Much more than just a cake, dive into the world of Christmas through gingerbread and its traditions!
- Gingerbread, where are you from?
- Gertwiller, or the gingerbread capital of France
- – The gingerbread house at Lips
- – The Gingerbread Palace and Fortwenger manufacturing
- Gingerbread around the world and events
- – Świeto Piernika , or the Gingerbread Festival in Poland
- – Once upon a time… the gingerbread house
- – The magical world of Christmas markets
- Gingerbread: our original and very old recipe!
- – The ingredients
- – Preparation
A sweet smell of honey. Scents of cinnamon, ginger and cardamom, or even a zest of clementine. But above all, a fragrance that brings us closer to the end of the year celebrations.
The regions of France, or even elsewhere, are preparing for the making of all kinds of delicacies. And the one we expect to find each year, the most representative of Christmas, is gingerbread.
So, come and immerse yourself in the enchanting world of this famous cake, from its astonishing origins to fabulous traditions, and even further!
Gingerbread, where are you from?
If gingerbread is now a flagship delicacy for the end of the year celebrations, this effervescence is the result of a long and tasty history. Get ready to jump back in time, heading to antiquity!
“Melitounta” or “Melitates”, these are the names reported by the Greek Aristophanes and his compatriot Athenaeus, to designate a bread made from sesame flour and honey. In ancient Rome, Pile the Elder called it “Paris Mellitus”, and described it as fried bread drizzled with honey.
However, it seems that our gingerbread has its origins more precisely… in China ! Indeed, “Mi-Kong” was known in China in the 10th century as a recipe based on wheat flour, honey and sometimes seasoned with aromatic plants.
The horsemen of Genghis Khan in Mongolia carry this famous bread in their ration when they go to war. Thus, the “Mi-Kong” sees itself reaching as far as the Arabian Peninsula, to then fall into the hands of the Crusaders who finally bring the bread and spices back to Europe.
Germany was the first to welcome gingerbread in 1296, where it spread in the monasteries to then become a real profession, “ Lebzelters ”, meaning gingerbread in German .
This is how the famous honey cake made its way to France and even more widely to Europe and then to the whole world. Besides Alsace, gingerbread is also famous in the city of Reims , where several gingerbread shops had taken up residence since the Middle Ages.
Gertwiller, or the gingerbread capital of France
Want to discover the wonderful world of gingerbread? See you in the unmissable capital: Alsace! It is to Gertwiller that we take you, this small village with typical half-timbered houses, halfway between Colmar and Strasbourg . Two major manufacturers are still in Gertwiller today: Maison Lips and Fortwenger, and their expertise is not new.
Indeed, gingerbread already appears in Alsace in the texts of the manuscript of the Strasbourg hospital in 1412: “ for Christmas, you have to give a large gingerbread or two small ones to each leper patient. ” This is how the tradition of giving gingerbread for Christmas spreads.
The Gingerbread House at Lips
To discover the wonders and secrets of the famous, coveted cake, head to the Maison Lips gingerbread museum! On the ground floor, immerse yourself in the gingerbread-making workshop, where many steps are still carried out by hand.
But above all, you will have the chance to taste several kinds of this delicious cake! And even better: you can watch the making and the decoration of the famous Christmas cookies!
Finally, upstairs in the museum is a remarkable collection of Alsatian folk art: furniture, ceramics, dishes and even cake pans dating from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Gingerbread Palace and Fortwenger Manufacturing
The Fortwenger workshops have been making gingerbread in Alsace for almost… 250 years! This is how the creation of the Palais du pain d’épices shares with you this passion and this craftsmanship, which is passed on from generation to generation.
Push the door of the Palace of gingerbread, and let yourself be guided by the “Mannele”. This little gingerbread man will make you explore his gourmet universe through the rooms of the museum, where you will discover the origins and secrets of this famous cake.
After this fun journey, go to the production workshop where you will watch the creation of these large decorated gingerbreads, without forgetting the final tasting!
Gingerbread around the world and events
From the East to the West and then throughout the world, gingerbread has created its reputation. Although very popular in Germany and France, it is also found in other parts of the world, through events and gourmet traditions!
Świeto Piernika , or the Gingerbread Festival in Poland
Our dear gingerbread is talked about in Poland . In fact, in the city of Toruń, a festival is organized every year just for him. This festival, named Świeto Piernika , is intended to commemorate the tradition of gingerbread making at the time.
If such an event is organized every year in honor of this honey cake, it is because the city of Toruń is in a way the “gingerbread city” of Poland. Besides its museums, it hosts one of the oldest confectionery companies in Poland and the world.
Of course, the gingerbread is made there respecting a whole know-how, the details of which remain a secret well kept by only a few people. What we do know is that the dough of the famous cake must rest for several months before the final confection, like good wine or cheese.
Thus, the gingerbread festival is a gourmet mix of traditions around the famous cake. Playful demonstrations of the stages of production, exhibitions, stilt-walkers, living puppets and legends about gingerbread… enough to immerse you in the fabulous world of this ancestral delicacy.
