I have been doing a bit of research into the history of gingerbread and it has an incredibly interesting past. Legend has it that it can be traced way back to the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians but it wasn’t in the form we know. Ancient gingerbread was a combination of ground almonds, stale breadcrumbs, sugar, rose water and ginger that was mixed into a paste and pressed into decorative wooden moulds.
Through further reading I discovered that gingerbread-making was not to be taken lightly and for several centuries only certain folk were permitted to make gingerbread – it was considered a profession in its own right, separate from bakers and pastry chefs. In Nuremberg, known to those in-the-know to be home to the worlds best gingerbread, artists would donate their time to decorate the ginger spiced biscuits and Lebkuchenhauesle. Gingerbread houses with not just icing but gold paint.
Recipes for gingerbread differ quite a bit depending on what country you are in. Order gingerbread in France and you will be served their pain d’epices, which is more like a honey and ginger spiced cake which seems to have its origins in China. In America it is a bit of a lucky dip; you may get a small decorated man-shaped sweet biscuit or you could be served a dense molasses enriched cake drizzled with lemon icing. In Holland they are called spekkulas which are often windmill shaped and topped with flaked almonds.
I have to wonder if gingerbread has remained so popular throughout the time because it has such a long and stable shelf life. The ginger has a preserving quality, so unlike other cakes that will normally go stale in a few days, gingerbread in whichever form you choose will last much longer than that.
Now I would like to talk about some of the believed health properties of ginger. For a cold bug like me ginger is the perfect ingredient. Both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine have been using ginger for the past 5000 years because they believe it can warm, cleanse and stimulate the body. In India and throughout Asia ginger is added to foods that are cooling to make them more digestible. Sweet foods are naturally cooling – think tropical fruits, baked sweet cakes and bikkies. In Asia ginger is added to oily fish dishes to take away their oily taste. Shredded ginger infused in hot water and served as a soothing tea is an Ayurvedic remedy for calming a sick tummy, and it is also thought to help support the respiratory system and sore throats. Because ginger is so warming and comforting it seems only fitting that gingerbread feature on my Xmas menu.
This gluten-free recipe I have developed for gingerbread has a little bit of old and at a little bit of the new. I wanted to include rosewater as it teams so wonderfully with ground almonds and because it was one of the ingredients used back when gingerbread was first made. A new ingredient is the chia seeds; these look like grey sesame seeds but just a little smaller. They are very high in protein and fibre, and can be mixed with pureed fruit to create a soft gel like set. They can also be added to juices and smoothies or sprinkled over salads or added to your gluten free cracker mix. You can buy chia seeds at health food stores.
Healthy Gingerbread family
- 100g butter
- 100g dark brown sugar
- 150g golden syrup
- 100g molasses
- 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons rosewater
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
- 100g gluten free plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 250g almond meal
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds*
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 175g gluten free icing sugar, sifted
- 1 tablespoon warm water
- Preheat the oven to 170C (340F). Grease and line a 35cm by 25cm tin with baking paper.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan, add brown sugar, golden syrup, molasses, ginger, cinnamon and rosewater. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the eggs and mix well to combine
- Fold in the combined sifted flour and baking powder and finally the chia seeds. It will be a thin liquid batter.
- Pour into the prepared tin and cook for 20-30 minutes or until it is risen and firm. Be careful not to over cook as it is better slightly sticky. While cooling, whisk the lemon juice into the icing sugar, then gradually add the water.
- Cut people shapes from the large slab of gingerbread. Dress the gingerbread family with the icing and leave to set.
- Makes a large extended gingerbread family
* available at health food stores
If you are looking for some other delicious versions of gingerbread make sure you check out Jamie’s Ultimate gingerbread recipe. It is not gluten free but could easily substitute the plain flour in the recipe for gluten free flour. If your kids really want to make the traditional gingerbread house then Jamie’s Home sweet home – gingerbread house is the perfect recipe. Remember if you are using gluten free flour in biscuits that it does not have the keeping quality of regular flour, so perhaps make the gingerbread house something you make together the day before Xmas.
Wishing you all a warm and gingery Xmas!