When and why did gingerbread get pigeonholed as a *strictly* holiday treat? Sure, I get that all things gingerbread are a holiday tradition, but must that mean that they vanish from the food scene the remaining ten months of the year, with the exception of an occasional gingersnap?

Two secret ingredients take this gingerbread to the next level: black pepper and cayenne. They add a deep, complex heat you just can’t get from the other spices on their own. My favorite part of making this recipe is pouring the boiling water over the molasses and baking soda. The mixture fizzes up and dilutes the molasses into a liquid that’s easy to incorporate into the batter.

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp each ground ginger, ground cinnamon
½ tsp. each ground nutmeg, ground black pepper
¼ tsp. ground cloves, optional
¼ tsp. salt
pinch cayenne pepper
½ cup molasses or Lyle’s black treacle
½ tsp. baking soda
½ cup boiling water
2 oz. (1/2 stick) butter, softened
½ cup light or dark brown sugar
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350˚F, and coat a 9- x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray or melted butter.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Measure the molasses in a heatproof 2-cup or more measuring cup, and sprinkle the baking soda on top. Pour the ½ cup boiling water over the molasses mixture, and stir until all the molasses is mixed into the water. (The mixture will fizz and bubble because of the baking soda.)

Whisk together the butter (it should be very soft – almost a mayonnaise consistency) and the brown sugar in a large bowl. Whisk in the egg. Alternate whisking in the molasses-water mixture and the flour mixture until you have a smooth, fairly liquid batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake 35 to 45 minutes, or until the gingerbread pulls away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the gingerbread 15 minutes in the pan, then gently loosen it from the sides, unmold, and cool on a wire rack. The gingerbread will keep up to a week, becoming denser and chewier (and to my mind, better) over time. Makes 1 loaf