What’s Cooking Blog – Entry #12: Gingerbread Interpretations

“When they came nearer they saw that the house was built of bread, and roofed with cakes, and the window was of transparent sugar.”

This quote, from the German fairytale Hansel and Gretel, was published in 1812. It is often credited as the first known reference to what has become the traditional gingerbread house we recognize today. Although the seasonal structure is often considered a Christmas tradition, the history and evolution of the gingerbread house is internationally renowned. References to cultivated ginger root for cooking and traditional medicine date back to circa 500 BCE in China and India. After being imported throughout the Roman Empire, ginger root made its debut in household recipes varying from soft, moist loaf cake to a harder ginger biscuit. Eventually, ginger was also found to help preserve flour and meat and was widely employed. The origin of the first gingerbread recipe is a little nebulous, though. References appear around 2400 BCE in Greece, 992 CE in France, 13th century Germany, and a Swedish nunnery in 1444 CE, to list a few. Queen Elizabeth I has been accredited with allegedly serving the first gingerbread men to foreign dignitaries and Shakespeare pays poetic justice to our highlighted cuisine in Love’s Labour’s Lost (1598).

Bake your own gingerbread house or choose from a number of thematic kits available in local stores if you’re looking for a creative project to test your engineering and decorating skills. They’re edible, too!

Many wishes for a Happy and Healthy Holiday!

Title of Cookbook:
Gingerbread Wonderland: 30 Magical Cookies, Cakes & Houses.

Author of Cookbook:
Mima Sinclair

What prompted you to check out this cookbook?
Although I don’t own a single cookie cutter or icing tip (and worried that it would have ended up Cajun / blackened gingerbread if I baked my own), I was looking for fun decorating ideas and inspiration to try on my first gingerbread house.

What did you like about this cookbook?
Gingerbread Wonderland includes helpful baking tips and a mix of manageable recipes with dairy- and gluten- free variations.

What didn’t you like about this cookbook?
This cookbook omits a recurring piece of advice that I read suggesting the use of meringue powder instead of egg whites in the royal icing mixture. ‘Meringue powder is easier to use and safer to eat than raw egg whites.’

…“You can find meringue powder at craft or cake decorating stores,” in case you were wondering.

Favorite recipe (that you tried from the cookbook):
Although the “Mini Mug Gingerbread Houses” might be my favorite recipe, this little book includes so much more than gingerbread houses.

Did you alter the recipe or make any substitutions? If so, what were they?
We used a store-bought kit this year and ate the few ‘extra’ pieces of candy but still had about half of the icing left over. More icing could always be added to the house, but I allocated a small portion to assemble three Marshmallow snowmen (or, visiting wise-men, hahaha). Alterations made to the snowman recipe found on page 352 in Taste of Home Celebrations included substituting icing arms with thin pretzel sticks (gently inserted into tiny ‘pilot’ holes) and the addition of multicolored candy sprinkles to create the remaining features.

Would you recommend this cookbook/recipe?
Yes. Building a gingerbread house with my boyfriend was like working on a really sweet 3-dimensional puzzle together.

Have a photo of your completed dish, your creation mid-recipe, or happy eaters you’d like to share?

A gingerbread house with a gingerbread pine tree and gingerbread man, all decorated with icing and gumballs.
Three marshmallow snowmen with pretzel sticks for arms, decorated with gumdrops.