Ann Reardon

Who Invented Gingerbread Houses?

I was struck by the beauty of what I thought was a gingerbread house in a 150 year old cookbook. But according to the book it was a decoration made of gum paste. Not to be deterred I drew up a template for it and baked it out of gingerbread.

150 year old coookbook gingerbread house
Source: Drawing by E. RONJAT in The Royal Book of Pastry and Confectionery (le livre de patisserie) by Jules Goufffe chef de cuisine of the Paris Jockey Club, translated from the French and adapted to English use by Alphonse Gouffe head pastry-cook to Her Majesty the Queen. London, 1874

This image started me on a quest to find the first ever gingerbread house. A task that proved to be more difficult than I imagined. The earliest gingerbread recipes were for mixtures that could make soft cookies or a gingerbread cake. It was not until much later that recipes for firm doughs that could be rolled out started to appear in cookbooks. But those cookbooks don’t mention gingerbread houses.

old gingerbread recipe
Early Gingerbread Recipe. source: Two fifteenth-century cookery-books. Harleian ms. 279 (ab. 1430), & Harl. ms. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole ms. 1429, Laud ms. 553, & Douce ms. 55
by Austin, Thomas Publication date 1888

Most websites state that gingerbread houses were “popularized by Hansel and Gretel”. But when I looked at the original publication of that story in 1812 I found that it was based around the great famine of 1315 in (3340.1 centimetres) Europe. And the house that the children stumbled upon in the woods was made of bread, not gingerbread. New editions of the book in 1840 still say bread, not gingerbread.

hansel and gretel
Source: Brueder Grimm Kinder- und Hausmaerchen. Band 1, Erstausgabe 1812

Am dritten Tage gingen sie wieder bis zu Mittag,
On the third day they went again until midday
da famen sie an ein hauslein,
there they saw a little house
das war ganz aus Brod gebaut und war mit Kuchen gedecft,
it was built entirely of BREAD and was covered with cakes (pancakes),
und die Fenster waren von hellem Zucfer
and the windows were of light sugar.

The first written mention that I could find of ‘gingerbread’ and ‘house’ was in a document was ones that referred to it as the style of architecture of a real house. And there was the court case below with a squib, or firework landing on a gingerbread stall.
history of gingerbread houses

history of gingerbread houses

The earliest mention I could find of an edible gingerbread house was in a story in The American Kitchen Magazine in 1896.
first gingerbread house ann reardon

first gingerbread house

If you can find any other historical documents that pre-date 1896 and refer to gingerbread houses please do let me know. The only earlier references that I found were talking about the architectural style of real buildings. There is likely to be more information written in languages other than English. It would be great to find some written references that may help uncover the true history of gingerbread houses.

To make this house…

Step 1. Print and cut out the template

gingerbread house templateHexagonal Gingerbread House Template

Buy$5.99

 

Step 2. Make the Gingerbread Dough

Gingerbread Dough Recipe
Make 4 batches of this recipe. Don’t just quadruple the recipe unless you have a huge commercial mixing bowl – make four batches. Note my bowl is 4.8L (1.27 gallons) and only one batch fits.

430g (15.17 ounces) or 2 cups butter or margarine, melted
430g (15.17 ounces) or 2 cups caster (super fine) sugar
250g (8.82 ounces) or 2/3 cup glucose syrup
260g (9.17 ounces) or 3/4 cup molasses (note you can swap glucose and molasses for other syrups that you like. However if they have more water in, as some syrups do, then you will end up with a very runny dough and therefore will either need to add a lot more flour or reduce the milk).
180 mL (6.09 fluid ounces) or 2/3 cup milk (4%)
1195g (42.15 ounces) or 7 1/2 cups plain flour
12g (0.42 ounces) or 2 tsp bicarb soda
SPICES (optional, you can adjust the quantity of all the spices to make it taste how you want)
20g (0.71 ounces) or 3 Tbsp cinnamon
12g (0.42 ounces) or 2 Tbsp ground cloves
30g (1.06 ounces) or 5 Tbsp ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground mace (gives it a slight peppery kick)

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix until just combined. Cover and put the bowl in the fridge for 2 hours to make the dough thicker and easier to cut out.

Step 3. Cut your Pieces & Bake

Preheat the oven to 180°C (356 degrees Fahrenheit).
Roll out the dough on a sheet of baking paper. Sprinkle the dough with flour and add the template on top. Cut around the template. If the template piece says ’rounded edges’ then bake without a border. Otherwise bake with a 1cm (0.39 inches) border of gingerbread dough in place to stop spreading. Re-do the cuts part way through baking. Also double check which pieces say cut 2 or cut 6 etc.
Baking time will depend on the thickness and sizes of the pieces. The larger parts took 30 minutes, then pull out of the oven and redo the cuts, remove the borders and then bake for a further 10 minutes if needed. Smaller and thinner bits took 10-15 minutes. For large thick pieces once you think it is done, let it cool, if it still feels at all soft flip it over and bake for a further 10 minutes.

Step 4. Decorate

Some parts of the house are easier to decorate while they are flat
For this you will need:
chocolate
gold luster dust
red, white and black fondant for the curtains and other decorations.
Watch the video to see how to make the curtain doorways.

Step 5. Assembly & more decorating

For assembly you will need:
A sturdy wooden base board covered in wrapping. (Choose waterproof wrapping so that you can wipe it clean when you inevitably drip chocolate on it.)
Gold luster dust
Chocolate for joining and decorating. I used compound chocolate because it has a higher melting point, and it’s summer here in Australia.
A glass jar the height of the pillars. Place this in the center of the base board, so the archways are not carrying all the weight.
Curly Wurlies, a store-bought chocolate coated caramel, for balcony rails.
And for the green vines I used royal icing coloured with green gel food colouring.

Royal icing
1kg (2.2 pounds) or 7 ¾ cups icing (powdered) sugar
50g (1.76 ounces) powdered egg white or 114g (4.02 ounces) pavlova magic mix
125mL (4.23 fluid ounces) or 1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla or other flavouring essence of your choice
green gel food colouring
plus an additional 1-3 tablespoons of water to get the correct consistency
Whip all ingredients together on high speed until white and thick enough to hold its shape.

Note: When joining the 6 walls together it is easiest to do this on baking paper and then add it to the gingerbread base after it is set. This makes it easier to center each section.

My Cookbook

ann reardon crazy sweet creations cookbook
Stores that sell my book listed by country: http://bit.ly/ARcookbook
All recipe quantities in the book are in grams, ounces and cups.

7 Comments View Comments

  1. Rating: 5

    done

  2. Rating: 5

    Hello Ann
    My daughter and I made the gingerbread house in your post. We had a great time. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • wow, that looks amazing, it is such a big gingerbread house to make.

  3. Rating: 5

    Ann, hi, I love your content! Quick question, if I want to make your recipe but for normal cookies (smaller sizes), how long do I bake them for?

    • Hi Camila, The smaller and thinner they are they quicker they will bake. I’d check them after 10 minutes – take one out and let it cool, see if it is done. If it’s not ready give them another 5 minutes.

  4. Rating: 5

    I am from Germany and have started a quick search. Found this article about gingerbread houses, which also asks some questions about the origin. The article also mentions that fairy tale references already existed before 1800. There is also a link to an article on making a “Pfefferkuchenhaus” from 1881 and a reference to a “Lebkuchenhaus” from 1856 in the Story “Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe”
    https://archivalia.hypotheses.org/187543
    https://archivalia.hypotheses.org/187767

    • Thanks Kerstin, I used google translate to read it, very interesting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*

ADD JPEG TO YOUR COMMENT