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The Evolution Of Gingerbread: From Simple To Spectacular

Gingerbread houses. You've probably never given them much thought, right? Well, we're here to tell you all about 'em!

"when they came closer, they saw that the little house was built entirely from bread with a roof made of cake, and the windows were made of clear sugar"
  - The Brother's Grimm

Ginger as a spice is generally thought to have been brought to Europe during the 11th century, by crusaders bringing back ginger from the Middle East - although an early form of gingerbread (‘honey cakes’) can be traced all the way back to ancient Rome. By the 15th century, gingerbread had evolved into a bread-like dessert made with honey, spices, and breadcrumbs, and by the 16th century, gingerbread figures were becoming popular. In fact, the first documented instance of it being done was by Elizabeth I who presented members of her court with little gingerbread models of themselves. Gingerbread-baking became an official profession, and in the 18th century only gingerbread-bakers were permitted to create this sweet treat.

Over time, spices became cheaper and as a result, ginger-based confectionery boomed across Europe. Each country developed the recipe with a twist, resulting in the lebkuchen and pierniki we know today. However, it was Germany in the 1900s which popularised the actual gingerbread house. It is thought that after the publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in 1812, and the tale of Hansel and Gretel, that German bakers began creating elaborately adorned fairytale houses made of their softer form of gingerbread (lebkuchen). In the original story, the children come across a house made of bread, with a cake roof, and sugar windows. Nowadays, the story's been jazzed up a bit, turning the plain bread into gingerbread. From this point on, people have been enthralled by gingerbread houses - especially at Christmastime.

Gingerbread houses have since evolved in a big way. You can get gingerbread churches, gingerbread castles, gingerbread palaces, museums, mosques, and even football stadiums. There are competitions across the world, and the largest gingerbread house ever made, according to the Guinness World Records, was constructed in Texas in 2013, covering an area of 2,520 square feet! There’s even a Gingerbread House Day, occurring on the 12th of December every year..

So this Christmas, maybe take some time to decorate your own little architectural masterpiece. Celebrate Gingerbread House Day by getting the family together, making a mess, and getting the most from this historical holiday tradition. 

Happy baking!

20th November 2023