Nov 21: National Gingerbread Day

(CNN) -- Grab Hansel and Gretel, November 21 is National Gingerbread Day!

According to the Orthodox Monastery of Saints, gingerbread was brought to Europe by an Armenian monk called Gregory. This was way back in the mid 990's. He is said to have called gingerbread food that warms the soul -- probably because of all the spices in it.

Gingerbread can come in many forms -- it can be hard or soft, baked as a loaf or as cookies, served with a lemon glaze or none at all, but in all cases it contains some form of ginger. Some recipes call for dried, powdered ginger, others for crystallized, and even some for fresh.

Other staples in most gingerbread recipes are honey, molasses or treacle. These typically take the place of honey.

The Germans are well known for their gingerbread, which is called Lebkuchen which can either mean cake of life or loaf cake depending on how you say it. The harder version of Lebkuchen is used to make gingerbread houses.

Speaking of which, according to the Guinness World Records, the largest gingerbread house ever built was done so in 2006 by Roger Pelcher at the Mall of America in Minnesota. It was more than 45 feet long, 35 feet wide and 60 feet tall.

Below is my favorite gingerbread cookie recipe. It's from a co-worker's great aunt of County Down, Northern Ireland, and calls for both ground ginger and crystallized ginger.

Auntie May's Ginger Biscuits

Courtesy Richard Griffiths

6 ounces salted butter, softened to room temperature

8 ounces (1 cup) granulated sugar

1/2 cup molasses

1 egg

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 cups bread flour (you can also use all-purpose, but not self-rising)

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 ounces crystallized ginger, chopped finely

Preheat oven to 190° Celsius, or 375° Fahrenheit. Mix together the soft butter, sugar, molasses and egg until smooth.

In a separate bowl, blend together the flour, baking soda, spices, salt and chopped ginger until even.

Stir the dry mixture into the liquid. Stir very well until it reaches a dry dough consistency.

Allow to rest in cool larder or refrigerator for an hour or two.

Prepare greased baking pans. You'll need at least two to handle volume. (The recipe makes about 50 small biscuits.)

Roll the dough into one-inch balls. Coat in sugar and place them on the baking pans about 3 inches apart.

Bake for 9-12 minutes. Allow to cool on a tea towel and then put in sealed tin to keep biscuits crisp.


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