What better way to celebrate the holidays than with spiced cake! Nothing says winter like the smell of gingerbread fresh from the oven.
Let’s take a look at how this delicious tradition began.
The main flavor for gingerbread is, of course, ginger. We eat the root part of the ginger plant. It has a spicy, pungent flavor that goes well in both sweet and savory dishes.
Way back in ancient China and India, people cultivated ginger for use in medicine, tea, and to flavor foods. Sailors carried ginger with them to eat on sea voyages to prevent scurvy.
Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine uses ginger in many dishes including stir fry, Thai curry, Indian curry, and as an added flavor in sushi.
Ginger tea and ginger ale are both drinks that help calm an upset tummy.
When added to breads in historical times, ginger had properties that kept the bread preserved so traders could take it with them long distances.
It wasn’t until the Crusaders brought back this spiced bread from the Middle East in the 11th century that European bakers began trying their hand at recreating the delicious treat.
Not only did they bake loaves of gingerbread, talented gingerbread bakers also made the dough into shapes like stars, hearts, and even people.
Queen Elizabeth I had her bakers create shaped cookies to look like visiting dignitaries. That was a huge hit!
When Did Gingerbread Become Houses?
Way back in the 1800s, German bakers brought a fairy tale to life in the form of a decorated house made of gingerbread.
The fairy tale?
The Brothers Grimm story of Hansel and Gretel!
In the story, two children get lost in the woods and find a house made entirely of sweets.
Bakers made miniature versions of the house, and people were enchanted.
Immigrants to the United States brought Grimm’s fairy tales and their tradition of making decorated houses during the holidays.
Many families today create gingerbread houses as a build-up to Christmas.
While many house kits are available to assemble and decorate, the most fun is starting from scratch in the kitchen!
You can find many recipes to bake sturdy gingerbread cookies, either shaped like the parts of a house, or as a large sheet cookie you can cut after its baked.
Then comes the fun part…decorating!
Gingerbread house parts are assembled using royal icing, which is made from beaten egg whites, powdered sugar, and sometimes lemon juice. It dries hard, so it makes great glue!
The rest of the house is decorated with candies and other sweets stuck on with more royal icing.
The icing is also used to draw outlines of windows, doors, and shingles on the roof, and can even be used to make icicles and snow.
Some people add a battery-powered tea light inside their house to make it look like someone’s home!
Gingerbread houses are so popular, someone decided to name December 12th Gingerbread House day, but really, who needs a day when gingerbread is fun to eat all season long!
Gingerbread House Competitions
Of course, when people get creative in the kitchen, there are bound to be competitions.
And that’s exactly what happened with gingerbread houses!
The bakers began to make bigger and more elaborate houses to see who could win first prize.
In Sweden, The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design hosts a Pepparkakshus Competition in Stockholm. (That’s Swedish for gingerbread house!)
Each year the competition has a theme, and all the houses are decorated according to the chosen theme.
Bakers and architects get together to create their design and bring it to delicious, decorated life.
World record gingerbread house
Of course, where there are competitions, there are attempts to break world records! And that’s just what happened in 2013 when a team from Bryan, Texas built a 21-foot-tall gingerbread house! It covered an area about the size of a tennis court.
At nearly 40,000 cubic feet, this edible wonder became the new Guinness World Record holder.
Now that you have some inspiration for using ginger and for designing your own gingerbread house, it’s time to get cooking!
You can find many recipes at eat2explore that use ginger, and you can also check out our World Treats box to make Croatian gingerbread cookies!