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What is Gingerbread?

A gingerbread house.
A gingerbread man cookie.
Ginger is the main but not only ingredient in gingerbread.
Cloves are often used to season gingerbread.
Ginger is a rhizome.
Baking soda, one of the ingredients in gingerbread.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2014
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Gingerbread is a confection that can appear in a cake-like or cookie form. The primary spice that flavors it is ginger, although it frequently incorporates cloves, cinnamon, and allspice as well. Gingerbread tends to be very rich and is sometimes served with brandy as an accompaniment. It is most commonly found around Christmas, although nothing restricts it from being consumed year round.

This treat probably originates in England, where there is a long tradition of rich, dense, spice cakes reaching back into the Middle Ages. The name originally may have referred to preserved or candied ginger, which was later used to make a confection with honey and spices that eventually transformed into the gingerbread of today. The medieval version was likely heavily sweetened and more like a candy or confection. It was probably cut into fanciful shapes and served on decorative platters along with other after-dinner sweets.

Ginger is native to China, although it is cultivated and used in cuisines all over the world. In the West, the spice tends to appear paired with sweet foods like cakes, beverages, and cookies. In the East, ginger is eaten with spicy foods and savory main dishes.

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Some versions of gingerbread are more savory, perhaps as a nod to ginger's origins. The treat tempers the strong flavor of ginger with a sweet addition, often honey or molasses rather than refined sugar. The use of ginger in cooking in Europe began in the 11th century, when the rhizome was first brought back from the East.

Gingerbread cookies tend to be thin and crispy, with a strong characteristic gingery bite. Traditional cakes, on the other hand, are soft and chewy, and cooks often incorporate inclusions such as nuts, dried fruit, and preserved ginger. They is used to make gingerbread houses, a traditional Christmas pastime that can be quite elaborate.

To make a traditional cake, the cook should preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C), then sift together 2 cups (250 g) flour, 1/3 cup (66 g) sugar, 1 teaspoon (6 g) salt, 0.5 teaspoon (2.3 g) baking powder, 1 teaspoon (4.6 g) baking soda, 1 teaspoon (2.6 g) cinnamon, 1.5 teaspoon (2.7 g) ground ginger, and 0.5 teaspoon (1 g) cloves. He should then add 1 cup (236.5 ml) molasses, 1 egg, and 0.5 cup (118.3 ml) buttermilk. The doughy mixture should be stirred together until well combined, and then 0.25 cup (59 ml) hot water added. The cook should the pour the batter into a well greased and floured 8-inch (20.32-cm) pan and cook for 40 to 50 minutes or until the cake springs back when poked. The cake can then be set out on a rack to cool and dusted with confectioners sugar, or served with whipped cream, lemon sauce, brandy sauce, or another topping.

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geekish
Post 17

I used to work at a Christian daycare, so luckily we got to celebrate the true reason for Christmas, Christ's birth. But of course there were other Christmas activities that we let the children participate in that had nothing to do with Christmas.

For instance, the last year I worked at the daycare, a parent bought in a gingerbread house for each classroom to make together. At this point, I took care of children from the age of one and two. So basically the toddlers ate most of the supplies we gave them, which was okay, since everything was edible.

The toddlers had fun eating most of the "supplies" and so did we, the teachers! In the end, us teachers made like half of the gingerbread house, as we wanted to have something to show for the parent who brought it in, but honestly we did not know how to put the gingerbread house together all the way, plus the children, and the teachers, had a lot of fun eating the gingerbread house, as well as putting part of the gingerbread house together.

snickerish
Post 16

I have never been a huge fan of the taste of gingerbread cookies, but I do remember the joys of decorating them. My Mom used to make the dough for us, then let us grab some dough to make our own gingerbread person. I used to love decorating those cookies every year! The candy we got to decorate them with made the gingerbread cookies taste okay enough to eat a few of!

My Dad, on the other hand, loves gingerbread cookies. He gets them all year around, probably eats some every month. The only way I can eat gingerbread cookies plain is to dunk them in milk. I guess I am used to desserts like cookies being sweeter, so the bitterness of gingerbread cookies, compared to most other cookies, throws me off a bit.

