Gingerbread is a long-standing holiday tradition, the seeds of which are with the 11th-century crusaders returning from the Holy Land with ginger and other spices. The history is below.
Beyond those first gingerbread cakes and cookies, ginger has found its way into present day mousse, waffles,
RECIPE: EASY GINGERBREAD CAKE
1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and baking soda in a large bowl until combined; set aside.
2. PLACE the milk in a microwave-safe bowl and cook in the microwave on high for 90 seconds. Whisk the butter into the bowl with the hot milk until it has melted. Add the brown sugar and molasses and mix. Stir in the egg.
3. ADD the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients bowl and mix until they are completely combined. Pour the batter into an 8″x8″ pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until it the cake is firm in the center. Cool the cake completely. Serve with whipped cream.
MORE WAYS TO ENJOY GINGERBREAD
Don’t want to make anything at all? Check out the gingerbread cottages, trains, wreaths and cake pops at MackenzieLtd.com.
Check your supermarket, frozen yogurt or gelato/ice shop for a seasonal gingerbread flavor.
Look for Nonni’s Nonni’s Gingerbread Biscotti. We’re big fans.
THE HISTORY OF GINGERBREAD
At the end of the 11th century, the Crusaders returned to Europe from the Middle East with ginger and other spices. Prior to the 15th century, “gingerbread” referred to preserved ginger. It began to be used to flavor cakes and cookies. Monks baked the first gingerbread cookies for holidays and festivals, which are called Lebkuchen in German.
Why is it called ginger “bread” in English? The spice ginger, zingebar in Latin, became gingerbras in Old French, gingerbread in Medieval English and Ingwer in German.
Gingerbread cookies were made year-round in a proliferation of shapes—flowers, hearts, trees and so forth in different sizes. The Medieval German Lebkuchen Guild† transformed gingerbread into a highly-decorated art, crafting the fancy shapes and decorating them with sugar and gold.
But gingerbread men originated elsewhere. The credit goes to Queen Elizabeth I—or more precisely, an unnamed palace baker who toiled during her reign (1558 to 1603). Her Majesty bestowed “portrait” gingerbread cookies upon important court visitors, decorated in their likenesses.
According to a reference in FoodTimeline.org, the tradition of baking gingerbread houses began in Germany after the Brothers Grimm published their collection of fairy tales in 1812.
Life imitates art: Inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel, who nibbled at the witch’s candy-covered gingerbread house (and inspired our name, The Nibble), German bakers created miniature houses from the already popular lebkuchen (gingerbread). Artists were employed to decorate the houses, which became particularly popular during Christmas.
“Hansel and Gretel” vastly increased the popularity of gingerbread cookies and other treats. Gingerbread men and animals became popular Christmas tree ornaments.
The gingerbread tradition crossed the ocean with the German immigration wave that began in 1820. We thank them for the gingerbread.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GINGERBREAD, GINGERSNAPS & GINGER COOKIES
A ginger cookie is a soft, molasses-type cookie that is flavored with ginger and other spices. It is larger than, and otherwise differs from, a gingersnap.
Unlike the fancier gingerbread, a gingersnap is a small, thin, plain round cookie with a hard, smooth texture like a gingerbread cookie. It is a smaller version of the traditional German Christmas cookie known as Lebkuchen. Like a gingerbread cookie, ginger snaps break with a “snap.”
Gingersnaps contain a larger amount of ginger, and thus are spicier, than the chewier ginger cookies.