After the Gingerbread Challenge on GBBO this week, we were interested to find out more about this festive treat. Judi Zienchuk, the writer behind epicureandculture.com, provides an interesting insight into the history of gingerbread.
Gingerbread has been around for thousands of years, since the times of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. During its early days, it was baked to be firm so that it could be used for religious ceremonial purposes. Eventually, an Armenian monk brought it to Europe in 992. By this period, gingerbread baking was already quite sophisticated, and specially made moulds were used to create images of saints and other important religious characters out of the bread.
The primary use of gingerbread continued to serve a religious purpose through to the 17th century, when it finally became associated with Christmas holidays. As the creation of religious icons — even in edible forms — was seen as a sacred and prestigious practice, European royalty of the time only permitted gingerbread to be prepared by specially trained gingerbread guild members except during Christmas and Easter. As a result, most people could only enjoy the sweet dessert during this time of the year.
Gingerbread patterns and designs continued to become increasing detailed and intricate. Russian gingerbread makers began crafting some of the first gingerbread men and women. These breads often took shapes similar to matryoshka dolls or kolobok, a round, Russian gingerbread man……
[Other sources state that the tradition of making decorated gingerbread houses started in Germany in the early 1800s. According to certain researchers, the first gingerbread houses were the result of the well-known Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” in which the two children abandoned in the forest found an edible house made of bread with sugar decorations. After this book was published, German bakers began baking ornamented fairy-tale houses of lebkuchen (gingerbread).]…. The tale’s witchy ginger dwelling was quickly adapted to fit a more festive role, with a merry winter wonderland-esque cottage theme. These new houses adopted the German style of bread, having a German origin and taking advantage of the harder consistency. This provides enough support to be able to design taller and more fanciful structures. With gingerbread’s long history of being used as a decorative edible substance, gingerbread house-making quickly became an art.
To help you on your way to creating your own work of art, here is Mary Berry’s foolproof recipe, https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/mary_berrys_gingerbread_91126 and combined with our Gingerbread House and Gingerbread Man cookie cutters, you may get inspired to replicate some of these amazing pieces!
Here are some of our favourites :