I am curious how the old English gingerbread was, since it says in the article it was a lot sweeter than it is now, because they used sugar instead of honey back then. Maybe I would like gingerbread cookies better if they were sweeter, made with sugar instead of honey.

I don’t think I have had gingerbread, only gingerbread cookies. I think a gingerbread cake would be excellent, because vanilla and/or creme cheese frosting would be plenty sweet enough to offset if the gingerbread cake were somewhat bitter.

poppyseed
Post 15

My daughter made a gingerbread house last year as a Christmas project in her Pre-K class. It was so cute!

Now granted, it was a little crooked, and the icing was pretty much everywhere, but it was really awesome for a four-year-old!

The teacher said that we could keep them forever, which I was actually a little perplexed by. I mean, can you really keep a gingerbread house forever? I was afraid it would go bad or something – but so far, a year later, it’s looking good.

Domido
Post 13

I just watched a special on gingerbread house competitions last weekend! Wow – these folks take their gingerbread making quite seriously.

The fact is that they put multiple hours (sometimes even hundreds of hours) into the creation of their gingerbread houses.

The way that this particular competition was set up was split into age groups. I have no idea how the judges could even begin to choose one over the other, because so many of them were gorgeous.

I was very surprised to see that very few of them actually looked like the traditional gingerbread house (like the kind you think of being in Hansel and Gretel). They were awesomely unique, each and every one.

Perhaps the most challenging part of the whole endeavor wasn’t as much actually making the gingerbread (which looked pretty tough) but transporting the finished product to where it was going. There was more than one formerly gorgeous creation that was pieced pitifully back together at the show.

I wonder, though, do they eat them after they’re finished competing?

John57
Post 12

Although I am not fond of a gingerbread taste, my kids love to make gingerbread men. This is something they look forward to every year.

I have individual gingerbread man cutters that I use for each of my kids to make their own. Another easy trick is to buy the colored candies that are easy to melt.

Put the melted candy in small baggies with a hole in one end and let them decorate them the way they want to. None of them ever end up looking the same.

I have several individual cutters, so each kid can make more than one. Everything except the cake can be picked up at a craft store, and you have a great Christmas project for your kids to work on.

Even the older kids enjoy having their own personalized gingerbread cakes. This has become somewhat of a tradition in our house, and the Christmas season never passes without gingerbread men cakes around the house.

SarahSon
Post 11

I get a craving for gingerbread every now and then. This is something I always have at Christmas, but there are many other times during the year it sounds good.

To satisfy this craving, I just buy a box cake mix of gingerbread. It is a quick dessert that is easy to make. Served warm from the oven with a little bit of whipped cream, and my craving is satisfied for awhile!

I love any kind of spiced dessert like this - molasses cookies and spice cake with hints of ginger and cloves are good too.

summing
Post 10

I was at the mall this past weekend and they have a huge real gingerbread house set up in the middle of the mall next to Santa's wonderland.

It is roughly the size of a child's playhouse. It is maybe five feet high and probably about 30 square feet. According to the sign next to it it is made of real gingerbread and held together with real icing. It sure looks real. I found my mouth watering just looking at it.

kylee07drg
Post 9

@shell4life – I've never had the cupcakes, but I do love vanilla frosting on gingerbread cake! I know that some people put cream cheese frosting on theirs, but to me, that is far too rich. I like the light flavor of vanilla and the fluffy texture, too.

Gingerbread cake is wonderful with lots of walnuts in it. You get a nice crunch mixed in with the soft, crumbly cake, and walnuts have a flavor that complements the spices well.

The only bad thing about gingerbread is that it crumbles like crazy! I have to hold a plate under my chin to catch all the crumbs, and by the time I'm done eating, I have enough crumbs to equal nearly half a piece of cake.

Is gingerbread supposed to be this crumbly, or am I doing something wrong? Is there a way to make it hold together better?

lighth0se33
Post 8

I recently made some awesome gingerbread cookies with a twist. Each one had a chocolate peanut butter cup in the center. Chocolate, peanut butter, and ginger go together surprisingly well!

The recipe called for molasses, but I used dark corn syrup instead. I think as long as you use something gooey, everything will cling together as it should.

