November 29, 2013

Deep, Dark Secrets of Gingerbread

The ultimate in seduction... They're cute, charming and they smell good!

If you think that gingerbread is simply a sweet Christmastime treat, don't be fooled! There is so much more to this classic cookie than meets the eye. A fascinating history lies beneath the sugar coating. Gingerbread has a storied past, and its sultry tales will surprise you!

Image from Truthtellers.org

The story of gingerbread cookies dates back to the 11th century. After the First Crusades succeeded in conquering Jerusalem, armies of crusaders returned home with riches. They also brought back spices from the East including ginger—a root that looks like an arthritic hand with extra fingers. Ginger became a best-selling spice in the 13th century because it covered up the flavor of poor-quality meats (a big problem before refrigeration).

Ginger Root

During the Middle Ages, ginger was used to make "gingerbread," a honey-spiced cake or cookie sold at festivals throughout the year. The fairground delicacy was shaped into flowers, birds and animals, and sometimes decorated with white icing or real gold leaf. Medieval ladies gave men gingerbread as romantic tokens or they would offer knights gingerbread cookies for good luck before a tournament battle. 


The original romantic cookie! Before there was chocolate, there was gingerbread.

By the time of the Renaissance, gingerbread was popular enough for Shakespeare to mention it in one of his plays: "An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy ginger-bread…” 

Queen Elizabeth I invented gingerbread men! {Photo credit: W Magazine Photo Shoot for "Dame of Thrones"}

In this golden era, Queen Elizabeth presented her important guests with gingerbread cookies crafted in their own likeness (over five centuries before the selfie!) The Virgin Queen started another, more enduring trend—gingerbread men. Cookies in the form of little knights were sold at fairs, and women superstitiously ate the gingerbread men to improve their chances of finding a husband!


Medieval superstition: Nibbling on gingerbread men can help a woman find a husband.

Inspired by this centuries-old custom to secure a soulmate via cookie consumption, I decided to bake my own gingerbread man. I tried to represent an actual suitor whom I might encounter in real life. Here's my attempt to represent a hipster boy through the medium of gingerbread. The red frosting is supposed to be  eyeglasses, although they appear more like goggles. The purple frosting represents spiky hair and a handlebar mustache.

Attempt at creating a hipster gingerbread boy! This needs work! :)

Baking Secret: Most recipes for gingerbread call for molasses. To achieve a truly deep, dark flavor and color, use "blackstrap molasses"(it even sounds racy!) Blackstrap molasses is more intense than regular molasses and is packed with nutrients like iron, magnesium and potassium. When you use this molasses, your cookies will have a rich chocolate-y color.


Gingerbread Couple. The perfect match: a cowboy and a lady!

Other secrets about gingerbread men are limited only by your imagination. The opportunities for creativity are endless. From gingerbread hipsters and dangerously rugged cowboys to cookies shaped like kama sutra positions—anything is possible. Succumb to your gingerbread fantasies!

Recipe for Gingerbread Cookies from Martha Stewart:

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for rolling out dough)
2 teaspoons of ground ginger
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 large egg

Directions:


In a medium bowl, mix together flour, spices, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in molasses and egg. With mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and mix until a dough forms. Place the dough on floured parchment paper and shape into an 8-inch square. Wrap well and chill about 1 to 2 hours, until firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the dough on floured surface or parchment paper. Roll it out to 1/8 inch thick. Freeze the dough (on paper) until firm, for about 20 minutes.

Dip cookie cutters into flour and cut out shapes. Remove shapes and place them on a baking pan. Bake for about 10 to 18 minutes until the dough darkens. Allow to cool completely. Then add frosting and decorations such as sprinkles.

Recipe for Frosting from Tablespoon.com

Ingredients:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons of milk
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Directions:

Mix all of the ingredients together until smooth. Use a pastry bag with a small decorating tip to apply the frosting to cookies. If desired, add food coloring to create different shades.


Share your cookies to friends and family! Kids love them, too! :)


Classic Gingerbread Men Cookies

Copyright © 2013, Lisa Alexander. All rights reserved. 

2 comments:

Tracy Rabold said...

This is pretty funny, Lisa!

Miss Patisserie said...

Thanks! I hope it inspired you to make gingerbread! :)