Gingerbread Men and Houses – Zingiber officinalis

Gingerbread Men
Gingerbread Men

“An I had but one penny in the world,

thou should’st have it to buy ginger-bread.”

William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost


Until the 15th century gingerbread referred to preserved ginger (crystallized ginger). Knights returning after the Crusades brought ginger to Europe. It was discovered that ginger had preservative properties and the monks of the Catholic church began making cakes and cookies using this spice. In the 15th century gingerbread was not made in homes by the common people, but made by government recognized guilds for that sole purpose.

The cookies were often made in popular shapes. Hearts tied with ribbons were popular at county fairs. The original gingerbread house was modeled after the Hansel and Gretel house of Grimm’s fairy tales. Ginger is the most common spice used in these cookies, with cinnamon coming in second. The other spices used are cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and sometimes anise.

Gingerbread House, Men or Cookies

1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. sugar

1/2 c. dark molasses

1/4 c. water

2 1/2 c. flour

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/8 tsp. allspice


Candied cherries, red gum drops


String licorice

Decorator’s icing

If you are using self rising flour omit salt and baking soda. If you are using quick mixing flour add 3 tablespoons milk.

Cream shortening and sugar. Blend in molasses, water, flour, salt, soda, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. Chill for 2-3 hours. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured cloth covered board. Cut with cookie cutters or into shapes with a knife. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes. Immediately remove from baking sheet and cool. For crispier cookie roll dough 1/8 inch thick and bake for 8 minutes. Trim cookies as desired. For gingerbread men, press raisins into dough for eyes, nose, and buttons. Use bits of candied fruits and licorice for other trim.

Makes 2 dozen regular cookies.


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