I had to refrigerate the dough for an hour to get it stiff enough to mold around the chocolate cups. I cooked them until the tops cracked a little, and then I rolled them in confectioner's sugar.

They have the most unique taste! At first, I wasn't sure what to think of them, but I found myself reaching for a second cookie, and now I'm hooked.

cloudel
Post 7

@popcorn – My friend makes gingerbread ornaments from actual gingerbread cookies. I didn't think it would be possible, but she says that if you cook them long enough and glaze them with a protective coating, they will last a long time.

She doesn't use any frosting or candies. Instead, she makes indentations where the facial features and buttons should be. Frosting or candy would cause the ornament to spoil sooner.

She bakes the cookies until they are rock hard. She pokes a hole in the head for a string to go through. Then, she lets them cool completely.

Next, she sprays a fixative over the entire cookie. Once that has dried, she runs the string through the hole and hangs it on the tree.

shell4life
Post 6

My mom makes the best gingerbread cupcakes I have ever tasted. The spices are so strong that they are unlike any other cupcake. They don't even need frosting to taste good.

However, I did try frosting them one time. I used some vanilla frosting I bought at a grocery store, and the smooth, creamy texture and mild sweet flavor went so well with the bold punch of spices.

I know that gingerbread is traditionally a holiday food, but I make these cupcakes any time of year! I even have them for my birthday, instead of a regular cake!

fify
Post 5

I've been to Nuremberg, Germany which is said to be the place where gingerbread was founded.

Apparently, honey cakes- the forefather of gingerbread-was very popular in Germany in the 1100s because honey was produced and easily found. And then, through the trade routes, ginger came from Asia and bakers added ginger to the honey cakes making gingerbread. A baker who made it was almost like a gingerbread architect because making gingerbread was thought of as an art. The bakers had to have special training to make gingerbread houses.

I had the best gingerbread I have ever tasted in Nuremberg. I especially loved the heart shaped and frosting decorated gingerbread I had during Oktoberfest.

ddljohn
Post 4

I love gingerbread. I didn't grow up eating gingerbread although my mom always made ginger cookies and bought gingerbread candy for Christmas.

When I started living on my own, I started buying baked gingerbread from my favorite organic store regularly. I have a sweet tooth and have been suffering from a stomach ailment so I was looking for something sweet and soothing that I could have when I felt like dessert.

I tried gingerbread and absolutely loved it. Ginger is really good for the stomach, it's soothing and prevents nausea. And it's relatively cheap too, so it turned out to be the perfect dessert in my condition.

I also think that it's much more satisfying than other kinds of cakes and sweet breads because there is something about molasses and spices that satisfies my taste buds. I think gingerbread is a great way to finish off a meal no matter what you're having.

popcorn
Post 3

Are there any good gingerbread crafts that people can think of?

Last year my kids made some great gingerbread decorations out of felt and some simple art supplies. They ended up making a really nice garland out of their felt gingerbread men and some craft beads we found. It was really easy to do as all we had to do was print out a gingerbread pattern online and follow that.

This year I would like them to try and make some more gingerbread men decorations as they are really cute. I want to get started as soon as possible so I can get everything ready in time for the holidays.

Sara007
Post 2

@letshearit - If you are looking for some great gingerbread ideas you should branch out from just making gingerbread houses. While they can be fun to decorate I find that it gets repetitive after awhile. You should look up how to make gingerbread ornaments or see if your family would like to make gingerbread cookies or gingerbread candy. There are lots of free holiday recipes online that there is no reason for you to get bored.

What I do with my kids is make a gingerbread icing so my kids can decorate their cookies. They have so much fun designing clothes for their gingerbread men that I am always looking for new candy for them to work with.

letshearit
Post 1

Does anyone have any ideas as to how my family and I can make our gingerbread house extra nice?

Up until now my family and I have made a gingerbread house for Christmas each year and really feel that it is a fun family activity. I always recommend that every family try and put together one, as buying one of those gingerbread kits that you can find at most grocery stores is really easy.

So far what we usually do to make things more interesting is choose our own favorite kinds of candy to put on the house. My daughter is a huge fan of jelly beans, so we always make a point to decorate with those. My wife loves red licorice, and it makes for great detailing on your gingerbread roof. We would love some more ideas though.

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