The Traditional Gingerbread Recipe

Gingerbread Recipe

The traditional gingerbread recipe will surprise you.
Only three ingredients are needed to make the gingerbread of yesteryear.

We will also discover the traditional recipes of certain French cities.

Let’s discover this delicious iconic cake.

traditional gingerbread recipe

Summary

  • Where does the real gingerbread recipe come from?
  • The composition of gingerbread
  • How to make traditional gingerbread?
    • Reims gingerbread recipe
    • Dijon gingerbread recipe
    • Alsatian gingerbread recipe
  • baking gingerbread
  • How to store gingerbread?
  • How to taste your traditional gingerbread?
  • Conclusion

Where does the real gingerbread recipe come from?

To better understand the real gingerbread recipe, let’s go back in time.

You have to go back to Antiquity and ancient Egypt (-3120) to find the first mentions of bread and honey. According to historical accounts, the ancient Egyptians used to eat honey bread.

Also during this period of Antiquity, the Greeks consumed “melitounta” , a kind of bread made from sesame flour covered with honey. Then the Romans used to eat “ panis mellitus” .

It was from the 10th century that honey bread evolved.

The birth of gingerbread

Mi-Kong, meaning honey bread in Chinese, was the first bread made from aromatic plants.
It was recognized for its high energy values ​​and was used in particular as war rations for Chinese horsemen. It has been consumed for several centuries.

Then during the crusades of the Middle Ages, between the 12th and 13th century, Westerners discovered the Mi-Kong recipe. It was then brought back to the West , mainly to Germany and France, at the same time as oriental spices.

In 1296, the use of the term “gingerbread” appears for the first time in Germany. The recipe spread quickly and so-called grocer’s breads found their way onto the tables of Germanic and Alsatian monasteries.

monarch making gingerbread

Photo of a monk taking gingerbread out of the oven

Production extends to several French cities, mainly located in the Grand-Est.

In the 15th century, a corporation of gingerbread masters was created.
In 1596, Henri IV officially recognizes the statutes of the corporation and will even order to follow a four-year training to become master gingerbread.

Reims, the benchmark city for gingerbread

At that time, the city of Reims was seen as the epicenter of gingerbread making in France.
Its notoriety is made on the quality of the Champagne honeys and the know-how of the manufacturers.

Dijon was also a recognized place for making gingerbread.
A dozen artisanal manufactures will have existed during the 19th and 20th centuries, but only one artisanal factory is still present.

gingerbread making workshop

Traditional gingerbread factory

Gingerbread would become popular throughout Europe and then in the Americas.

Its notoriety was therefore made after the crusades, by combining ingredients from Mi-Kong and adding oriental spices.

The traditional recipe for gingerbread often refers to that used by the master “pain d’épiciers” of Reims . Indeed, from the 15th century, Reims gingerbread was the most famous in the kingdom.

The composition of gingerbread

Traditional gingerbread, the one made by master gingerbread makers in Reims, contains very few ingredients. As the name suggests, gingerbread is a base of bread and gingerbread.

In the traditional recipe, only three ingredients are needed  : flour, honey, and spices.

In Reims, rye flour was used.

Acacia honey was apparently the preferred honey for making the recipe. Its sweetness and mild taste provide the right balance with the spices.

In terms of spice , there is no precise testimony on the spice, or the mixture of spices, used. The composition varied according to the regions. It is not uncommon to see the term “gingerbread” written in the singular. It is therefore possible that only one spice was used in the traditional Reims recipe. It should be noted that the freshness and the dosage of spices remain two important elements for the success of the cake.

Unlike other French cities, Reims gingerbread did not contain eggs, butter, milk or sugar.

How to make traditional gingerbread?

Several centuries ago, bakers and spice bread masters made their bread by letting their dough ferment.

Gingerbread was made from mother dough .
It can therefore also be characterized as a sourdough gingerbread.

Mother dough, or leaven, is a dough with flour, water, and in this case honey , which rests for several days or weeks.
This allows the dough to ferment and develop its aromas.

Depending on the town, the gingerbread masters left their dough to ferment for varying periods of time. It was at least several weeks.

Nowadays, gingerbreads are generally no longer made with a mother dough.
The alternative is to use baking soda , a natural product, to leaven the gingerbread.

First, let’s discover together the traditional recipe for Reims gingerbread .

Then, we will discover the traditional recipes for gingerbread from Dijon and Alsace , which are also recognized and renowned.

The traditional gingerbread recipe from Reims

Historically, the Reims recipe is based on a mother dough, fermented for 6 weeks.

For the choice of spices, it is according to your preferences.
Both options are possible : use one spice or several spices.

Let’s discover the recipe without mother dough and with mother dough.
The ingredients remain the same. Only a few steps in the recipe change.

Ingredients  :
250 g rye flour (T130)
250 g honey
175 ml water
1 tsp baking soda
10 g spices (cinnamon/ginger/cloves/nutmeg/anise)

The steps of the recipe without mother dough:

  • Heat the water in a saucepan, then pour in the honey. (do not heat the honey to more than 30°C because it will lose its nutritional and taste qualities)
  • In a bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and spices.
  • Pour the honey and water into the container and mix until a homogeneous paste is obtained.
  • Put everything in a mold.
  • Bake in the oven at low temperature (150°C) for about 1 hour.
  • Unmold the gingerbread, let it cool then wrap it to keep it dry.

