The Gingerbread House

The tradition of baking the sweetly decorated houses began in Nuremburg,Germany, after the Brothers Grimm published their collection of German fairy tales in the early 1800’s.  Among the tales was the story of Hansel and Gretel, children left to starve in the forest who came upon a house made of bread and sugar decorations.  The hungry children feasted on its sweet shingles.  After the fairy tale was published, German bakers, inspired by the fairy tale, began baking houses of lebkuchen, a spicy dough often containing ginger. The houses were called “hexenhaeusle” (witches houses). The bakers employed artists and craftsmen to decorate them.

The popularity of gingerbread houses and cookies spread to colonial America. Recipes varied from region to region, according to the national origin of the immigrants who had settled there.  Most recipes had fewer spices than in European recipes, and often settlers included local ingredients.  Maple syrup molasses was included in many recipes in northern areas of the country, while sorghum molasses was used in the South.  Gingerbread houses were more popular in America than in England.  The American hard style gingerbread more closely resembled traditional German recipes than the softer English gingerbread.

Children, and adults alike, delight in the gingerbread house creation. There is an excellent Gingerbread House recipe by Kurt Gutenbrunner of Wallse restaurant, on recipes. It not only includes a recipe, but also helpful tips for preparation, assembly and decoration. There are templates to make the project easier, especially for novices. They can be found online, at craft stores or traced from an architecture book. Nothing says holiday spirit like the aroma of gingerbread baking in the oven.

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