Nothing says Christmas like gingerbread. But did you know that there is a rich history behind this much-loved dessert? Read on and you will learn everything you never realised you wanted to know about gingerbread – plus a delicious and easy gingerbread house recipe at the end!
GINGERBREAD: HISTORY AND FUN FACTS
- The specific origins of gingerbread is unclear, although it may have been introduced to Western Europe by 11th century crusaders returning from the Mediterranean.
- Shaped and decorated gingerbread was a popular treat at medieval fairs and festivals, with several cities in France and England hosting regular gingerbread fairs for centuries.
- Shakespeare appreciated the value of gingerbread, with a quote from his play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, saying: “An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy ginger-bread.”
- Queen Elizabeth I had a royal gingerbread maker create gingerbread men in the likeness of important guests. An excellent diplomacy tactic which gives us ideas for that next dinner with the in-laws:
Any resemblance between this cookie and my mother-in-law is purely coincidental. Image: Graver77
- Gingerbread was the ultimate (edible) token of luck and love. Before a tournament, ladies would gift their favourite knights a piece of gingerbread for good luck.
- Folk medicine practitioners would create gingerbread men for young women to help them capture the man of their dreams. If she could get him eat it, then it was believed he would fall in madly in love with her.
- For those wanting to cut the middle men out altogether, ladies could eat a gingerbread husband themselves to help them snag the real thing.
Sadly, this ginger man is already taken:
- According to Swedish tradition, you place the gingerbread in your palm of your hands, make a wish and then break the gingerbread with your other hand. If it breaks into three pieces, your wish will come true.
- Some of the earliest forms of gingerbread didn’t even contain ginger and were not necessarily bread. According to Dessert Historian Michael Krondl (I want his job!), they were essentially honey cakes. It is claimed that ancient Roman men ate anatomically-correct renditions of these before orgies to fuel their libidos.
- I would very much love to include a picture of this, but fear that typing the search terms “anatomically correct honey cakes” would raise a red flag for the IT and HR departments. So here’s the following image instead (Note to HR: search terms used were “naked gingerbread”. Wait, is that worse?)
- Over time, the popularity and availability of spices would vary gingerbread recipes. However, the use of butter and cream in 18th century recipes transformed gingerbread to the way it is today.
- Gingerbread houses became popular during 19th century Germany, most likely attributed to the publication of Hansel and Gretel. It is thought that the early German settlers brought this tradition to America.
- In 2013, the Guinness World Records awarded a club in Texas for having the world’s largest gingerbread house. At approximately 18m x 13m x 3m (height), it’s big enough to comfortably house a family of five. For those of you interested, the house is a mere 35,823,400 calories.
SOME AMAZING GINGERBREAD CREATIONS TO FEAST YOUR EYES ON
For those of us who are time poor, slightly uncoordinated, but wanting to impress with a simple yet classy gingerbread house, here is an awesome recipe from Stuck On You Crew Member Cameron.
- 100g butter at room temperature, cut into cubes
- 1 cup of firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 cup of honey
- 2 eggs
- 4 cups of plain flour/all purpose flour
- 1 cup of self raising flour
- 1 tablespoon of ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of bicarb soda
- Using an electric beater, beat the brown sugar, butter and eggs in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Then slowly mix in the honey until thoroughly combined.
- Combine all the dry ingredients into the bowl, making sure to sift the flour in, and mix until combined
- Place some baking paper or non-stick baking mat onto a table and dust with flour. Empty the gingerbread house mix onto this and knead until smooth. Shape into a ball and wrap in cling film.
- Place these in the fridge for an hour to rest. The mix can last in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Once rested, divide the mix into portions. Using a rolling pin, flatten the portions into ½ cm thick disks. Cut the walls, roof, and any other details out using a sharp knife. (For best results, dip the knife into a bowl or jug of hot water before making the cut).
- Once all the shapes are cut, line a baking tray with grease proof paper, place the shapes onto the tray and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C (160C fan forced) for 10 minutes or until golden brown.
- Once cooked, allow the gingerbread pieces to cool on a rack until completely cool. During this stage you can make the royal icing.
Royal icing is used to glue the sides of the gingerbread together as well as for decorating.
- 2 large eggs – egg whites only
- 2 2/3 cups of icing sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
- Crack both eggs into a mixing bowl and separate the egg whites. (The easiest method is to scoop the eggs yolks with your fingers and let the egg whites slip through the cracks).
- Slowly mix the icing sugar and vanilla essence into the egg whites using an electric beater, and beat to stiff peaks. Refrigerate for half an hour.
- Using a piping bag or knife, spread the icing along the edges of the gingerbread house and allow to set.
- Using lollies and other colours of icing, decorate the house.