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Beyond the religious analogies, every festival has many social traditions and customs attached to it. With Christmas, the most popular traditions would certainly include the opulent dessert spreads – from cakes to gingerbread cookies, the festival is unimaginable without such delicacies. Over time, each of these traditions changes or people mould them to their convenience, but the essence, history and nostalgia attached to it are intact.
When we talk about Christmas, from the range of confectioneries that it associates itself with – a large part includes gingerbread men cookies and the delectable gingerbread houses. But do you know why and how these became part of the X-mas tradition? Many have often wondered if these sweet cookies actually contain ginger. Or how did the cookies evolved in the shape of a man? Well, each has an interesting anecdote.
According to popular belief, many would argue that making gingerbread cookies originated in the United Kingdom. However, many food historians have traced the source back to Greece, Germany and even Egypt. Though one can credit the special shape of the man to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I. Yes, the hard cookies shaped in the form of kings and queens with elaborate icing decorations were initiated by the queen to treat the foreign dignitaries visiting her court. “According to Carole Levin, director of the medieval studies program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and author of The Reign of Elizabeth I, Queen Elizabeth I’s 16th-century reign was known for elaborate royal dinners that included marzipan shaped like fruit, castles and birds,” reports the TIME.
However, according to Rhonda Massingham Hart’s ‘Making Gingerbread Houses’ – the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece and said to have originated way back in 2400 BC! There are also evident traces that the Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. The elaborate multicoloured cookie-wall houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. “The popularity of gingerbread during the holidays can, at least in part, be attributed to the belief that spices heated you up in the winter,” TIME quoted Michael Krondl, author of Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert. In fact, Krondl argues that initially, the cookies were not even hard as they are in practice now. It was more in form of soft honey cakes. With time, the food evolved and travelled across continents and gained popularity and even landed to be part of popular cultures such as novels and fairy tales.
Cut to the present day, these delicious sweet-and-spicy cookies have traversed from being the symbolic icons for Christmas to works of art by themselves. And every year, thousands of artists around the world mesmerise us with their intricate masterpieces.
This year was no exception and few of the creations have made quite a buzz on social media. Here are five of our favourites:
One such elaborate affair was certainly reserved at the White House for the final Christmas celebrations of the Obamas. This year’s White House Gingerbread House displayed in the State Dining Room, featured 150 pounds of gingerbread on the inside, 100 pounds of bread dough on the outside frame, 20 pounds of gum paste, 20 pounds of icing, and 20 pounds of sculpted sugar pieces. The elaborate White House replica even featured Obama’s pets Bo and Sunny, along with the main house, there were 56 gingerbread houses, one for each of the American states and territories.
Crazy as it may sound but a resort in Pennsylvania, US, created a giant gingerbread house – a life-sized house big enough for people to walk in. Nemacolin Woodlands Resort’s Chateau LaFayette hosted a 12ft x 14ft x 12ft house that looks like a bakery where guests can actually taste and buy gingerbread for the holidays. The resort has a tradition of making life-sized gingerbread houses before but for the first time, the creation was interactive in this way. Thanks to executive pastry chef Scott Tenant, and the rest of the Nemacolin Pastry Team, this house with a Santa welcoming at the door is their biggest ever!
Gingerbread connoisseur, Christine McConnell created a magnificent, 5ft-tall gingerbread castle. the multi-storeyed castle with pointed domes is nothing but a repercussion from a fantasy world. From hanging balconies to meshed window panes, the creation is surreal and completely edible. The artist even fitted lights inside the creation that will leave you awestruck.
From fantasy world to iconic monuments, 2016 is loaded with such creations. A confectionery expert created a replica of London’s Big Ben and surprisingly it looks extremely realistic. Displayed and commissioned by the historic house Holkham Hall in Norfolk, UK, the 5ft replica is the centrepiece of the ongoing clock-themed exhibition for Christmas. Created by award-winning pastry chef Emma Thorburn, the iconic structure has been surrounded by a lawn, illuminated street lamps and miniature Christmas trees. The highlight is, however, the amazing looking watch panel on the tower. The sugar-glazed clock amazing looks like the real one and indicates lot of dedication.
A London-based bakery unveiled its 2016 gingerbread house masterpiece – a replica of the French Renaissance-style chateau Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire. The insides of the royal replica are shockingly similar to that of the real settings of the chateau. A result of almost 15 months of work, the expert team of the Biscuiteers recreated everything to the minute details of its most beautiful rooms, including its paintings, furniture and ceramics. Yes, the dedicated artists spent over 500 hours sculpting the mansion. The model is on display in the Coach House gallery at the Stables at Waddesdon Manor until February 2017.
Do you like gingerbread houses? Tell us your favourite gingerbread house from the above.