Delicious and Gorgeous Gingerbread Houses
There are many sights, sounds and smells that instantly feel like Christmas. Along with colorful lights, cheery decorations, and Christmas trees, gingerbread houses are a great sign of this holiday season.
Decorated with icing, candy and gumdrops, gingerbread houses may not bear any direct relation to Christmas, but they have both the look and fragrant aroma that makes them such a key part of many celebrations. Not only are they delicious to make (assuming you swipe a few bites and licks as you go), but they are a pretty reminder of the season.
Religious and Royal Importance
Gingerbread has been around for thousands of years, dating back the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, who had the first known recipe in 2400 BC, when gingerbread was baked exclusively for religious ceremonies. Chinese recipes were developed during the 10th century. Also, an Armenian monk is credited with bringing gingerbread to Europe in 992 and using molds to create images of saints and other important religious characters. It continued to serve a religious purpose through to the 17th century, at which time it became associated with Christmas holidays.
Though it became more for eating and decorating and not used as a precious religious icons — the art of making gingerbread was still seen as a sacred and prestigious practice. At that time, European royalty only permitted gingerbread to be prepared by guild members who were specially trained at making gingerbread, and it was only allowed during Christmas and Easter.
The hard cookies were sometimes gilded with gold leaf and cut into shapes like animals, kings and queens – an idea that came from Queen Elizabeth I, who asked for cookies made to resemble visiting dignitaries. Decorated cookies were also a staple at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany.
Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century and quickly became a Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose even more when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel. Eventually, elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England. Gingerbread arrived in the New World with English colonists, who sometimes used the cookies to sway Virginia voters to favor one candidate over another. And now, the carved architectural details found on many colonial American seaside homes is sometimes referred to as gingerbread work.
The world’s largest gingerbread house, spanning nearly 40,000 cubic feet, was erected in Bryan, Texas, at the Traditions Golf Club. It was built like a traditional hose and required a building permit. It’s estimated that a recipe for the 4,000 gingerbread bricks used during its construction would include 1,800 pounds of butter and 1,080 ounces of ground ginger.