Nuremberg is a romantic city in northern Bavaria, whose history dates back to the 11th century. It’s distinguished by medieval architecture and is recognized as the Gingerbread capital of the world. Gingerbread is a holiday treat that almost everyone looks forward to tasting each Christmas. My family loves gingerbread.
Gingerbread, as we know it today, descends from Medieval European culinary traditions. Gingerbread was also shaped into different forms by monks in Franconia, Germany in the 13th century. Lebkuchen (gingerbread) bakers are recorded as early as 1296 in Ulm and 1395 in Nuremberg, Germany. Nuremberg was recognized as the “Gingerbread Capital of the World” when in the 1600s the guild started to employ master bakers and skilled workers to create complicated works of art from gingerbread.
Medieval bakers used carved boards to create elaborate designs like figural biscuits and gingerbread houses. The traditional sweetener is honey, used by the guild in Nuremberg. Spices used are ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom. During the 13th century, the custom spread across Europe.
The tradition of making decorated gingerbread houses started in Germany in the early 1800s. According to certain researchers, the first gingerbread houses were the result of the well-known Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” in which the two children abandoned in the forest found an edible house made of bread with sugar decorations. After this book was published, German bakers began baking ornamented fairy-tale houses of lebkuchen. These became popular during Christmas, a tradition that came to America with Pennsylvanian German immigrants. According to other food historians, the Grimm brothers were speaking about something that already existed.
Today, Gingerbread is a welcomed tasty treat that has moved far beyond Nuremberg, Germany; it’s enjoyed around the globe. Every holiday season, skilled pastry chefs and home cooks use their artistic and culinary skills to create whimsical gingerbread houses and figures.
A gingerbread house does not have to be an actual house, although it is the most common. It can be anything from a castle to a small cabin, or another kind of building, such as a church, an art museum, or a sports stadium, and other items, such as cars, gingerbread men and gingerbread women, can be made of gingerbread dough. Happy Baking!