Lebkuchen, pfefferkuchen, pepparkakor and many other names for what is translated as gingerbread in English however, the origins vary. Traditional English gingerbread suggests the dominance of ginger in the recipe, but you may taste the difference if you go for the German version. You guessed right that the main ingredient which gives this treat its flavour is hidden in its name and there are many types, especially in a country such as Germany, where the recipes vary. Gingerbread from Dresden is completely different from the one from Nurnberg as the locals are very often proud of their very own recipes.
I love gingerbread in any form, so I attempt to make some every year before Christmas but always come up with a different recipe. Gingerbread should be the very first thing that you bake, usually around the first advent Sunday as the proper recipe takes time to soften until Christmas. This year I ran out of time, so I went for something that will be easy and quick. However, I recommend to prepare the pastry and leave it in the fridge for a day or at least overnight, so the spices have the time to fully infuse the pastry.
If you still feel like the gingerbread is not soft enough, pop an apple or two next to it, preferably in a closed box and leave it for an extra day or so to soak some moisture. What's good about this recipe is that you can spread the activities even over a few days and always invite others to participate.
10 tbsp of cinnamon
1 heaped tbsp of cloves
1 tsp of anise star
1 tsp of ground dry ginger
½ tsp of cardamom
Gingerbread Spice is always good to have because it gives great flavour to bakes like banana bread, muffins or even as a rub for roasted meats!
If you want to make sure your spice blend is fresh, grab the whole pieces and pestle and mortar; but blending already milled spices will do.
This particular spice blend is not very ginger heavy, therefore quite unusual in the UK. The main ingredient is cinnamon, which is almost like an undertone for all the other spices such as cloves, anise star, a bit of cardamom and finally, ginger.
500g of Plain flour
100g of Butter
80g of Sugar
100g of Honey
3 tbsp of Gingerbread spice
2 tbsp of Cocoa
1 tbsp of Baking powder
For the glaze:
3 tbsp of Butter
1 tbsp of Dark Rum
For the decorating:
An Egg white
approx. 100g of Icing Sugar
1 tsp of Lemon juice
Mix all the dry ingredients so the colour is even, add melted butter, honey, and eggs. Leave covered in the fridge for around 24 hours and take out approx. 2 hours before baking. Preheat the oven at 150°C, roll out the pastry into about 30mm and cut out your favourite shapes.
Prepare your glaze by waring up the butter and adding rum into it.
Pop the gingerbreads into the oven for about 5 minutes or a minute after they stopped poofing up (in other words expanding). Once taken out, glaze with the rummy mixture whilst still hot. Leave to cool down before you start decorating.
To prepare your decorating material, mix an egg white with icing sugar and add the lemon juice. You want this to be rather thick than runny, so keep adding the icing sugar until it heavily sticks to your spoon.
About the Ingredients
Honey – Even though I’m using a little bit of sugar in this recipe, it is rather for structural properties than the sweetening ones. Honey goes amazingly with the spices, but it is also slightly lower in fructose than regular table sugar. Honey is packed with nutrients, which also include vitamins such as B vitamins and folic acid. It is also known for its anti-diabetic properties (Ahmed et al., 2018), so you don’t have to feel too guilty whilst munching on this little treat.
Cinnamon – Cinnamon is the major Christmas spice, which I find so useful as it is widely connected with balancing blood sugars and its warming properties. But it was recently also discovered beneficial in Alzheimer’s’ disease management, arthritis or atherosclerosis (Ghiasvand and Hariri, 2016).
Cloves – My absolute favourite which is responsible for the amazing smell, but also the long-lasting gingerbread due to its preservative properties alongside honey. Helping to fight the cold weather with its antimicrobial, antiviral and antioxidant properties, it is also well known for treating pains and aches, especially when it was related to bone or toothaches (Cortés-Rojas et al., 2014).
Anise Star – This one brings up the mildly spicy hit and further offsets the sweetness of the gingerbread. Considered both food and medicine in China, star anise has antiviral and antimicrobial properties (He et al., 2014), which can help you to fight the flu season.
Cardamom – Not just giving the recipe a tiny oriental kick, cardamom was found to be effective to improve glucose intolerance in high carbohydrate and fat diet (Alam et al., 2017), therefore is a great addition to the spicy foods which tend to consist mainly of these two nutrients.
Ginger – There is so much goodness in ginger, but in this recipe, it becomes a great little helper to help you with your digestion issues (Askari et al., 2013) caused by the holiday season. Your grandparents will also appreciate their heart disease prevention properties (Wang and Zheng, 2001).
Ahmed, S., Baig, A., Fatima, S., Ibrahim, M., Jabeen, S., Liaqat, S., Othman, N., Shamim, N. and Sulaiman, S. (2018). Honey as a Potential Natural Antioxidant Medicine: An Insight into Its Molecular Mechanisms of Action. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2018, pp.1-19.
Alam, M., Alam, M., Hossain, H., Khan, T., Rahman, M., Reza, H., Sikder, B., Subhan, N., Sumi, F. and Ulla, A. (2017). Cardamom powder supplementation prevents obesity, improves glucose intolerance, inflammation and oxidative stress in liver of high carbohydrate high fat diet induced obese rats. Lipids in Health and Disease, 16(1).
Askari, G., Darvishi, L., Ghiasvand, R., Hariri, M., Mashhadi, N. and Mofid, M. (2013). Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 4(1), pp.36-42.
Cortés-Rojas, D., de Souza, A. and Oliveira, W. (2014). Clove (Syzygium aromaticum): a precious spice. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, 4(2), pp.90-96.
Ghiasvand, R. and Hariri, M. (2016). Cinnamon and Chronic Diseases. Advances in Experimental Medicine amd Biology, 929, pp.1-24.
He, Y., Hua, R., Huang, Y., Li, M., Li, S., Shen, Z. and Wei, L. (2014). Chemical composition and biological activity of star anise Illicium verum extracts against maize weevil, Sitophilus zeamais adults. Journal of Insect Science, 14(1).
Wang, S. and Zheng, W. (2001). Antioxidant Activity and Phenolic Compounds in Selected Herbs. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 49(11), pp.5165-5170.