Did you know that even the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans had baked “honey cakes” – the forerunner of the gingerbread we know? Honey had been the only widely available sweetener and they had believed it to be a gift from the gods.
The gingerbread manufactures have spread throughout Western Europe at the end of the 11th C. In some places it was a soft, delicately spiced cake, in others a crisp, flat cookie, and in others – warm, thick, steamy-dark squares. Sometimes it was light, sometimes dark, sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy…
It is said that Nuremberg (Germany) is the gingerbread capital. Lebkuchner (producers of spiced honey cookies) founded their own guild here – the first one in the world – in 1530. Even today you can find many varieties of gingerbread known as Lebkuchen, Honigkuchen, Pfefferkuchen, Pfefferzelten and Pfeffernusse there. No wonder that when the Grimm brothers were collecting volumes of German fairy tales they found one about Hansel and Gretel – two children who, abandoned in the woods by destitute parents, discovered a house made of gingerbread.
Christmas baking would not seem complete without gingerbread cookies. Least of all in Slovakia. Almost each family has its own recipe – I use this one which I received from a friend of mine whom I have known since kindergarten!
650 g plain flour
250 g powdered sugar
50 g butter
150 g liquid honey
2 tsp baking soda
4 – 5 tbsp milk
1 tsp seasoning (ground cinnamon, cloves, anise, nutmeg, ginger)
Sift the flour in a large bowl (to sift is important: it aerates the flour and in addition, if the flour is too cold, this way it gets warmer). Add the sugar, spices and soda. Melt the butter in a small pot. Remove from heat and leave to cool. Add to the flour mixture. Add eggs (beaten with a fork), honey and milk. Mix and knead to a smooth dough. Wrap the dough in a plastic wrap. Leave it for at least one hour, not on a cold place.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of about 3-4 mm. Use gingerbread cutters to cut out the cookies. Lift the cut out cookies onto the baking sheet covered with baking paper, brush with well beaten egg. Bake for about 8-12 minutes in the preheated oven at 180°C. The cookies are done when they are firm and the edges are just beginning to brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for about 2-5 minutes. Store in an airtight container with some pieces of an apple.
1 white of an egg
160 g powdered sugar (sift 2 times!)
some drops of lemon juice
1 tsp starch
Beat with a mixer, adding sugar gradually. Add food colors if desired. Cover the bowl with the icing with a dampened cloth.
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri