With Christmas around the corner, you’re probably scrambling to clean your house, finalize your Christmas menu, and of course put your decorations up. On top of all that, you have to worry about all the yucky ingredients that are in traditional gingerbread house kits!
Well, not any more! I’ve got you covered…at least in the gingerbread house department! 🙂
This page includes a brief history of gingerbread, templates, a recipe for both the gingerbread and royal icing which will be used to build your structure, and a how-to video so you can make your gingerbread house alongside me! 🙂
A Brief History of Gingerbread
Gingerbread is truly an iconic dessert. This delightful, spiced treat has spanned the centuries and continents bringing absolute joy to all who have eaten it!
According to scholars, the ancestor of modern-day gingerbread may derive from an ancient cake that was extremely popular throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. This cake was concocted of honey, sesame seed flour, and ginger and was sold in ancient Rhodes (shout out to my man, Colossus!). The ancient Romans (753 BCE- 476 CE) adopted this spiced cake and would serve it at lavish feasts as a symbol of wealth. They would even bake this cake into heart shapes and serve it at weddings! ❤️
While scholarship is a bit spotty, scholars believe that these delicious cakes were first introduced to the rest of Europe by an Armenian monk named Gregory of Nicopolis who, to escape Persian persecution, settled in France in 992. With him, he brought his recipe for the aforementioned amazing ginger cakes. By the 11th century, Crusaders who returned home from their “conquests” in the Middle East brought back tons of loot, most notably ginger.
As ginger became more affordable, common people could now try this amazing dessert and they went crazy for it! Gingerbread would be served as a treat for special occasions and became a staple at medieval fairs in England, France, Holland, and Germany called “Gingerbread Fairs.”
Medieval people were exceptionally superstitious and this included how they ate gingerbread. By eating gingerbread in the shape of a man, a woman would be able to attract a husband; if one were to eat a heart-shaped gingerbread, you would be guaranteed love and ward off evil; eating a swaddled baby could grant you a child; a dog would grant you fidelity; a pig, good luck; and a rabbit, fertility.
One of the most high-profile cases of crafting figures out of gingerbread is documented in the court of Elizabeth I of England. The Queen who had such a bad sweet tooth that her teeth ended up becoming black from tooth decay is known to have flattered her most ardent admirers using gingerbread. She had her royal bakers create gingerbread likenesses of some of her important guests. If you were lucky enough to receive one, you received the Queen’s “stamp of approval.” I would give anything to see what those early gingerbread people looked like!
Nuremberg, Germany: Gingerbread Capital of the World
In the 1600s, Nuremberg, Germany was declared the “Gingerbread Capital of the World.” They had a guild that employed master bakers and skilled artisans to create gingerbread works of art. Gingerbread baking was even acknowledged as an actual profession at this time. These gingerbread bakers were the only people allowed to bake gingerbread, except at Christmas and Easter when anyone could bake it.
These medieval masters of gingerbread used carved boards to create elaborate designs in the gingerbread (which you can still buy to this day!). Early gingerbread shapes included trumpets, swords, pistols, animals, stars, babies, soldiers, and hearts. Gingerbread with religious reliefs were extremely popular for Christmas and Easter.
These delicious morsels could be given as presents to adults and children, as a symbol of love, or even as a wedding present! There are even recorded instances of gingerbread being used for wedding cakes!
And don’t think that people just ate gingerbread on its own. They typically dunked pieces of the pastry in wine or another alcoholic beverage.
The Invention of the Gingerbread House
We may have Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm to thank for the gingerbread house.
In their disturbingly charming fairy tale from 1812, Hansel and Gretel, two siblings get lost in a forest and stumble upon a beautiful house created completely out of gingerbread and cake, and is covered in candy.
As it turns out, a cannibalistic witch lives in this beautiful house and tries to eat the children. Gretel outsmarts the witch and kills her. The children then escape home…how the hell does this inspire someone to create a gingerbread house?!
So, because of this tale of heart-warming adventure, German bakers began making ornamental fairy tale houses out of gingerbread. (My ancestry says I’m part German, so I would like to take this moment to apologize for Germany on my behalf.)
Scholars also suggest that the Brothers Grimm actually based their story on a gingerbread practice that already existed, however, the records are a little spotty.
Gingerbread in 19th century America
With the influx of German immigrants into America toward the end of the 19th century, the tradition of gingerbread also arrived with them. In Pennsylvania German communities, gingerbread treats became a staple of Christmastime.
However, prior to German immigrants, ginger pastries were very popular in colonial North America, with ginger snap cookies being a favorite Christmas time recipe and decoration!
Gingerbread treats are now widely enjoyed throughout America and Europe as a way to celebrate the Christmas season 🙂
To make this easier for you, I’ve created some templates (split into Part 1 and Part 2). They are sized to print on standard 8.5″ x 11″ paper. Personally, I prefer to use card stock so that my templates are sturdy and don’t get all floppy from the oil, but you can totally use any type of paper you have on hand! 🙂
Does it have to be a house?
Absolutely not! You can turn gingerbread into anything you’d like! You can create a castle, a museum, a mansion, a car, a submarine, a tiki bar, literally anything that you can dream up, you can create 🙂
Gingerbread houses are, without a doubt, one of my favorite desserts to make when Christmas rolls around each year! It’s super fun to turn this into a yearly tradition where you can sip some Christmas cocktails or mocktails and have a fun, silly time. Oh, and each ingredient in this recipe is gluten and dairy-free, so you don’t have to worry about having a negative reaction from sneaking a piece or two 😋Print
There is nothing better than being able to say to yourself at the end of the day “I just ate an entire house” and why should people who are not gluten intolerant be the only ones able to say that?! This is for all my gluten-free and dairy-free peeps. Happy Holidays! 🙂 The gingerbread dough recipe creates enough for 1 house, 2 trees, and about 4-5 gingerbread people.
- 3 cups organic almond flour
- 1 ½ cups organic tapioca flour
- 1 ½ tsp. organic ground ginger
- 1 tsp. organic ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp. organic ground cloves
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ cup organic coconut oil, melted
- 4 tsp. organic pure maple syrup
- ½ cup organic molasses
- 1 tsp. organic vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg whites
- 2 tsp. organic lemon juice
- 3 cups organic powdered sugar, sifted
- Organic, plant-based food coloring (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet (or two!) with parchment paper.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the almond flour, tapioca starch, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, and salt.
- Add the coconut oil, maple syrup, molasses, vanilla, and eggs to the dry ingredients and beat until a thick dough forms.
- Combine the dough by pressing it together by hand, until it forms one large ball.
- Place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll out the dough to a ¼- ½ ″ thickness.*
- Peel the top layer of parchment off of the sheet of dough. Place the gingerbread templates (included above!) and cut out gingerbread house shapes. You can also cut out a few gingerbread people and/or Christmas trees with cookie cutters if you’d like.
- Place your gingerbread pieces about ½” apart on your prepared baking sheet/s.
- Bake your cookies for 10-12 minutes. Let them cool for about 30 minutes on a rack before decorating. Make sure not to stack the pieces on top of one another otherwise they’ll stick together.
- While your gingerbread pieces cool, grab a medium-size mixing bowl and combine your egg whites, fresh lemon juice, and powdered sugar together. Whisk together until combined. There should not be any powdered sugar clumpies!
- Separate your icing into 3 smaller bowls. Leave one bowl with plain white icing, and add organic green food dye to one bowl, and red organic vegetable food dye to another bowl.
Assembly & Decoration
- Once your gingerbread has cooled, you can start decorating! Yay!
- Since the Royal Icing will drip, it’s easier to decorate your gingerbread pieces before you assemble them.
- Decorate your gingerbread pieces as you’d like! Make sure you let your pieces sit for about 30 minutes before trying to assemble them into a house.
- Once your pieces are set, you can start assembling your gingerbread house. Add some of your white icing into a piping bag and start by piping some icing on your surface for your house to sort of glue it to that piece.
- Next, add icing to the shorter edges of your side wall and adhere it to your front wall. Hold for about 1 minute to make sure they fuse properly. Then, assemble the other side wall and back wall. Hold the pieces in place for about a minute.
- Once the bottom of your gingerbread house has set, add the roof one piece at a time. I add toothpicks to the front and back walls to offer support. Pipe a little bit of icing over the toothpicks and along the edges of your front and back walls and gently place your roof on these. Hold in place for about a minute. Repeat for the other side of the roof.
- Now, you can add other items to your gingerbread house scene and then you’re done! Enjoy your cute little gingerbread house! 😀
* If you need to, you can refrigerate your dough for 30 minutes to firm it up a bit.
Keywords: christmas, gingerbread, gingerbread house, christmas desserts, desserts, ginger, royal icing, egg white icing, candy, gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo
Show Me Your Gingerbread!
Don’t forget to tag me on Instagram to show me your beautiful gingerbread creations! I look forward to seeing what you make 🙂
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!