Gingerbread houses have become an iconic part of Christmas tradition. Whether an expertly designed and crafted professional house or a homemade, slightly lopsided rendition built by children, these holiday-spiced domiciles are everywhere during the holidays.
Fun to make, and even more fun to eat, these sweet treats have been around for hundreds of years. Gingerbread itself comes from medieval European culinary traditions. It is believed to have been first baked in the eleventh century, inspired by the spicy bread that Crusaders brought back from the Middle East. The ginger added to the recipe did more than add flavor; it also helped to preserve the bread, a fact that offers comfort to those who can’t stop thinking about the gingerbread houses sitting out for a few days before being eaten.
Gingerbread has been being shaped into different objects for as long as it has been made. Early forms include babies, soldiers, and animals, while gingerbread molds of antiquity boast intricate designs such as angels and saints. The invention of gingerbread houses is credited to Germany in the early 1800s and many believe it stems from the tale of Hansel and Gretel, though some food historians say that the Grimm brothers were writing about a tradition that already existed.
Like many fine traditions, gingerbread houses have become more and more extreme as time as gone on. Life-size houses, iterations with lights and working doors, and even entire gingerbread cities are built each year to celebrate Christmas. At the end of the day, the most special gingerbread houses are the ones built by families. The fun that goes into working together, no matter how the end-product looks, is really what captures holiday spirit.
But let’s face it: the really outrageous and over-the-top versions are so much fun to look at.
1. The Gingerbread White House
Each year, the White House kitchen staff collaborates to create a gingerbread White House. Past iterations include an un-iced version that portrays the house prior to its white paint job in 1798, houses with working interior lights, and, last year, a gingerbread house that sat atop a fireplace made out of cookies. The houses weigh hundreds of pounds and have featured marzipan replicas of the Obama family dogs in recent years. Look out for 2014’s version.
2. The Reindeer Plane
It may not be a house, but this gingerbread creation is certainly over the top. Detailed scrollwork, functioning doors, and a smiling face make this reindeer plane the coolest support system for Santa ever designed
3. St. Basil’s Cathedral in Gingerbread
The Ritz-Carlton Moscow’s take on gingerbread houses? Why, a perfectly executed replica of St. Basil’s Cathedral, of course. Pastry chef Troman Felizmenio did the original justice in his 2009 creation.
4. The Witch’s House from Hansel and Gretel
A house this beautiful is worth fighting for — at least it is if you’re the witch from Hansel and Gretel. The brilliantly detailed gingerbread house appeared at The Langham Hotel in London in 2011.
5. Gingerbread Lane
Each year the New York Hall of Science hosts Gingerbread Lane. The display has an entire village of homemade gingerbread houses, including bridges, candy mosaics, and a cookie train.
Check out more amazing gingerbread creations.
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