The Secret History Of Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread has been around a while. And by "a while," we mean a Really. Long. Time. A form of gingerbread can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, who used gingerbread to tempt the guardian dragons of the goddess Athena. If the gingerbread was not eaten, bad luck would follow (via Tunde's Creations). 

It was thanks to the 11th-century Crusades that ginger made its way west to Europe where it was used with a sweetener – such as honey or sugar – and breadcrumbs as a sweet treat that was pushed into wooden molds before they were served in the homes of the rich and royal. The finished cookie would then be decorated with icing or edible gold paint, if you could afford it, so the detailing could be seen more clearly (via The Spruce Eats). 

It wasn't for a few centuries after gingerbread appeared in European homes that gingerbread houses became a thing, and for that, we have the ageless storytellers The Brothers Grimm and German bakers to thank. 

Gingerbread homes can be as simple or complicated as you want them to be

How many of us stayed awake at night listening to the story of "Hansel and Gretel," published in 1812, which described the hungry siblings stumbling upon a magical house made with bread, roofed with cakes, and with windows made with transparent panes of sugar? The Guardian says German bakers took their cue from the description, substituted "bread" with lebkuchen (honey cookies), the inspiration for these houses made their way across the pond and to the United States, and the rest is culinary history. Today gingerbread house enthusiasts can choose to build homes out of kits or make their own homes from scratch.

You may be blown away by elaborate gingerbread creations, but building an actual gingerbread house to celebrate the holidays can be as simple, or as complicated as you want it to be. Instructions for a simple, home-made house with painted windows and a candied rooftop can be found on The Food Network's site, but if you really want to up the ante, Epicurious contributor Judy Kim offers up a mid-20th-century-styled gingerbread home complete with frosted trees, window panes made with melted sugar and a sugared, frosted rooftop.