by Ann Evans
Photos by Rob Tysall
Gingerbread is popular the world over and especially around Christmastime with gingerbread houses covered in snowy white icing; gingerbread Christmas tree decorations and of course gingerbread men.
Historians tell us that gingerbread has been enjoyed in Europe at least since the 10th century when an Armenian monk taught the skill to priests and nuns. It didn’t take long to realise the benefits of ginger in aiding digestion and it was made into a sweet honey-ginger candy eaten for medicinal purposes – as well as a sweet treat.
Early recipes for gingerbread used stale breadcrumbs rather than flour; and throughout Europe in the Middle Ages ornate wooden moulds, carved from apple tree or pear tree wood were used to make gingerbread shapes – sometimes painted and gilded for wealthy merchants.
Collections of these ancient moulds can be found at the Bread Museum, Ulm, Germany and the Gingerbread Museum in Toruń, Poland.
The custom of making gingerbread houses at Christmastime is enjoyed throughout Europe, America and here of course. No one really knows whether it was the Grimm Brothers fairy tale Hansel and Gretal that inspired the making of gingerbread houses, or the other way around. Either way, it’s a popular custom, and following in tradition, pastry chef Petar Stoykov recently took the idea a step further creating a giant replica of the Welcombe Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he works.
Petar who is originally from Bulgaria said that he wasn’t phased in the slightest at being asked to make this 80cm long, 40cm high and 50cm wide edible version of the Jacobean style building.
“It wasn’t too difficult,” said Petar who has worked in top hotels in America and Germany. “You just need time and patience. This is the second one I have made and it took me about three days. You start with the base and then build up from that.”
Petar combined butter, 30 eggs, a kilogram of sugar, four kilograms of flour, ground ginger, ground cloves and ground cinnamon to make the gingerbread walls, floors, roof and chimney; with lots of white icing to create the snow and icicles and a roof made of meringue. Even the glass in the windows is edible, made from refined sugar, and the whole thing twinkles inside and out with fairy lights.
The gingerbread hotel will remain on display for hotel guests and visitors to admire until the new year – hopefully without too many people taking nibbles at it. Although already someone has found it irresistible and has taken a little bite out of the front door. If the house hasn’t totally been eaten by New Year, chef Petar says that it will probably be raffled off for charity.
Shaun Van Looy, General Manager at The Welcombe Hotel, said, “We are delighted to showcase this amazing imitation of the Welcombe in the form of a giant gingerbread house. I would like to thank Petar for the creation which showcases his talent as a very experienced pastry chef. We hope our guests enjoy the display along with the rest of the hotels’ traditional Christmas decorations and festivities.”
“Nibble, nibble, gnaw.
Who is nibbling at my little house?”
From Hansel and Gretal.
Welcombe Hotel: www.menzieshotels.co.uk.
Queen Elizabeth I is credited with making the first gingerbread men. They would made to look like her visiting dignitaries and presented to them.
Before the days of refrigeration, crumbled gingerbread would sometimes be added to recipes to mask the smell of rotting meat.
In the Middle Ages in places such as Russia, Poland, Hungary, Germany and France there were Gingerbread Bakers Guilds, with strict rules about how gingerbread should be made.
In Medieval England, unmarried women would eat gingerbread ‘husbands’ for luck in meeting the real thing.
Even William Shakespeare mentioned gingerbread. In Love’s Labours Lost, Costard said: “And I had but one penny in the world, thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread.”
Gingerbread, gingerbread house, gingerbread man, Christmas, William Shakespeare, Brothers Grimm, Hansel and Gretal, Queen Elizabeth I, Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon, Petar Stoykov,