Suddenly, hidden in the trees, they saw a strange house made of candy, cookies, chocolate, and everything delicious. “This is a gingerbread house,” cried Gretel happily. “I will eat a bit of roof and you can eat some window.” Hansel and Gretel, The Brothers Grimm (1812).
From kindergarten creations constructed from milk cartons to custom-built replicas of the White House, gingerbread houses have become a staple in Christmas celebrations heralding the start of the holiday season.
Gingerbread can be traced back for thousands of years to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. According to Epicure & Culture, gingerbread was baked firm so that it could be used for religious ceremonies. When it was later introduced to Europe in the 10th century by an Armenian monk, its baking rituals had become more sophisticated, with specially made molds in the images of saints and other religious figures.
Gingerbread’s transformation into houses originated in Germany during the 16th century, during which they were architecturally elaborate and decorated in gold leaf and sweet treats. It wasn’t until the 17th century, however, that gingerbread became associated with Christmas. With the religious figures in edible gingerbread form, it took on sacred significance. European royalty permitted gingerbread to be prepared only by specially trained gingerbread guild members during Christmas and Easter. As a result, most people could enjoy this dessert only during this time of the year.
What Germany did for the gingerbread house and the European kings and queens did for its integration into the Christmas celebration, it was a pair of German Grimm brothers, with their classic tale of two abandoned siblings and a sadistic, cannibalistic witch, that paved the way for centuries of this beloved holiday tradition.
Thankfully, no one needs to venture into the dark woods for a nibble. There are a bounty of bakeries that offer gingerbread houses and kits, pre-built structures ready to decorate and custom creations.
Pam Nicholas, proprietor of Izzi B’s Allergen Free Bakery in Norwalk, offers gingerbread houses for those with food allergies. “Our gingerbread house kits are a great way to get into the holiday spirit!” Nicholas says. “At our ‘top 8 free from’ dedicated bakery (no milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, or soy), we make the gingerbread pieces and figures, and pack the frosting and sweet treats which come from allergen-free candy companies (Yum Earth and Enjoy Life). Our kit comes with a board to hold the house, complete allergen/ingredient info and instructions for optimal fun.”
Izzi B’s kits are available at its shop for pre-order pickup, shipping nationwide to customers or gift recipients or local delivery. www.ibakes.com.
Palmer’s Darien offers a variety of gingerbread house kits. Styles include the Country House, the Swiss House, the Alpine House, the Retro House, and the City House. Each kit is filled to the brim with colorful candies, icing, and everything else needed to build your own gingerbread house.
For the novice builder, Palmer’s offers pre-built, undecorated gingerbread house kits that include all the fixings, as well as pre-built gingerbread houses. Royal icing can be ordered from the bakery (two days’ notice needed).
Palmer’s kits are available for purchase in the store now until they run out. Palmer’s does take pre-season special orders in the spring, when Christmas orders are placed, so this spring, plan ahead! palmersdarien.com
In New Canaan, there is a haven for ginger lovers at gingerbitz. Owner and baker Karen Zuckert makes gingerbread house kits for decorating. These fully assembled, edible houses come with a stained glass peppermint window, gourmet candies and chocolates, tub of icing, and a filled piping bag. Custom orders are offered but with limited availability at gingerbitz.com.
St. Moritz Bakery in Greenwich offers a variety of gingerbread house options. “The bakery makes standard small, medium and large gingerbread houses,” says Barbara Chau, manager. “The standard houses have snow (royal icing), Santa, reindeer, trees, and holiday cookies and chocolates as decorations.”
The bakery’s custom houses are bigger than its standard large but can be constructed to almost any size. Tommy Hilfiger, one of St. Moritz’s more well-known clients, delivered blueprints of his house for a custom gingerbread creation. If, like Mr. Hilfiger, you’re considering a custom order, check with the bakery at least two weeks in advance of the date needed: stmoritzgreenwich.com.