A well-balanced blend of cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cardamon and some other traces of spices, plus honey - those have been and are to this day the characteristic ingredients of gingerbread. In more recent times honey has often been replaced by sugar or sirup, which is actually a sugar solution. If at least half of the amount of sugar used comes from genuine bee honey, the producer or vendor is allowed to use the marketing name “Honigkuchen” (honey gingerbread) according to modern food regulations in the European Union.

These precious ingredients are part of the explanation, why people are so fond of gingerbread houses, even today, in a world full of mass production factories’ sweet temptations.

Let us deliberate for a moment about gingerbread and the origin of its names.

In Medieval England gingerbread meant simply "preserved ginger" and was an adaptation of the Old French gingebras, derived from the Latin name of the spice, Zingebar. It was only in the fifteenth century that the term came to be applied to a kind of cake made with treacle, an uncrystalized sirup drained from raw sugar during the refining process, and flavored with ginger. Ginger was also discovered to have a preservative effect when added to pastries and bread, and this probably led to the development of recipes for ginger cakes, cookies, and flavored breads.

From its very beginning gingerbread has been a fairground delicacy. Many fairs became known as "gingerbread fairs" and gingerbread items took on the alternative name in England of "fairings" which had the generic meaning of a gift given at, or brought from, a fair. Certain shapes were associated with different seasons: buttons and flowers were found at Easter fairs, and animals and birds were a feature in autumn. There is also more than one village tradition in England requiring unmarried women to eat gingerbread "husbands" at the fair if they are to stand a good chance of meeting a real husband.

Of all the countries in Europe, Germany is the one with the longest tradition of flat, shaped gingerbreads. At every autumn fair in Germany, and in the surrounding lands where the Germanic influence is strong, there are rows of stalls filled with hundreds of gingerbread hearts, decorated with white and colored icing and tied with ribbons.

During the nineteenth century, gingerbread was modernized. When the Grimm brothers collected volumes of German fairy tales they found one about Hansel and Gretel, two children who, abandoned in the woods by penniless parents, discovered a house made of bread, cake and candies.

At Christmas, gingerbread makes its most impressive appearance. The German practice of making “Lebkuchen” houses never caught on in Britain in the same way as it did in North America, and it is here still that the most extraordinary creations are found.

Gingerbread making in North America has its origins in the traditions of the many settlers from all parts of Northern Europe who brought with them family recipes and customs. By the nineteenth century, America had been baking gingerbread for decades.

In Europe Gingerbread has been baked since the eleventh century. In some places, it was a soft, delicately spiced cake; in others, a crisp, flat cookie, and in others, warm, thick, dark squares of "bread," sometimes served with a pitcher of lemon sauce or whipped cream. It was sometimes light, sometimes dark, sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy, but it was almost always cut into shapes such as men, women, stars or animals, and colorfully decorated or stamped with a mould and dusted with white sugar.

In the German language the word “Lebkuchen” has a tasty and healthy connotation. It is not quite clear where the name comes from. Some are sure that “Leb” has something to do with “Leib” (both body or life) and “leben” (to live). But it could also originate from “Laib”, bakery formed in the shape of loafs. It is not impossible that the word originates from Latin “libum”, describing a round flat dough-cake used for sacrificing ceremonies.

One thing is certain: There is no other pastry that would have such a long and colorful past. For most of us here in Central Europe gingerbread with some of its tasty monikers like “honeycake” or “cake printed in fancy forms” and - last but not least - gingerbread built in “crunchy houses” - is closely linked to Christmas and the four weeks before: Advent.

In the past, gingerbread was not really a Christmas pastry. “Honeybread” is sold in the form of a heart on fairgrounds, it is used as a fine breakfast bread, the pious monks of older days produced the spicy content-rich “bread” to better survive Lenten season. We hear of gingerbread in many a saga or fairy tale. And in Cockaigne gingerbread is the real supporting construction element of all the edible cake houses.

An „easy-to-try“ gingerbread recipe  

This recipe is not complicated to follow. Time necessary for preparation of dough: approximately 20 minutes

Ingredients for 1 kilo of dough:

70 grams of butter

3 eggs

140 grams of honey

500 grams of rye flour

100 grams of powdered sugar

1 envelop of gingerbread spices

1 knife point of cinnamon

20 grams of baking soda


Warm up butter with honey on small fire.

Take away from heat.

Strain together: flour, powder sugar, gingerbread spice, cinnamon and baking soda.

Add butter and honey mixture and knead to smooth dough.

Pack up dough in aluminum foil and let rest in refrigerator for 1 day.

For using the dough take out of fridge and slowly warm up to room temperature.

To obtain a smooth surface on the pieces you create, it is important to remove all flour remnants from the dough. Brush the dough lightly with milk or water before baking.

Pre-heat the oven:

Bake at 220 degrees Celsius top and lower heat for small cookies, and at 140 degrees Celsius for pieces of gingerbread houses.

Slightly open the oven door to ensure escape of any vapor during the baking process.