Gingerbread has been a tradition throughout Europe for centuries, especially in Germany.
“Gingerbread houses are what Christmas is all about for me,” said Stephen Schubert, executive pastry chef at River City Casino, who was raised in Hamburg, Germany. “My family always made gingerbread houses together when I was little. It was such fun and a big attraction for us when we were kids. Christmas without gingerbread wouldn’t be Christmas at all.”
Schubert continues his family’s tradition of making gingerbread houses with his kids at home and at work, where he recently constructed, with his team of bakers, a gingerbread house that weighs in around 800 pounds, of which 500 pounds is gingerbread.
“When you make a gingerbread house, no matter how big or small, the dough has to be drier to hold up under the icing and decorations,” said Schubert explaining his gingerbread houses are always just a house. “ I like to make traditional gingerbread houses. I don’t do castles or other stuff – it has to be a house with bricks, cookies and stained glass windows of sugar.”
Smaller table top houses are a feature among the holiday decorations at the Chatillon-Demenil Mansion and the Eugene Field House, two of St Louis’ fabled historic houses opened for public tours.
“Gingerbread houses always draw such attention,” said Eugene Field House volunteer Shirley Zork, who had the idea to have a drawing for the gingerbread house on display in the Eugene Field House parlor. “It’s a way to help raise some extra money for the restoration of the house.”
Whether big or small making gingerbread houses should be fun.
“Making gingerbread houses is something families can do together. They don’t have to be perfect, so don’t put too many restrictions on it," said Schubert. "Remember you want it to be fun for the kids. Then, once Christmas comes, you have a big party and everyone gets a piece to eat — just like Hansel and Gretel.”
To help you make your own gingerbread house, Schubert has shared his recipe for gingerbread dough. Use store-bought cutters or make your own house pattern to cut from the dough. Or, cut or shape into anything you like from gingerbread men or stars to hang on the tree.
For those who are not into construction projects, but love the taste of gingerbread, I have included two soft gingerbread recipes. One from the Pillsbury test kitchen for Gingerbread Loaves, a tea bread that is a nice addition to a cookie tray. The other is a historic recipe that is dense and full flavored and has the claim of being one of General Washington’s favorite Martha-baked gingerbread cake.
Chef Stephan Schubert's Gingerbread Dough
- 4 ounces brown sugar
- 6 ounces shortening
- pinch of salt
- 1 pound 4 ounces all purpose flour
- 8 ounces molasses
- 1 ounce warm water
- 1/2 ounce ground ginger
- pinch baking soda
Mix and cream together the brown sugar, shortening, salt, flour and molasses. Add in remaining ingredients and chill dough overnight. Roll out, cut into shapes and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before house construction.
* Dough can be used to make gingerbread men to hang for decorations on the Christmas tree.
Martha Washington's Soft Ginger Cake
(18th Century recipe updated by Suzanne Corbett)
- 1/2 cup butter or lard
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup molasses
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons baking soda dissolved in 1 cup boiling water
- 2 eggs, beaten
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add molasses, ginger, and cinnamon and blend well. Beat flour into mixture; then mix in baking soda water and eggs. Butter a foil or parchment lined 9x13 inch baking pan. Spread batter into pan and bake for 50 –60 minutes.
(recipe courtesy Pillsbury)
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 3/4 butter or margarine, softened
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup molasses
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 4 teaspoons ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 ( 8x4-inch) loaf pans with shortening or cooking spray. In a large bowl, beat brown sugar and butter on medium speed of mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, beat well. In a small bowl stir molasses, water and baking soda together; then ad to sugar mixture.
Gradually add flour and remaining ingredients until well blended. Spoon batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake 50 –60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of breads comes out clean. Cool in pans on a rack form 15 minutes; remove from pan and cool completely (about an hour 15 minutes). To glaze, mix together powdered sugar and lemon juice and brush over cooled loaves. Wrap tightly and store in refrigerator.