Around the World in 80 Plates: Gingerbread

Gingerbread is not new; early gingerbread can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Gingerbread wasn’t recorded in history in Europe until around the 11th-century, when Crusaders brought back ginger from the Middle East for the wealthy folks’ cooks to experiment with. Ginger was added to many things, but one food that stuck around was gingerbread.

Gingerbread can be baked as a bread, or as a cookie. Many European countries have their own version of a gingerbread; some are a loaf of sweet gingery bread, and others are a cookie like we are more used to seeing today. Houses made of gingerbread weren’t popular until the Brothers Grimm wrote their still-famous fairy tale Hansel & Gretel. German settlers brought the tradition of building a lebkuchenhaeusle (gingerbread house) with them to the Americas, and there are some amazing examples every year in the United States every winter.

People shaped gingerbread cookies were first recorded after Queen Elizabeth of England (in the late 1500’s) had her cooks prepare cookies that looked just like the guests she had invited! There is also the story of the Gingerbread Man, who pops out of the oven he was baked in and runs away!

Gingerbread loaves are easy and tasty, and make a great addition to a Winter Solstice or Christmas Dinner. Serve it as a dessert with a topping of whole-berry cranberry sauce and whipped cream, or add it to a snack platter at a party. Be sure to line the baking pan, or your loaf will get stuck!

Gingersnaps are spiced little cookies that are baked until they are crisp and snap when you bite them! They are great to dunk in hot cocoa!

Gingerbread house cookies don’t usually taste as good as they look and smell because it is a building material more than a tasty snack. Captain Create has build gingerbread houses a time or two, and has a good recipe for walls. Be sure to plan ahead and make the right icing to glue the walls together, and feel free to use anything you like to decorate, not just candy!

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