It’s aperitif time! In ancient times (and certainly still today), gingerbread was served as an aperitif with vodka. Hence the popular expression: “ He who does not drink vodka, does not deserve the sweet taste of gingerbread ”!
Once upon a time… the gingerbread house
As Christmas approaches, gingerbread artisans and families are busy making all kinds of gingerbread. From the traditional cake, to cookies in various shapes, passing by the famous little gingerbread man, all gourmets will find their account.
But one of the shapes that transports us the most to the magical world of Christmas is the little gingerbread house. Today known worldwide, it is found in many end-of-year gourmet traditions.
The enchanting world of Hansel and Gretel
In Germany, families have a tradition of making a gingerbread house that is gently crumbling by little stealing hands as Christmas approaches. They call it the “ Hexenhaus ”, meaning the “little witch’s house”, which originates from the tale of Hansel and Gretel.
Do you know this famous fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm? The gingerbread house plays a key role in this, because it is she who will attract the little children lost in the forest to the wicked witch… After all, who wouldn’t be amazed by a house on a human scale, entirely made sweets and gingerbread?
When the tale becomes reality
Speaking of gingerbread houses on a human scale, let’s take a quick trip across the Atlantic to San Francisco . Culinary competitions and workshops are organized as the holidays approach in order to make the most beautiful gingerbread houses possible, all over the world. But in San Francisco, the Fermont Hotel has set the bar rather high, exactly 6.7 meters above the ground.
The tale becomes reality: a real gingerbread house on a human scale, two stories high and 7 meters wide. It was made using thousands of gingerbread bricks and over a ton of candy and royal icing. Welcome to a gourmet and magical universe, where it is even possible to dine!
The magical world of Christmas markets
We saved the best for last. How can you miss the magic of the Christmas markets ? You will certainly find our dear gingerbread there, in all its forms.
By releasing their divine smells and shining their lights, Christmas markets are settling in several cities around the world. France, Belgium , Germany, Switzerland , Sweden , Estonia , United States , Denmark , Russia … so many countries that are mobilizing to keep the magic of Christmas alive through these famous markets.
But the one that is most talked about, and even known by the title of “ Christmas Capital ”, is the Christmas market in Strasbourg! It must be admitted that the capital of Alsace concentrates all the assets to live up to its reputation.
Dating back to 1570, it is quite simply the oldest Christmas market in France. From the top of its 30 meters, its immense fir tree which rises on the Kléber square is one of the highest decorated natural fir trees in Europe. Around the impressive cathedral are several hundred chalets, where the scent of mulled wine and spices transport you to a gourmet universe.
Gingerbread: our original and very old recipe!
Although originally a simple honey bread, the recipe for gingerbread has evolved over the centuries. Today, it is made up of many spices that have been added over time: ginger, anise, cloves, cinnamon… All are used to flavor the pastry and give it its unique taste.
But the ancients also lent spices digestive virtues and the supernatural power to protect against spirits.
? Ginger: originally from China and India , it is recommended in case of motion sickness and recommended in case of nausea. But beware, it is also said to be an exceptional aphrodisiac!
? Star anise: also from China, star anise has stomachic and carminative properties. Used as an infusion, it removes bloating and combats aerophagia.
? Clove: originally from Zanzibar, Madagascar , Reunion or the Seychelles , cloves facilitate digestion. Its antiseptic and anesthetic properties also make it an excellent remedy for treating dental ailments.
? Cinnamon: coming from Madagascar, China, Indonesia and Vietnam , cinnamon is antiseptic and antispasmodic. It aids digestion and also stimulates breathing.
If all this history and its traditions have made your mouth water, we have selected a recipe for you to make your own little sweet delight! Original and very old, this is an Alsatian gingerbread recipe in the form of a cake, extremely simple to make.
For 2 cake molds 22 cm long:
- 350g flour
- 200g rye flour
- 2 pinches of fine salt
- 10 g baking powder
- 15g ground cinnamon
- 5g ground ginger
- 2g ground cardamom
- 4g ground anise
- 2 g ground cloves
- 2 g grated nutmeg
- 500 g fir honey
- 200g brown sugar (brown sugar)
- 200 g fresh butter + 20 g for the molds
- 4 whole eggs
- Mix the flours, baking powder, spices and fine salt. Arrange everything in a fountain in a container;
- Melt the butter and honey together over very low heat. Add the sugar and the beaten eggs to the omelet. Then pour the mixture obtained in the center of the fountain and mix thoroughly with a wooden spatula;
- All you have to do is pour the preparation into the two molds, well buttered beforehand;
- For cooking: cook in the oven at 180° (thermostat 6) for 30 mins then lower to 150° (thermostat 5) for 20 mins. As soon as it comes out of the oven, unmold on the rack.
Finally, taste it 24 hours later, it will only be better!