What would the holidays be without the smell of gingerbread wafting through the air? Gingerbread has been around since the early Christian times, when the ancient Romans baked it portable ovens. As early as the 1500s, inventive bakers began using it as a decorative building material. The fragrant pastry became popular in early American cooking because it was inexpensive to make and it could survive the unpredicability of wood and coal fired ovens.
Gingerbread houses became popular in Germany. Enterprising parents created a house similar to the witch's house in the Grimm's tale Hansel and Gretel. The hard gingerbread is made in decorative shapes, which are then further decorated with sweets and icing. The tradition of cutting gingerbread into shapes takes many other forms, and exists in many countries, a well known example being the gingerbread man. Traditionally, these were dunked in port wine. Early German settlers brought this lebkuchenhaeusle - gingerbread house - tradition to the Americas.
Nowadays, gingerbread houses can be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be. You can take the time to make your own, or simply buy a store bought kit. Many pastry chefs show off their talents with gingerbread house competitions throughout the country; showing their amazing techniques and innovations using this versatile confection.
There are many sites out there to help you become inspired with your creation. Ranging from the simple 8x8 design to ones more complicated, you'll find something for all talent levels. Try out such sites as Gingerbread Lane or Ultimate Gingerbread for some ideas of where to start. Or if you have the means, get the house already made for you from a Gingerbread Construction Company. Luckily, the dough is very tough and practically keeps forever. You can leave out your house for the whole Christmas season without worrying about decay.
Whatever you choose to do, make it fun for the family. Get the children involved in decorating the house. Then you can show off your creation to all your friends during the holiday season.