftover gingerbread stales, make Gingerbread Rusks. Slice the leftovers into ¾-inch planks, arrange them on a wire rack set in a baking sheet and dry them in a 300-degree oven for 1 hour. The slices will become craggy-crisp on the outside and will remain somewhat yielding within. Spread with Kids’ Table Hard Sauce (see Baking Notes) and enjoy with coffee or tea.\r\n


Gingerbread finds its way back to chilly medieval convents. But our gingerbread fantasy gets only as far as 18th century England: a twinkly Christmas, a Jane Austen-esque drawing room, and some sisters. No, not Little Women, we said England. In this well-worn trope, one of the sisters—let’s say the middle one—is a serious, studious girl with dark hair and gingery freckles whom we’ll call Jane. From Jane comes none of the dimpled smiles and musical laughter that issues from her sisters. Jane can’t be bothered with come-hither. Yet her sharp, nimble wit and brooding intelligence create a frisson of mystery and allure the other sisters can but dream of.

Jane is gingerbread. Get it? Plain on the outside, magical within. When the correct elements line up, no cake grabs the palate’s attention or evokes winter solstice and holiday as persuasively as she. Those elements? A deep-cordovan crust with a touch of chew (on the first day) and sheen; a close, moist crumb of pure velvet; and the bite of a well-coordinated spice sachet—ginger being but a fraction of the alchemy that ensues. We developed this recipe years back, and have tasted, in the interim, none better. This year, Dawn infused the formula with a measure of rye flour and made a racy hard sauce to go along. Perfection perfected. The rye flour brings near savory notes to the cake’s modest sweetness, as well as appealing whole grain flecks. And hard sauce is a simple butter and confectioners’ sugar frosting (the kind our mother used to make and spread on graham crackers) spiked with booze, whose chief function is to melt over warm gingerbread or a steamed pudding. We also offer a Kids’ Table Hard Sauce (see Baking Notes) every bit as tempting as the adults-only version.

Baking Notes

To make Kids’ Table Hard Sauce—that is, a version sans spirits—omit the Grand Marnier and whiskey (or rum) and instead use the grated zest of 1 orange, 3 tablespoons orange juice, and ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract.

To reheat leftover gingerbread, cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and place in a 325-degree for about 20 minutes. Be sure to bring leftover hard sauce to room temperature before serving.

equipment mise en place

To make the gingerbread, you will need a digital kitchen scale, a 9-inch round or square cake pan, a small saucepan, a sifter or medium-mesh strainer, a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, a rubber spatula, and a wire rack.

To make the hard sauce, you will need a digital kitchen scale, a medium bowl, a handheld mixer, and a rubber spatula.

  • for the gingerbread:

    • 10
      ounces whole milk
    • 7
      ounces light molasses
    • 1
      teaspoon instant coffee or espresso (optional)
    • 7.5
      ounces Anson Mills Colonial Style Fine Cloth-Bolted Pastry Flour, plus additional for dusting the cake pan
    • 2.5
    • 1
      teaspoon baking soda
    • teaspoon fine sea teaspoon salt
    • 2
      teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
    • 2
      teaspoons ground ginger
    • teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • ¼
      teaspoon ground anise seed
    • ¼
      teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • teaspoon ground cloves
    • 4
      ounces unsalted European-style butter, room temperature, plus additional for greasing the cake pan
    • 3.5
      ounces dark brown sugar
    • 2
      large eggs, room temperature
  • for the hard sauce:

    • 6
      ounces European-style unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 3
      ounces confectioners’ sugar
    • Pinch of fine sea salt
    • 3
      tablespoons Grand Marnier
    • 2
      tablespoon rye whiskey, bourbon, or rum

    Make the gingerbread: Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round or square cake pan. Dust the pan with pastry flour, tilting to coat the bottom and sides, and then knock out the excess. 


    In a small saucepan, warm the milk, molasses, and instant coffee (if using), stirring occasionally, just until the molasses dissolves into the milk. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, using a sifter or medium-mesh strainer, sift the flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa, ginger, cinnamon, anise, cayenne, and cloves into a medium bowl.


    In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 40 seconds. Scrape down the bowl, add the brown sugar, and beat on medium speed until light and aerated, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the bowl after each addition; the mixture will appear broken after the second egg is added. With the mixer running on low speed, add the flour mixture in three equal parts and the milk mixture in two parts, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. After the final addition of flour, mix on low speed just until combined. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter to make sure no pockets of flour or butter remain. Turn the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the surface. Bake until the gingerbread is well risen, a few cracks have formed on the surface, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. 


    Let the gingerbread cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack, carefully turn it right side up, and let cool until warm. 


    Meanwhile, make the hard sauce: Combine the butter, powdered sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Using a handheld mixer, beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the Grand Marnier, followed by the whiskey. Stir with a rubber spatula to ensure the hard sauce is well combined. 


    To serve, cut the warm gingerbread into squares and serve each with a dollop (or piped rosette) of the hard sauce.