Gingerbread warms the heart, soul and tummy.
To Pauline D. Loh, nothing spells festive like the spicy scent of gingerbread baking. She shares the recipe and some decorating
This is the second year I am writing about gingerbread, breaking my own unwritten rule about not repeating recipes. But I have had too many questions about making gingerbread to ignore the requests. Personally, I love gingerbread. Characters from fairytales around the world peopled my own childhood, including a cheeky runaway gingerbread boy who got eaten by a fox before he got too far away. It saddened me, that story, so I started baking gingerbread boys and girls and decorated them in pants, skirts, pinafores and elaborate sweaters in a strangely compensatory way.
It was a lot more fun than Barbie-doll paper cutouts.
I have since taught many children the joys of making gingerbread, including my vast menagerie of godchildren. Some of them are almost grown now, and I hope they will keep the tradition going for their own kids as a heartwarming bonding experience.
A cold winter day spent baking and decorating will chase the indoor fidgets and chills away, and they get to eat their own creations. It's also healthy (think ginger, honey and whole wheat flour) and better than fast food snacks full of preservatives and additives. The kitchen may need a good scrub later, but you can always make that fun as well. The secret is to delegate, delegate, delegate.
Entertain the children with some history as you bake. Apparently, an Armenian monk brought gingerbread to France more than a thousand years ago and it spread to Germany and then Scandinavia. The spicy bread used a lot of ginger, which was believed to aid digestion. I guess they needed it, for history indicated that medieval recipes were heavy and stodgy. We can only imagine.
When the gingerbread finally migrated to the United Kingdom via various Teutonic ancestors, it was embraced with great enthusiasm, and there is, according to Wikipedia, even a town that uses a gingerbread sign to welcome visitors.
These days, gingerbread seems to hibernate in various recipe folders until the year-end festivities come around. And then you see elaborate gingerbread structures in hotel lobbies, and prettily packaged ginger cookies in the bakeries.
It seems a rather bewildering choice, since the gingerbread house always triggers memories of the horrific tale of Hansel and Gretel, who were lured into a witch's den precisely because it was a gingerbread cottage decorated with candies. The thought-association boggles the mind.
Better to use gingerbread as Christmas tree decorations. The gingerbread smells delicious, and when it is warmed by the Christmas lights, it's natural aromatherapy. Choose a theme for your tree and decide if you want stars, flowers, snowflakes or even bones.
Just get the appropriate cookie cutters from specialist bakery suppliers in your area, or as I do, from the online shops.
I always have a few gingerbread bones decorated for my French bulldogs every year, too. It's their treat, but I don't hang it on the Christmas tree because they are very weak-willed puppies.
And of course, there must always be a generous batch of gingerbread boys and girls to distribute with care packages during Christmas.