While we tend to think of peppery, aromatic gingerbread in relation to Christmas, ginger can be a potent, healthful ingredient in our diets year round–even disguised in sweets! Ginger tea works wonders for dyspepsia and nausea–sometimes even relieving the effects of chemotherapy, and its root has been known to reduce colon inflammation. And what better way to celebrate June 5, National Gingerbread Day, then to honor the pungent treat itself by turning up the volume with some tempting desserts and breakfast goodies.
But first, finding its way to Europe in 992 with Armenian monk Gregory of Nicopolis, the art of making a honey and spice-laden close relative of gingerbread is said to have been taught by Nicopolis to French priests and Christians. German immigrants brought the delicacy to Sweden in the 13th Century, with historical records from Vadstena Abbey documenting Swedish nuns in 1444 baking it to aid indigestion though it took the form of ginger-suffused white biscuits. By the 17th Century, these biscuits were sold in monasteries, town square farmers’ markets, and pharmacies.
In England, gingerbread refers not to cake as it often does in the U.S. but strictly to a hard product made with ginger, commonly taking shape as a gingerbread man. Queen Elizabeth I served gingerbread forms to visiting dignitaries in their likenesses.
In more modern times, throughout the world gingerbread has become synonymous with Yuletide feasts and celebrations, with gingerbread house competitions from the smallest neighborhood churches to the largest city-wide gatherings garnering acclaim and awards. Since 1991, an annual event in Bergen, Norway has produced an entire city of gingerbread houses named Pepperkakebyen–Norwegian for gingerbread city.
To celebrate National Gingerbread Day, these recipes are sure to add a little welcome spice to your life:
Fresh Ginger Gingerbread
(Chef Sarah Moulton uses the real thing!)
18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup molasses
2/3 cup minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
3 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream as an accompaniment
Preheat oven to 375. Butter and flour a 13-by-9-inch baking pan, preferably nonstick. Beat butter in an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add molasses and beat until well blended. Add ginger, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Mix baking soda with the vinegar in a small bowl and add to the batter. Transfer to a large bowl. Add flour by hand, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with flour. After each addition, stir only enough to combine. Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Cool the gingerbread in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into squares and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Serves 16.