No eggs left at home? And you want to bake a cake? Why not try this French version of gingerbread, which is actually more of a spice and honey cake than the traditional gingerbread. It does contain ginger, but not only.
A Chinese invention, an energy snack for Mongolian warriors, a delicacy for European nobility, a source of income for the monks, a traditional fairground favorite... Gingerbread does have quite a long history!
The result is a soft and flavorsome cake, a thousand times better homemade than those sold in supermarkets.
I won't bore you with the story of each and every dish but this one is so amazing and eventful that I can't resist.
The first gingerbread was called the mi-king, wheat and honey bread invented in the 10th century for the emperors of the Chinese Tang Dynasty.
It was brought to Europe by the Mongol warriors who appreciated its high energy value and made it a staple of their daily combat rations. Once in Europe, all sorts of rare spices were added to this bread: cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, or ginger. These spices were very expensive at that time, which made gingerbread a very valuable treat, loved by the nobility. A scarcity enhanced by the ancient manufacturing process, the dough coated with honey had to sleep for 6 months. Gingerbread was the symbol of wealth and power.
It is thus natural that the production of gingerbread was supported by the monks who made it a sacred cake with medicinal properties, but they didn't mind selling it to everyone. Gingerbread became one of the France favorite delicacies and thereby of fairs and festivals. It was the star of the Foire du trône fair, a fair which used to be named the Gingerbread Fair and was represented by a pink gingerbread pig.
Why a pig? Philippe of France, son of Louis VI Le Gros - King of France in the 11th century - died in a horse riding accident caused by a stray pig in the streets of Paris. King Louis VI Le Gros then forbade any pig from walking freely in the streets of Paris, but finally gave in upon te insistence of the St. Antoine monks, but only if they were kept on a leash. In recognition, the St Antoine monks created a gingerbread-shaped pig. Old Saint Antoine Fair was renamed the Gingerbread Fair before going on to become the Foire du trône fair as we know it today.
And what is the connection with the gingerbread man? It doesn't come from China, nor from France, but England. The first known human-shaped gingerbread men were served at the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England (16th century) who loved to offer her distinguished guests an edible statuette of themselves. The human-shaped gingerbread cookie, often decorated with frosting or with just the face and buttons drawn on it, became a tradition, enhanced by the tale of the little gingerbread man.
Preparation time : 15 min
Baking time : 45 min
Quantity : 12 slices
Difficulty : easy
Specific equipment: cake tin
250 grams all-purpose flour (±2 cups)
150 grams sugar (a little less than ½ cup)
1 teaspoon baking powder
250 ml milk (1 cup)
2 large tablespoons honey
Juice of ½ lemon
Lemon and/or orange zest (quarter of a fruit)
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- freshly grounded pepper mill (a few turns of mill)
- optional: cloves
Mix all dry ingredients together. Heat milk, dissolve honey in it and add citrus juice and zests. Mix everything together then bake.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
Sift the flour. Add the sugar and the baking powder and mix. Then add the spices and mix. As spices are added in dry ingredients, it's easy to make sure that when you mix, spices are spread all over the preparation and that the entire flour-sugar mix is completely impregnated with spices.
Take off the peels of your citrus (may it be orange or lemon). Finely chop the zests. Add the zests and the lemon juice to the preparation.
Heat the milk and add two generous spoons of honey. Thus, the honey dissolves in hot milk and will be well spread homogeneously in the preparation.
Add the milk and honey mixture to the preparation and mix vigorously until you get a nice dough, without lumps.
Grease and flour a mold, preferably a cake tin, or use a silicone mold. Pour the dough in and bake for 45 minutes.
Spices and honey gingerbreads are served for breakfast or as snack (it's in my family enjoyed with salted butter), with creamy or fruit desserts.
Spices and honey gingerbreads are also tasty with some savory dishes: some gingerbread croutons in a pumpkin soup or foie gras on gingerbread toasts with fig jam.