To make the sourdough gingerbread recipe (with mother dough):

  • Make a tant pour tant with the honey l heated to around 30 ° C and the flour
    (250g of honey and 250g of flour).
  • Leave to sit for several days or weeks at room temperature.
    Then
  • Add the water, spices, and baking soda (not mandatory) when making the gingerbread.
  • Bake at low temperature.

Recipe for real Dijon gingerbread

Unlike Reims gingerbread, Dijon gingerbread is made with different ingredients. Its preparation stages also differ.

The real Dijon gingerbread is also made with a mother dough (flour, sugar and honey) which matures for at least 2 weeks.

This mother paste is relatively compact.

Then, after this resting phase, the dough is taken up again and softened. This is when the spices, baking powder and egg yolks are incorporated.

If you want to make the recipe faster, mix the ingredients directly or make a mother dough the day before.

Ingredients  :
250g wheat flour 250g
honey
50g sugar
1 tsp baking soda
10g spices (including anise)
3 egg yolks

Steps of the Dijon sourdough gingerbread recipe

  • Mix the flour, the heated honey (no more than 30°C) and the sugar.
  • Knead for ten minutes.
  • Wait several hours or several days or several weeks for the most patient.
  • Then add the egg yolks, spices, and baking soda.
  • Place everything in a mold or in cookie cutters then bake at low temperature.

Trick :

To use the gingerbread egg whites, consider making a glaze.

  • 1 egg white for 200 gr of icing sugar
  • Mix the egg white with the icing sugar.
    It is advisable to add the icing sugar little by little.
  • As soon as the mixture becomes creamy and homogeneous, stop mixing.
    Possibility of adding cocoa powder for coloring
Photo by Bryony Elena on Unsplash

The traditional Alsatian gingerbread recipe

For this gingerbread from Alsace, we find the three basic ingredients, as well as butter, sugar and eggs. The recipe is flavored with a mixture of 4 spices, consisting of cinnamon, ginger, anise and cloves.

There are very few records sharing the amount of ingredients used in the traditional Alsatian recipe.

On the other hand, I invite you to take inspiration from two recipes, which seem to be closer to tradition.

Inspiration given by Alsatian pastry chef Thierry Mulhaupt:

Ingredients :
300g flower honey 240g
wheat flour
60g rye flour
1 egg 10g
baking soda
10g 4 spices
100g butter (optional)
15cl milk (optional)

Baking gingerbread

After extensive research, there is little information on cooking times and techniques little information on gingerbreadIt is likely that the gingerbreads were baked in a bread oven.

In terms of cooking technique, the softer and longer it will be it is , the softer the cake will be.

It is therefore advisable to cook at a temperature between 140°C and 180°C.
The cooking time is to be adapted according to the weight and the mould.

For a gingerbread of about 400 gr, the baker Eric Kayser recommends baking the gingerbread between 1h and 1h30.

If you are lucky enough to have a bread oven, the gingerbread can be baked after the bread batch. Cooking over a wood fire will bring a real plus. The smells and flavors are exquisite!

For cooking, a cast iron pan will be ideal.
If you don’t have one, a bread pan or a cake pan will do just fine.

Photo by Nicole Michalou from Pexels

How to store gingerbread?

With the amount of honey present in the recipe, the gingerbread has the advantage of keeping for several weeks . If the gingerbread is made with mother dough, it will keep even longer.

It is highly recommended to taste the gingerbread two or three days after baking.
The aromas will have had time to develop. The gingerbread will be even tastier.

To keep it, it can be wrapped in a cloth and put in a cupboard, a closed drawer or an airtight box. In this way, this succulent delicacy will keep all its softness and will not dry out.

How to taste your traditional gingerbread?

Bernard Loiseau , who was an emblematic French cook, wrote “Gingerbread is a masterpiece. Sweet, it makes your life beautiful and sweet, salty, it accompanies cheeses and meats, foie gras and the most refined butters  ”.

All is said.

Gingerbread brings a real moment of indulgence,  at any time of the day .

For a simple and delicious breakfast , place thin strips of butter on a soft and slightly warm gingerbread. Guaranteed treat!

Gingerbread also goes wonderfully with savory dishes.
During a meal, it has the advantage of being able to be served as an appetizer, starter, main course and with cheese.

Consider serving a cheese platter or roasted camembert with the gingerbread.

Conclusion on the traditional gingerbread recipe

Based on historical accounts, Reims was the most famous French city for the quality of its gingerbread.

Even if the traditional recipe for gingerbread requires few ingredients, its success lies in the quality of these and in its preparation time.

Reims was not the only city to make delicious gingerbread.
Dijon and Alsatian recipes were also recognized.

If you don’t have time to make a mother dough, baking soda is a good alternative. Wait a few days before enjoying your gingerbread. It will only be better!

To make your gingerbread with 100% French honey , head to the Platform of Honey.

You have access to a wide choice of honeys and you are in direct contact with beekeepers .

Good tasting !

Abbas Jahangir

I am a researcher and writer with a background in food and nutritional science. I am the founder of Foodstrend.com, our reputable online platform offering scientifically-backed articles on health, food, nutrition, kitchen tips, recipes, diet, and fitness. With a commitment to providing accurate and reliable information, we strive to empower our readers to make informed decisions about their health and lifestyle choices. Join us on Foodstrend.com's journey toward a healthier and happier lifestyle.

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