Engaging history of gingerbread
December 21 2017 10:21 PM
SWEET: Ginger snaps can best be served at eve of new year. Photo by the author

Gingerbread is a baked sweet containing ginger and some cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and anise, and sweetened with any combination of brown sugar, molasses, light or dark corn syrup, or honey. With the festive season and new year celebrations round the corner everyone wants to enjoy with friends and family. Homemade gingerbread cookie is a perfect gift which you can prepare and show your love and affection to your near and dear ones. This time of the year it always brings fond memories to my mind about gingerbread house. During my days in a luxury hotel in Delhi every year I used to build up a giant-sized gingerbread house in German school for their annual festival. The giant sized gingerbread hot served as a pastry shop and we used to sell our festival themed sweets and savouries from the gingerbread house pastry shop.
William Shakespeare once said, “If I had one penny in the world, thou should have it to buy gingerbread” . The origin of gingerbread can be traced to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians who used it for ceremonial purposes. Gingerbread made an appearance in Europe when 11th century crusaders brought the spice back on the Middle East for the rich folks to cook and experiment. As ginger and other spices became more affordable to the masses, gingerbread caught on. An early European recipe consisted of growing almonds, breadcrumbs, sugar and ginger. The resultant paste was pressed into moulds. These carved works of art served as a sort of story board that told the news of the day, bearing the lifelines of new kings, emperors,  and queens or religious symbols. The finished cookie might be decorated with edible old paint or flat white icing to bring out the details.
Later in the 16th century, the English replaced the breadcrumbs with flour and added eggs and sweetness, resulting in a lighter product. The first gingerbread man is credited to Queen Elizabeth I who knocked the socks off the visiting dignitaries by presenting them with ginger bread cookie. Gingerbread tied with a ribbon was popular at fairs and when exchanged became a token of love.  Over time some of these festivals came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as Fairings. The shapes of the gingerbread changed with the season, including flowers in the spring and birds in the fall. Elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England. The gold leaf that was often used to decorate gingerbread cookies led to the popular expression “To take the gilt off of gingerbread”. The carved, white architectural details found on many colonial American seaside homes are sometimes referred to as Gingerbread Work. Another story based on a practical note states that before refrigeration was common in every household, aromatic crumbled gingerbread was added to the recipes to mask the odour of decaying meat.
The gingerbread house became popular in Germany after the Grimm Brothers published their fairy tale collection which included Hansel and Gretel in the 19th century. Early German settlers brought this gingerbread house as a ration to America. Gingerbread houses never caught on in Britain as they did in North America, where some extraordinary examples can be found. But they do exist in other parts of Europe.
Recently the record for world’s largest gingerbread house was broken. The previous record was set by the Mall of America in 2006. The new winning gingerbread house, spanning nearly 40,000 cubic feet, was erected at Traditions Golf Club in Bryan, Texas. The house required a building permit and was built much like a traditional house. 4,000 gingerbread bricks were used during its construction. To put that in perspective, a recipe for a house this size would include 1,800 pounds of butter and 1,080 ounces of ground ginger. Sounds more like a gingerbread resort!

Ginger snaps

All purposed flour 2 1/2 cup
Brown sugar 1 cup
Oil 3/4 cup
Molasses 1/4 cup
Eggs 1
Baking soda 1 tsp
Cinnamon powder 1 tsp
Ginger powder 1 tsp
Cloves powder 1/3 tsp
Salt 1/4 tsp
Castor sugar 1 tbsp

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, lightly grease the cookie sheet with butter and line with butter paper and keep aside.
In a large bowl combine sugar, oil, molasses, eggs  and combine well.
Stir in  the remaining ingredients except the sugar.
Shape the prepared dough by rounded spoons into balls.
Dip tops into granulated sugar.
Place the balls on the prepared cookie sheet, sugared sides up, aprons 3 inches apart.
Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or just until set.
Remove on a cooking rack to cool down the cookies, store in an air tight container and serve with tea or coffee.
Note: You can also decorate and use various cookie cutters to make them in different shapes and delight your kids.

* Chef Tarun Kapoor,  Culinary Mastermind,  USA. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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